A 3.5mm Controversy

Apple’s First-Obsolescence Advantage

iMac_G3_lIt seemed like a crazy idea to sell a computer without a disk drive. The cloud would replace the need for the 3.5-inch diskette and its 1.4 megabytes of storage. If you needed some files, they could be shipped by e-mail or downloaded via Ethernet.

It was a controversial subject back in 1998, when Apple introduced the iMac G3. A desktop computer without a floppy drive seemed to make little sense at a time when practically every other PC on the market had one.

But Apple was right. The floppy drive was already obsolete — the world just didn’t know it yet. PC makers continued to cater to the market’s perception of a computer rather than consumers’ needs. The floppy was a pain point, but Apple dared to be different and addressed the problem despite having driven the 3.5-inch diskette to a PC standard in the first place.

There are rumours that Apple might remove the standard 3.5mm audio jack from the upcoming iPhone, and this appears to be causing a great deal of user angst. Loss of the legacy jack will see a lot of accessories also become legacy items. But when it’s time to move on, it’s time to move on.

We don’t know what Apple will do, but it’s clear that ports generally limit product designers. Audio and even USB ports are beginning to show their age next to wireless connectivity and Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution, adding to the complexities and bill of materials of a device while constraining the product dimensions. Superfluous features will be scrapped.

Device makers walk a fine line between leading by design and following the audience’s current demands. But there are times when users don’t know jack about what’s happening next. You won’t find many computers today with parallel or serial ports, and there are few complaints. Bluetooth could soon be the new jack, and we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

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