Rushing down the stairs of the subway station, I am sure I am going to catch this train. The doors just opened, and people had only begun filing out. Perfect timing.
But then I hang a right around the bottom of the staircase, and my headphones catch the railing.
My iPhone 6 immediately disconnects from the headphones, and gets flung backwards onto the ground.
The train doors close, and I turn around and reach for my iPhone, sitting face down on the hard tile.
I pick up my phone, and to my horror, the front display is completely shattered.
Headphones caught on subway railing while trying to catch a train. Missed the train, iPhone screen shattered. God. Damn. It
— Davecember (@redletterdave) December 31, 2014
Despite all the improvements Apple has made to its smartphone line, some things never change. Thousands of iPhone customers over the years have had similar experiences, unfortunately.
But I can’t really knock Apple for this particular issue: At least the company has tried to improve its glass screens without sacrificing any of the quality, and they have largely succeeded, too.
Corning’s Gorilla Glass has helped the iPhone become more shatter-resistant over the years, and Apple even enlisted the help of GT Advanced to try to make the iPhone’s display crack-proof this year by replacing Gorilla Glass with sapphire, the second-hardest material known to man. Unfortunately, the latter partnership did not work out, and it’s unclear if Apple will ever attempt a sapphire phone again.
Maybe the glass isn’t the problem. After all, it’s not easy to shatter the phone unless you’re being careless.
Maybe the problem lies with those tiny white headphones that come bundled with every new iPhone purchase.
To me, the key to keeping the iPhone safe is to reduce the number of times you need to take it in and out of your pocket. The Apple Watch will certainly help with that, since you can perform most iPhone functions from your wrist — but I’d argue Apple’s wired headphones, the EarPods, are vastly more important to improve.
Apple introduced the EarPods in September 2012 — they have shipped with every iPhone since the iPhone 5. But wires are wholly inefficient:
- Wires can be frayed or severed
- Wires can catch onto clothes and various surfaces, which can yank you or your device if they get tripped on something
Apple’s clever MagSafe design for MacBooks probably wouldn’t work with the iPhone, since it would likely be too easy to disconnect while it’s just sitting in your pocket. The answer seems to be to go wireless.
There are plenty of readers probably thinking, “C’mon Dave, just buy yourself some wireless headphones without an Apple logo and call it a day.”
I understand that point. But I also disagree that Apple should basically do nothing, as if the EarPods are a flawless design. They’re not.
Here’s one little known fact about Apple: It’s actually one of the biggest maker of speakers in the world, having produced over 1.2 billion tiny speakers in for its earbuds, and now EarPods. So why not make that product into something people will love?
In 2012, the EarPods were a dramatic improvement over the previous earbuds; but now, competitors have caught up. Amazon even offers a similar product to EarPods that’s $US10 cheaper. So it’s up to Apple to really make its headphones shine again, just like they did in the heyday of the iPod with all of those slick commercials that inspired a generation to wear white in-ear headphones.
While going wireless seems to be the eventual solution, it’s not quite clear how to get there.
By removing the wires, you can still connect to the device you’re listening to without needing to worry about tangling, thanks to Bluetooth. There’s a big downside, though: You’d have to charge these headphones. And that’s not good — most consumers simply want to grab their headphones and go, and they’d be livid if the headphones stopped working at any time, for any reason.
Still, companies are coming up with clever ways to charge wireless headphones and earbuds. Maybe at some point, Apple will get into wireless charging, and bring that solution to its tiny in-ear headphones before bringing that technology to a larger device like an iPhone or iPad.
Wireless EarPods would be great, and they would have saved my iPhone 6 from some major trauma this morning, but why stop there? Apple doesn’t just do “good” products, it does “insanely great ones.”
So if Apple is serious about its headphones — and if it’s serious about helping its users “get healthy” beyond the Apple Watch and Health app — Apple should introduce EarPods with sensors for heart rate and blood pressure.
Heck, Apple even patented this solution in 2008. It just needs to become a reality.
The Apple Watch will reportedly measure heart rate and blood pressure — but not everyone will buy an Apple Watch. So why not offer an alternative way for customers to get in on the health action without needing to throw down at least $US350 on a smartwatch?
EarPods cost just $US30, but Apple could easily jack the price of the product if it can actually do more than rival headphones — especially if they actually make the wearer healthier.
Consider this: Physicians have long tried to develop similar in-ear monitoring systems
that can inform doctors about cardiovascular risk factors, which would allow them to provide vital preventative care. Researchers believe the ear is the “[ideal] location for an integrated wearable vital signs monitor … for both physiological and mechanical reasons.”
And yet, no company has yet to produce a health-oriented in-ear solution, especially at a mass scale. One major reason: Fitness devices need to be sexy if they’re going to be worn — it sends the message that you’re taking care of yourself. Unfortunately, medical device manufacturers aren’t really known for their fashion sense.
Apple could deliver in this respect, offering headphones that are stylish and comfortable but also extremely functional, in that they can play music and carry phone calls, but also receive data from our ends, capturing information from our own bodies to tell us about our health.
If EarPods could be wireless and health-oriented, Apple might quietly become the king of wearable devices for the foreseeable future.