Unscientific Headphone Research

I was on the NYC Subway last night heading home from work (Downtown E Train) and was listening to a tech oriented podcast that was discussing the recent decision by Apple to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. The discussion made me think about what sort of impact Apple’s decision may have on customer behavior relative to their headphones, and what headphones people use. How many people really go out and purchase different headphones? How many people say ‘screw it’ and just use the free ‘in the box’ Apple earbuds?

So I started to look around at the folks in the train car – a pretty solidly random collection of people. I’m going to say there were somewhere around 150 people in the car and of that total, maybe 30-40 people were wearing headphones (roughly 20%). And of those 30-40 people, at least 15 (~10% of the total and ~50% of the people wearing headphones) were rocking out using the white Apple issued headphones.

So this says to me that in this random sample of people, a solid 50% of people using headphones in this train car were not picky enough with the quality of the audio produced by their headphones to go with anything other than the less-than-elete free, hard plastic, non-maliable, non-noise reducing/cancelling Apple EarBuds that come with every iPhone.

And when you then extend that out to the new iPhone 7, you could make a stretch assumption that in a similarly random sample of people, probably more people would use the free Apple EarPods with the Lightning connector because they came in the iPhone box and they are locked into using the Lighting headphones due to the iPhone 7’s lack of a headphone jack. These people would not be that up in arms about the lack of a headphone jack because of similar behavior when there WAS a traditional headphone jack. A good chunk of them would simply say “Fuck it, why bother with better quality audio and great noise cancelling technology from someone like Bose when I can listen to the rumbling of a NYC subway and the noise of the guy chomping on a burrito, drone out the sound of ‘Arcade Fire’.” Let’s just use these Apple issued Lightning EarPods (that are basically the old, free headphones with a Lightning connector) that sound like tin cans in your ear.

An observation. Hardly scientific, but an observation none the less.

iPhone Sounds Stuck In The Past

I happened upon an article on The Verge recently that spoke to the broken process hassle of adding a ringtone to the iPhone and how in 2016, experiences like this make the iPhone feel like it’s stuck in 2008.

I am going to document the process that, in 2016, I went through to get my preferred ringtone on an iPhone. It is a story of complaints and gripes, yes, but it is also a story about why Apple’s philosophy about how it thinks the “future of computing” should work keeps making the mistakes of the past. It’s not just process, it’s layers and layers of politics.

This article could not be more accurate, however I don’t think it goes far enough. Just as big an issue as what Dieter Bohn outlines on The Verge is how other UX elements like customizing ‘audio alerts’ for iOS Apps and Notifications is just as broken.

Let’s look at the Alert experience for communication apps – E-mail, Messaging, Notifications and Alerts, etc. Depending on the app, the experience falls into one of two experiences: You are beholden to what the app has chosen as it’s default Alert sound (with rarely any option to change it) or, iOS ‘assigns’ the “Text Tone” alert to all similar communications apps by default. So if you have different communications apps such as two email apps (Gmail and Apple Mail for example), or several chat apps (What’s App, Google Hangouts, Telegram, iMessage, etc.), things become problematic pretty quickly, as you are not able to audibly discern which type of message you are receiving when you phone is in your pocket, bag or wherever.


Yes, you can choose which alert sound you want to assign to email (or text alerts) in iOS’s ‘Sound Settings’, but it is a global setting. And you can assign I prefer to use the Gmail and the Google Inbox apps for my email and have buried Apple Mail in the proverbial “Other” iOS folder on my phone (that’s a whole other issue but thankfully Apple is addressing that). Unfortunately, in this very common scenario, you are not able to customize the Alert sounds assigned to each of these apps. I have to live with whatever the app publisher has defined.

This becomes an issue because I’m not able to audibly differentiate between a Notification from someone I follow on Twitter vs an Email via the Gmail app. Within the Twitter app, you have the ability to receive alerts when certain people/handles you follow send out a Tweet. Since this is set up as an ‘Alert’ in iOS’s Sound settings, whenever I receive one of these ‘Tweet alerts’, it too has the same audible Alert tone as Text messages or many other ‘Alerts’ from other apps, so there is no way to know from the sound which alert just came through. You have to look at the phone to see if the alert is from Twitter, IFTTT, or whatever service you use. Thankfully, Google Inbox has updated their alert sound to a very nice but subtle tone so I am able to use that to know that an email has arrived (In turn, I shut down the Gmail app’s alerts all together).

In many ways, the ‘Alert’ experience and the ringtone experience documented in The Verge are metaphors for Apple’s legacy of controlling the full end-to-end experience. This approach has obviously proven successful for them but at the same time, they need to really think through where they can strike a balance in their approach. Android goes to the complete other extreme, where you can customize too much of it’s experience, and I think that becomes too overwhelming to even the most advanced users. That also brings in too many opportunities for errors and big issues and from that perspective, Apple’s hard line controls are a huge benefit to them and the customer.

Apple has an interesting opportunity to relax subtle but important elements of iOS, and re-work some of their legacy User Interaction experiences to give it’s users/customers enough control to customize the phone to their lifestyle while still providing the controls needed to ensure the essence of the iOS experience is not compromised.

Source: Why the iPhone sometimes feels stuck in the past | The Verge

Apple Snark

In the tech world, there has been quite a flurry and the abundance of jokes and head scratching about Apple’s epic struggle to bring to market a white version of their popular iPhone. So today it was announced that the White iPhone is finally here!! So Techcrunch led off their article with this great piece of snark…made me laugh:

Apple has just announced the availability of the white iPhone. Unlike the black iPhone, it is able to reflect all colors of the visible spectrum, thereby making it white.

Via TechCrunch

iPhone Monster

Apple’s iPhone represents about half of their $12.3 Billion in revenue. And while the iPad numbers flattened off in Q1, I would argue that a big reason for that was the impending release of iPad 2 coupled with the inventory issues that hampered iPad 2 sales. None the less, its pretty crazy to look at this graph and think that the iPhone was only released in 2006 and now represents such a huge element of Apple’s business. Amazing.

via Business Insider

Eating Android’s Dust

Some new numbers have been released showing that Android has picked up a staggering 7% absolute points (26% market share in November 2010 and 33% share in February 2011) of market share in the past 3 months. That’s a whopping 27% increase. If I was a brand manager, I would take a 27% share growth any day, thank you very much.

As I’ve mentioned before, Apple and its iPhone get all the hype from the fan boys, however Apple once again is fighting and losing the exact same battle as it did in the 1980’s and 1990’s

Apple is fighting a very similar war to the one it fought–and lost–in the 1990s. It is trying to build the best integrated products, hardware and software, and maintain complete control over the ecosystem around them. This end-to-end control makes it easier for Apple to build products that are “better,” but it makes it much harder for the company to compete against a software platform that is standard across many hardware manufacturers Windows in the 1990s, Android now. 

As the SAI article I’ve quoted notes, I would have to agree that Apple and the others in the mobile space (RIM, Windows) need to really consider the implications here.

My mobile contract on Verizon is up in July and while Verizon now has the iPhone, and I have recently acquired other Apple products like iPad and iPad 2, I have to say that I am pretty reticent to switch over to iPhone for my mobile device. The flexibility of the Android phone is something that I’m not ready to give up yet, and I get the sense from these numbers that others are feeling the same way.

via SAI.

Patience, Young Skywalker

Reviews of the new Verizon iPhone are starting to roll in.

Walt Mossberg over at All Things D has an initial review of the Verizon iPhone 4. Yes, the Verizon iPhone addresses AT&T’s most glaring flaw, the ability to actually use it as a phone, however it appears that the other elements of the device – data services, et al – are somewhat lagging.

Bottom line: In my tests, the new Verizon version of the iPhone did much better at voice calling than the AT&T version, and offers some attractive benefits, like unlimited data and a wireless hot-spot capability. But if you really care about data speed, or travel overseas, and AT&T service is tolerable in your area, you may want to stick with AT&T

From his POV, it appears it may be worthwhile to wait a bit on the new Verizon iPhone.

At the same time, MG Siegler over at TechCrunch also posted a review that was decidedly more upbeat, as he was really focusing on how the consistent Verizon signal and connectivity outweighed the speed advantages that AT&T provided:

There’s no question that AT&T’s network is faster than Verizon’s for data transfers both up and down. I’ve tried this all over the city a number of times. AT&T is faster. But, and this is a very big but, in order for AT&T to be faster, it needs to have a signal. And again, that’s simply not the case in large parts of the city. So speed or not, Verizon still wins this battle hands down in my book. I’ll take Verizon’s coverage over AT&T’s speed any day.

Conveniently, my Verizon phone contract will be up in the July timeframe which is traditionally around when Apple releases new flavors of the iPhone. And I’ve been more than happy with my Android phone so far. What to do?!? Big decisions lie ahead!

via AllThingsD and Techcrunch

RIM Caught Flat Footed

So it turns out that RIM was completely, utterly caught off guard when the original Apple iPhone was released in 2007:

RIM had a complete internal panic when Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, a former employee revealed this weekend. The BlackBerry maker is now known to have held multiple all-hands meetings on January 10 that year, a day after the iPhone was on stage, and to have made outlandish claims about its features. Apple was effectively accused of lying as it was supposedly impossible that a device could have such a large touchscreen but still get a usable lifespan away from a power outlet.

RIM’s reaction? The equivalent of a panic pick when the time is running out during the 3rd round of your Fantasy Football draft: The RIM Storm, which hit the market two years later and clearly not started until after the iPhone release.

End of Landline Days

A full 20% of US households have given up their landlines. And that segment is now outpacing the number of landline only houses, which stands at 17%. A generation very soon will not know the concept of a home phone line. But in today’s mobile device world, everyone will have their own unique device where talking is just another embedded or installed feature. And I would argue that talking on the phone is almost a secondary function these days, behind emailing, texting, Twittering, and posting to Facebook. But are we losing something here too? Is technology chipping a little bit more away from how the traditional elements of the traditional household and family? Like the boy calling the girl’s house and having to talk his way through the suspicious father? Or brothers and sisters battling for phone time?