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Are Apple’s Lightning Earpods an example of fragmentation?

By Juan Carlos Bagnell September 28, 2016, 3:21 pm

The dreaded “F” word. In tech circles, we throw around “Fragmentation” as a slight against any ecosystem where the number of choices begins to degrade the user experience. A prime example cited is the current state of Android. Google has released the newest version of the Android operating system, but how many people are actually able to upgrade their phones to run it? In this instance, one of Android’s greatest strengths (diversity of hardware options) has the potential to degrade a consumer’s individual experience (ability to run newest software).


Apple has largely been immune from fragmentation accusations due to the simplicity of the Apple ecosystem. The most you could throw at them, maybe some “feature fragmentation” as software updates deliver features for newer iPhones that older iPhones can’t support.


Are Apple’s Lightning Earpods an example of fragmentation?

However, Apple removing the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 introduces a small hardware issue for the entire Apple line. Moving forward, if an iPhone user wishes to use a cabled audio solution, that user will need to use either an easily lost Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, or they will need to invest in headphones that have a Lightning connector built into the cable. This isn’t actually a significant issue for older iPhones and iPads. So long as you have a Lightning connector, Earpods and adapters should work on any devices running iOS 10.


Contrary to what advertising might show us however, smartphones and tablets aren’t the only computing devices people might be inclined to use. There’s this pesky collection of “desktop” personal computers, and mobile clamshell-designed “notebook” computers, which folks still seem to enjoy. Shocking, we know. Those “desktops” and “notebooks” can’t even do Snapchat, but who are we to judge?

Buying an iPhone is a premium expense, but it came with one small benefit. You got a pair of ear buds in the box, and those earbuds gracefully moved between phone, tablet, and computer. Walk into any coffee shop here in Los Angeles, and you’ll marvel at all of the budding screenwriters hacking away at their MacBooks, sporting white buds in their ears. The iPhone 7 throws a tiny little wrench in this hardware harmony.


Apple as a company is uniquely positioned to pick winners and losers for technology. The newest MacBook was an exercise in simplicity. The only ports are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a single USB Type C port used for both charging and connecting peripherals. It would seem Apple believes its future to be tied to adapters, dongles, and docks, but we digress.

How can Apple address the headphone schism between their various products?

More adapters!


If we have a male Lightning to female 3.5mm adapter, why not produce an opposite female Lightning to male 3.5mm jack? Existing MacBook owners will just need to keep track of a fiddly little cable to insure they can switch from phone to laptop with ease!

Eliminate headphone jacks on all products!


We’re pretty confident that the next iPad will likely remove the headphone jack too, but why stop there? MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs, Mac Minis, Mac Pros, they all have this antiquated plug. We should just cut them all and replace them with Lightning connector inputs. Sure, some people might use 3.5mm jacks to connect speakers, but those people should all be buying USB connected devices anyway. It can’t be that big of a deal, since Apple doesn’t even currently offer nicer speakers for Macs in the online store.

Bluetooth everything!

Apple AirPods Conan parody

If you’re buying premium products, then you must also enjoy buying premium accessories! Sure EarPods were a handy solution for moving audio around, but instead you should just move to some AirPods. Instead of a cable with two attached drivers, now each ear bud is its own separate radio connected device, and you have to keep track of an additional widget to charge them. Instead of one complete accessory (lame), we’ll have three unique pieces necessary to complete the experience of bumping tunes into your brain (rad). Convenience has never looked so stylish, or so complicated!

And, don’t even get us started on how boring it is that EarPods don’t have their own battery which you’ll need to charge. Ick.

But seriously…

Ok, tongue has been planted firmly in cheek for this write up, but it doesn’t diminish some of the ire we’ve been seeing from folks regarding this move. We can all acknowledge that Apple is taking steps to de-value the Mac line, and that the company’s future seems focused on moving more people over to “Pro” iOS devices. In looking at Cupertino’s financials, and with a gross majority of revenue coming from iOS, minorly inconveniencing Mac users was likely an acceptable compromise for removing this jack from a business perspective.


Yet this strange little move asks people fully invested in the Apple ecosystem to find their own solutions to address a problem none of us really had. The benefit of using a cable design invented in the 1870’s?

We all had a universal solution for our music.

Did you upgrade to the iPhone 7? How will you handle this headphone situation? Drop us a comment below!


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