From the floppy disk to the smartphone, Apple is a serial killer of tech standards.
Apple has long been seen as a forward-thinking tech company that values minimalism over superfluous functionality, unafraid of taking risks to clear a path for technology to speed ahead. Historically, they’ve often opted to do away with existing tech standards to allow that momentum to build. Sometimes these standards were showing their ripe old age and were obvious candidates for tech assassination. Other times, their demise felt more like premature deaths: casualties of Apple’s penchant for slaughtering dated technology. In either case, it’s hard to deny that this murderous trait is part of what defines the monstrous tech company and sets the stage for their meteoric rise as the most valuable company on the planet.
Last week as they introduced the hotly anticipated iPhone X, they erased the phone’s home button, an iconic feature that has defined the face of the iPhone for the past 10 years. To pay homage to the little plastic circle that’s become so well acquainted with our thumbs, we’ll review a handful of other tech standards that have gone before it and gaze solemnly into the future of a few tech standards on the brink of annihilation.
5 Tech Standards Apple Murdered
1. 3.5” Floppy Disk
Remember those little plastic disks full of Word documents that once littered your desk? Remember that time the metal piece on one of them got mangled in your backpack, exposing the sensitive data film to a nearby pen and destroying your term paper? That was awesome. Well, you have Steve Jobs’ comeback machine, the original iMac, to thank for the fact that you’ll never use one of those again. When the iMac in its magical glowing translucent shell was introduced in 1998, it lacked this basic, de facto standard data-storage medium in favor of a high-storage optical CD-ROM drive. As heretical as if felt at the time, within the next few years the rest of the industry followed suit, removing the floppy drive from their PCs and our lives.
Fun fact: every time you stream a Netflix movie to your TV in your living room, you’re sucking down approximately 3,500 times the amount of data that could have been contained on one of those bad boys.
2. Serial Port
Along with the demise of the floppy disk, the iMac ushered in a new era for connection ports, bringing about mass adoption of the up-and-coming high-speed USB port, replacing the sluggish, pin-packed serial port that reigned through the ’80s and ’90s. For the unacquainted (read: under-30 crowd), the serial port was the primary method of connecting your computer to other devices (at the time, mainly just those obnoxious squeaky slow external modems). The serial port actually has its origins in 1960s computing, making it a strong candidate for elimination due to age. However, because it had been around so long, its removal from Apple’s new flagship consumer computer felt like a bold move at the time.
3. CD/DVD Optical Discs
So…that advanced new high-storage medium that replaced the floppy drive in iMacs and subsequent PCs in the late ’90s? Fast-forward 10 years to the era of smartphones and digital downloads. In January 2008 Steve Jobs stood onstage at the company’s annual Macworld conference and introduced “the world’s thinnest notebook,” the MacBook Air. The laptop boasted a sexy, thin aluminum body, made possible by Apple’s latest massacre: the optical disc. Though this seductive new laptop would eventually go on to become Apple’s best-selling computer and its disc-free design would eventually become the inspiration for what laptops in the 2010s are “supposed to look like,” its first iteration was overpriced. Many consumers balked (cue disgusted mom shopping for Johnny’s first college laptop at Best Buy: “Two thousand bucks and it doesn’t even have a CD player?”).
The tech gods giveth; the tech gods taketh away. Remember that up-and-coming, high-speed port called USB that was introduced with the iMac? In 2015 the now-ubiquitous port heard its first significant death knell with a revised, thinner and sexier new MacBook, which shrank the port to a smaller and faster standard called USB-C. Feeling the déjà vu yet? In now-predictable fashion, people freaked out, cluttered the internet with articles bemoaning the extra dongle to plug in their external hard drive (#firstworldproblems) and ended up buying the laptop anyway. To be fair, we are still only partway through this transition, but if the influx of new USB-less laptops is any indication, the original USB standard should probably spend some time getting its affairs in order.
5. Headphone Jack
Of all the massacres of tech standards in recent history, this one still feels the freshest and bloodiest. You’ve likely been sticking little metal, one-eighth-diameter plugs into similar-shaped holes every time you wanted to listen to music alone since you were a child. Over the last 40 years, one-eighth-inch headphone jacks have become as much a part of our daily lives as three-pronged outlets, light switches and toilet paper. That’s why, when Apple unveiled their 2017 flagship smartphone, the iPhone 7, and it lacked this basic little hole, society almost collapsed (get a freaking grip, people). Apple’s rationale: “Wireless is better. Cables suck. Here’s another dongle to plug in your precious 1985 headphones.” Public reaction: “How the hell am I going to charge my phone and listen to music at the same time?”
Predictions: 5 Tech Standards on Apple’s Chopping Block
1. Lightning Port
Apple’s continued passion for eliminating anything that moves, depresses, protrudes or creates an opening in a device will eventually make way for the end of its beloved lightning port (which itself is the successor to the 2013 victim, the 30-pin connector). Currently, the port serves as the iPhone and iPad’s means to connect to power as well as other accessories, such as headphones, via overpriced converter dongles. As wireless technology continues to evolve and enable us to step into complete cord-free living, expect Apple to gently shove us even deeper into this wireless world by axing the lightning port.
When will it happen? 2019
2. Charging Cables
Along with the lightning port’s demise will most certainly come the end of any kind of traditional cord-based charging system. Its successor? True wireless charging. Not just the inductive-style charging found on the 2017 iPhone and a handful of Android phones but the kind of wireless charging found in sci-fi movies. Need to charge your phone? Oh, it’s already charging because your house is equipped with wall-to-wall wireless charging. So is your car. So is your office. The technology for this kind of charging is close to being ready, and you can be certain that as soon as engineers figure out how to implement it without accidentally charging the metal fillings in your back molars while you sleep, you’ll see it hit the streets. Once it does, dig a deep grave in your backyard to bury all your tangle-prone power cables.
When will it happen? 2019
3. Physical Keyboards
Last year Apple introduced a less-than-revolutionary new feature to its MacBook Pro line that replaced that weird row of “function” keys at the top of the keyboard with a tiny touch screen that allows developers to display custom touch-screen “buttons” according to whatever context is necessary. They call it the Touch Bar. Combine this feature with the thinning of modern keyboards, the haptic feedback engines found inside iPhones and MacBook trackpads and sprinkle in a bit of classic Apple disdain for buttons, and what do you get? That’s right: the death of the physical keyboard. Imagine a future where your laptop’s keyboard is actually a touch screen, and when you press the “keys” you get what feels like a physical response. Apple’s marketing team will likely call it MagicTouch or Unicorn Buttons. Some will love it and some will loathe it, but one thing is certain: physical keyboards will have met their doom.
When will it happen? 2022
Okay, so screens themselves may be here to stay for a very long time, but our reliance on visual screens to communicate with technology will decrease as the power and sophistication of AI and voice recognition increase. Today Siri and other voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana sometimes feel like novelty tricks or reasons to cuss in front of your children, but there’s no denying that each year they get a little better. One instance where screens are all but useless: listening to music. Apple killed the remaining holdouts of its iPod lineup in July, but this year it’s releasing its first music-focused product in years: the HomePod. Guess what the HomePod lacks. Yup, a screen. The HomePod, as well as Apple’s AirPods, and arguably even the Apple Watch utilize a voice-first approach as their primary methods of interacting. Expect this trend to continue as AI gets smarter and technology gets smaller, paving the way for the death of all types of screens, including the smartphone.
When will it happen? 2025
5. The Smartphone
Apple’s most defining moments have been when the company has boldly walked away from a successful product in favor of a better, more evolved future. Of the most successful tech products to have graced the planet, the iPhone represents the apex of success. Therefore, killing the iPhone will be Apple’s greatest display of strength. If they have the silicon guts to act.
What tech could possibly replace the smartphone? Two words: augmented reality. As of this fall’s release of iOS 11 and AR Kit, the train is now moving forward to a world where the digital world is merged with the physical world. While the iPhone is quite capable of handling this merger today, it is clear that a new hardware paradigm will be needed at some point in the future to usher in the next phase of this new reality. Will it be glasses? Contact lenses? Mind-altering brain implants? Whatever the iPhone’s killer looks like, it’ll most certainly stem from the seeds of AR and AI. At that time we’ll find out if Apple has retained the spirit of its ax-wielding cofounder, and if they’ll continue to play a lead role in the evolution of our technology.