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What’s worse than a dongle? No dongle

Apple’s iPhone launch event yesterday was so full of good news that the company apparently couldn’t find the time to disclose a couple of less happy developments in its product range. Firstly, the three-year-old iPhone 6S and two-year-old iPhone SE models are being discontinued, which is significant because they were the last remaining iPhones with headphone jacks that Apple was selling. Secondly and relatedly, the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter that Apple used to ship in the box with its iPhones is now gone.

Whether you’re buying an iPhone XS, XR, 8, or 7, from today you will no longer have a direct way to connect your wired headphones to your shiny new device. The dongle that previously came free in the box is now only available as an additional $9 purchase. That means you can spend as much as $1,449 (on an iPhone XS Max with 512GB of storage) and then still need to hand Apple more money to keep compatibility with your existing headphones. And this is just one of an increasing number of upsells that risk upsetting the goodwill of the company’s most loyal customers.

Apple is betting on the majority of new iPhone buyers shrugging off the dongle’s omission and either using the provided Lightning-connected EarPods or some wireless alternative. If this situation nudges you into buying a pair of AirPods, the company will no doubt be happy to oblige. In the two years since Apple removed the headphone jack from its flagship iPhones, most of its users have adapted in some fashion and carried on with their lives. Now Apple is making that adaptation harder by literally depriving us of the adapter.

I’ve never been a fan of dongles, but the only thing worse than having a dongle is not having one when you need it. iPhone owners have embraced the AirPods and other wireless headphones swiftly, but there are still those odd occasions when they’ll want to plug their phone into an analog output, whether it be headphones or speakers, and that’s when the absence of the damned dongle fills them with sorrow.

There’s an argument to be made, from Apple’s perspective, that if most people aren’t using the audio dongle, putting one in the box with every iPhone is environmentally and economically wasteful. Fair enough. So put a voucher code in the box for a free dongle, should the user actively want one. As a matter of fact, since so many iPhone buyers are repeat customers, Apple can also start doing the same with the charger. It’s not like the company ships a suitable fast charger in the box. While Apple advertises fast and wireless charging support with its new iPhones, you’ll have to buy separate accessories for both.

But the environmentally conscious reasoning only stretches so far. Apple’s so gung ho about the convenience of wireless audio that it conveniently overlooks the drastic difference in lifespan between wired analog headphones and wireless digital ones. There used to be a time when you could buy a good pair of Sennheiser cans and go a full decade before wearing them out and needing to replace them. The wireless alternatives today — most of them fit with batteries the user can’t service — will hit their age of replacement much sooner. Built-in obsolescence is an old accusation to level at the tech industry, but it’s hard to see how Apple and today’s wireless headphone makers can avoid the charge.

More than anything, I find it ugly and distasteful that Apple, the company that the stock market values at over a trillion dollars, is being so greedy in the treatment of its customers. Rival companies selling Android phones will provide users with fast chargers and, in occasional promotions, they’ll even throw in wireless chargers. If their phones lack a headphone jack, their box will have the decency to include an adapter. Google throws in free photo and video storage with every Pixel, whereas Apple’s free iCloud allowance of 5GB feels miserly by modern standards.

The iPhone is increasingly becoming a luxury item, with the cheapest member of Apple’s latest smartphone generation costing $749. But the process of buying and owning an iPhone is, at the same time, becoming less luxurious. Instead of paying one big fee up front and getting a bunch of perks as a result — the traditional luxury model, as you might experience with a first-class air ticket — the iPhone buyer is today confronted with both the inflated initial cost and a series of subsequent lacerations to their wallet. The introduction of the iPhone X last year was accompanied by an increase in repair costs, and yesterday’s iPhone XS launch came with an update on increasing battery replacement costs. AppleCare+, Apple’s extended warranty program that can save you from some of these expenditures, is also not cheap.

Apple has always thrived on its ability to surprise and delight its customers. Its products have never been cheap, but they’ve usually delivered value for the money. But in 2018, as the company endeavors to squeeze every last bit of revenue from every user, the headphone dongle’s absence is more than a mere annoyance. It’s a signal of Apple’s willingness to put profit first, at the cost of the customer experience.

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