Apple revealed hubris when it dropped the headphone jack

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When the iPhone's headphones socket went missing, so did Apple's commitment to putting customer solutions above everything else, writes DigitasLBi's Scott Ross.

Apple’s autumn event has become a mandatory booking in my diary and, at our company, our mobile team goes so far as to transform one of our better meeting spaces into a small cinema – drinks and sweets included for an optimal viewing experience. 

These efforts are much appreciated because, with the duration of the event now exceeding the length of most feature films, it has become quite a time commitment. As I settled into my comfy chair, I wondered if this year’s event was to be yet another blockbuster, or would it be a box-office bomb? 

Observers are estimating launch sales to be down more than 20%

Unfortunately for Apple, not only did it fail to live up to expectations, it left many in the room queuing up for a refund. 

What went wrong? Over time, Apple’s famous obsession with secrecy sprung so many leaks that every significant announcement was known far in advance. There were no surprises, just confirmation of what was already known. Essentially, all the good bits were included in the trailer.

Courage

More importantly, however, with the world up in arms over the "rumour" that the ubiquitous headphone jack would be removed from the iPhone 7, everyone was curious to know how Apple would explain killing off this star character.

Phil Schiller’s answer? "Courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us." If this was meant to be a comedy, it would have been a blockbuster but, sadly, our film metaphor comes crashing to an end with this statement. 

Google recently announced that its flagship Pixel has a "3.5mm headphone jack – satisfyingly not new"

This was not courage, it was hubris; and a sign that the reality distortion field may have gone too far. 

In the past, Apple has led the charge in abandoning antiquated technologies, such as the floppy drive, based on understanding the needs of its customers but, this time around, no real problem was being solved beyond how to create an ongoing accessory revenue stream.

social storm

Reaction across social media has been vicious and has resulted in the creation of several memes. Kickstarter campaigns have been started to fund battery cases that bring back the headphone jack. 

And perhaps the most telling sign of all that this product missed the mark is the fact that, over the past month, we have begun to see Apple’s competitors call out the launch in an attempt to exploit the situation. 

For example, Google recently announced that its flagship Pixel has a "3.5mm headphone jack – satisfyingly not new". When you have a great product, your competition will go to great lengths to advertise that they have the same features and, when you don’t, they will spend even more time pointing out how they differ.

So how is this actually hurting Apple? Without sales figures reported, it is difficult to say but observers are estimating launch sales to be down more than 20%. These estimates ring true because, beyond the headphone debacle, the improvements to the devices were marginal at best and make an upgrade difficult to justify outside of the natural replacement cycle.

Parting advice to Apple? Treat this as a wake-up call. Stop making feature films and get back to developing innovative products that people actually want while you’re still a market leader.

Scott Ross is chief technology officer, international of DigitasLBi.

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