An iPhone without a headphone jack

The latest episode of The Talk Show had a lengthy discussion about the possibility of Apple ditching the headphone jack on future iPhones. I’ve used Bluetooth headphones for a couple years now, and having to go back to a cable feels absolutely archaic. I feel like Bluetooth would be the logical default choice in a future without 3.5mm ports. The Lightning cable option can be for crazy audiophiles.

This dorky collar form factor has been okay enough for me, but Apple definitely isn’t going to release something that looks like that. However, I recently tried out this smaller design that is probably only possible with Bluetooth LE, and it’s quite good. It demonstrates that Apple could feasibly make a set of Bluetooth EarPods that look nice and don’t have an ugly and obtrusive battery pack attached.

Ultimately, though, the Bluetooth standard is a pretty fiddly thing to replace a simple plug with. Putting things into pairing mode when you want to switch between using your phone and your iPad is unintuitive and kludgy.

NFC bluetooth pairing exists, and might be a way for Apple to smooth out the shitty process of switching between devices, as well as the initial setup experience. I can’t vouch for it personally because I own zero NFC devices, so it might be just as flaky as regular Bluetooth, and it wouldn’t work for Macs or iPads. Ultimately, I’m skeptical it could ever be as easy as “plug in cable, sound comes out.”

If they can address the usability issues, the larger problem will be perception. The Lightning cable switchover was ultimately a clean win for everyone, but Apple totally lost in the court of public opinion. I personally have many more dumb standards-based USB variants to keep track of, but Only Apple™ gets shit for making a single new connector after 10 years.

Unlike that, this will have downsides in day-to-day use. Releasing an iPhone that removes such a basic feature without sufficient justification could easily be a fiasco, especially if the Lightning to 3.5mm adapters are $30 and there isn’t one in the box. They will have to tread very carefully, and not even including a simple USB to USB-C adapter with the Macbook seems to indicate they won’t.

Fixing the iMessage notification explosion

Lots of talk today about the Messages beta for OS X, and how to deal with the swarm of notifications that can occur if you use the same account on two or three different devices, like an iPhone, iPad and Mac. Most of the solutions talk about adding more IM-like features to iMessage, but there may be a more elegant solution.

If you used Macs in the dark pre-iPhone days, you may remember a mostly abandoned Mac app called Salling Clicker. It was a remote control program that connected with some dumbphones over Bluetooth, allowing you to do a limited array of stuff that we largely take for granted now, like controlling iTunes or advancing slides in Keynote. One still unique feature used the strength of the Bluetooth connection to tell when you were away from your Mac. If it saw that you were no longer nearby, it could pause iTunes, lock the computer, and most importantly, set your iChat status to away. When you came back into range, it would wake up the screen and resume playing music.

Apple could leverage the extensive location and context information their modern devices have to prioritize and reroute notifications based on the devices’ proximity to all the other devices. They could assume that, if my iPhone is in my pocket most of the time, and it has an extremely strong Bluetooth connection to my Mac, I probably want notifications to appear on the Mac. If the phone is plugged in, I’m less likely to be near it, so notifications might first appear on my Mac or iPad, depending on what the last device I used was. Ideally, notifications would shortly appear everywhere if they haven’t been looked at on the first device Apple decided to send them to.

There are certainly privacy concerns with Apple constantly monitoring the state of my devices down to which one I last used, but I already let them know where the devices are for iCloud, which is a far bigger deal than anything else. Other location- or context-specific settings, like “If I’m at home, don’t bother me with a password to unlock my phone,” could also make Apple’s devices even more pleasant to use with no extra effort from the user. If it could work reliably, it would be far preferable to having to actively remember to set your status to route notifications – very It Just Works.