Apple gambles on iPhone 7 without headphone jack – plus new Apple Watch and Mario

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Apple gambles on iPhone 7 without headphone jack – plus new Apple Watch and Mario” was written by Sam Thielman in New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 7th September 2016 17.33 UTC

Apple signed the death warrant for the headphone port on Wednesday afternoon, ushering in – it hopes – a new tangle-free era of wireless listening. But the move is a bold one for Apple, and one that tech pundits predict could have consumers staying away in droves.

The world’s biggest tech company had been widely expected to kill off the headphone jack at the a launch of the iPhone 7 in San Francisco. The 138-year-old technology will be replaced by headsets that plug into the device’s Lightning connector, which is also used for charging.

The change allowed Apple to make the new iPhone slimmer and waterproof. Unusually for Apple, notorious for its tight control on its PR, the iPhone’s details leaked briefly just before the presentation by way of Amazon.com, which posted its page of iPhone 7 accessories including specs on the phone, and by Apple tweets that appear to have gone out ahead of plans. The presentation lacked Apple’s traditional “one more thing” at the end and did not include news about Apple’s lines of computers or tablets. Shares were down 0.23% from the beginning of the day to the end of the presentation.

While consumers will be able to use their old headphones via an adapter, which will come with the new phone, or plug in a new set, the ultimate aim may be to push consumers to snip those tangle-prone wires altogether for a wireless headset – preferably one made by Beats, the company Apple bought for $3bn in 2014.

The latest iPhone launch is crucial for Apple, which has seen sales of the device slip amid ever fiercer competition. In July the company recorded its second consecutive quarter of revenue decline, breaking a streak of uninterrupted growth since 2003.

Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the new iPhone during the launch event in San Francisco. Photograph: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

Chief executive Tim Cook is gambling that Apple can regain its edge by ditching old technology before its rivals. At the event, Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, said: “It really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters us.”

“Apple has a really good track record of removing features we’re used to having, whether it’s an ethernet port or a disk drive,” said Julie Ask of Forrester Research. “Consumers are asking for things to be more water-resistant and more waterproof. If Apple does it the way Apple typically does things, in two years we’ll be like: ‘Why did we ever do it that way?’”

Others are skeptical. “Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid,” wrote the Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel.

Over 303,000 people have signed an online petition attacking Apple for forcing consumers to buy new headsets and creating “mountains of electronic waste – that likely won’t get recycled. According to the United Nations, up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste is illegally traded or dumped each year.”

But Apple has a strong technological case for updating the headphone jack, which can trace its origins back to at least 1878 and was originally used in old-fashioned telephone switchboards.

Apple announced another new product on Wednesday – AirPods, a pair of barely-larger-than-earplugs headphones that Schiller said use a new kind of chip to deliver a “magical experience” without the usual hassle of BlueTooth pairing and unpairing.

The company also added features to its camera system, which now includes two front-facing lenses that allow true telephoto zoom – instead of simply picture-enlargement – and new workarounds for low-light photography and other perks.

Tim Cook carpools with James Corden on way to Apple event

The headphone gambit emphasizes a growing concern among shareholders: that Apple has become a one-product company. Data from an analysis by eMarketer indicates that the company’s share of the US smartphone market is expected to remain essentially static this year at about 43.5%, up just 0.2%.

“It’s an unrealistic expectation that they’re going to continue to grow at the same rates that they have in the past,” Ask, of Forrest Research, said.

Apple continues to market its products as premium and high end, but there are a limited number of wealthy tech consumers, and competitors are gaining traction in the developing world with economical models. “They’re not trying to win the race to the bottom like [competitors] Samsung or Huawei; they tend to go after the middle-class consumer that can afford the products,” Ask said.

The tech firm doubled down on the Apple Watch, which debuted in a Series 2 version with tie-ins from Nike and Hermes. Apple still hasn’t broken out sales figures for the watch in its earnings reports, preferring to include it in a line item with sundry other products. The new version will be waterproof.

The presentation’s biggest surprise came from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who showed up to announce Super Mario Run, a brand-new game in the Mario Bros franchise for iOS devices and one of the very few to debut on a platform not made by Nintendo. (True gaming nerds may remember Hotel Mario on the Phillips CD-i.) The game would be out “in time for holidays in 2016”, said Miyamoto.

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