Even the most adamant Apple hater can’t deny that Apple products are pleasing to the eye. The innovators of the modern user experience, they have become the most highly valued company on the planet by creating products that are intuitive, natural and beautiful.
Samsung recently learned the hard way – you too can have an Apple-like interface on your product if you are willing to risk stumping up a cool $1 billion.
The phenomenon of unboxing videos is only about 80% the fault of Apple fanbois. Cupertino put incredible thought and detail into their packaging. Liberating a new Apple product from its cardboard confinement is a visual and tactile delight. It even smells good enough to inspire a custom fragrance.
The minimalist yet beautiful ‘it just works’ philosophy extends to everything Apple crafts*. Except the earphones that come bundled with Apple products.
In 2007 Apple headphone cords were found to contain dangerously high levels of phthalates, a substance banned from use in toys and childcare products.
After a more concerted effort to comply with RoHS [Restriction of Hazardous Substances] regulations resulted in the removal of this material from their products, nowadays Apple earphones just leak sound.
They subject everyone within earshot to your selections. DJ Earbuds in da house/tram/bus.
But worse than broadcasting what could be your secret shame or a guilty pleasure, they give a new customer the impression that their new iPod or iPhone just sounds that terrible. Tinny and sloppy and overblown.
The same company that gives us retina display crispness for our eyes gives us fingernails on a blackboard for our ears.
iPods don’t sound bad at all if you give them a proper diet. Play some lossless or minimally compressed music through some good earphones and you can get pretty damn close to what the artist intended. Use good IEMs [In-Ear Monitors] and you can blissfully block out the outside world all together, if that’s your thing and you remember to look before crossing the road.
Perhaps Apple relies on consumer indifference. If you’re already just listening to 128kbps MP3s, decent earphones are going to make your music sound worse, not better.
More likely it is because earphones are a universal fit item. In the world of custom dock connectors that attract a healthy license fee, is there any merit in Apple investing resources into developing a product that could still be easily substituted for a third party alternative?
If Apple’s designers turned their attention and resources to sound, I’ve no doubt they’d offer a product similar in quality and perhaps appearance to AKGs K3003 for about 1/10th of the price.
Until they do, perhaps Apple needs to leave the junk-in-waiting out of their products all together and direct customers to their nearest Sennheiser dealer. It’s an easy opportunity for a company under increasing public pressure to take a small but positive ethical step.
As it is, it’s become accepted wisdom that the first thing a purchaser should do is discard the earphones that came with the device and replace them with a superior alternative.
As little as $20 will get you something better.
And what happens to those OEM earphones? The majority will end up thrown in the bin and dumped in the ground somewhere.
Apple sold over 42 million iPods in 2011. There have been more than 320000000 iPods sold since they first changed the way we experienced portable audio in late 2001.
These figures don’t include iPhone sales, and though the built in microphone and controls offer a utility that means the OEM ‘phones are less likely to be discarded, an increasing amount of vendors are now offering superior alternatives that include the microphone and controls.
Apple will likely address this with another proprietary connector on an upcoming iPhone. All they need is an excuse – perhaps an always-on Siri – to compel their users to either fork out for yet another overpriced adapter or stick with the OEM earphones.
For me personally, as an audiophile I’d love to experience the end result of Apple turning their attention to the one aspect of their totally integrated product experience that they’ve ignored up until now. But they won’t. Not yet. And even though it sounds like it, it’s not really because they hate our ears. It’s because they love our wallets.
*OK, admittedly iTunes is also an abomination.
Image by Dario Linsky via Creative Commons Licence