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How did Apple’s most-hated accessory become a best-seller? Bad design

In the second quarter of 2017, just a few months after the iPhone 7’s release, the dreaded headphone dongle became Best Buy’s top-selling Apple accessory.

How did Apple’s most-hated accessory become a best-seller? Bad design
[Source Images: Apple]

According to Best Buy sales data gathered by Ceros Originals, in the first half of 2017 Apple’s universally loathed Lightning-to-3.5mm-stereo-jack dongle was the retailer’s most-purchased Apple accessory. As hundreds of reviews have reported the dongle, which became a necessity for many users when Apple eliminated the analog headphone jack in the iPhone 7, breaks easily and is “rubbish,” “terrible,” and “awful.” More than that, it offers yet another example of the decline in Apple’s user experience.

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The analysis–put together by Joshua Fruhlinger and Andrew Thompson–is damning. The 6.6-foot Lightning-to-USB cable has occupied the top spot for years (it was número uno, incidentally, because Apple’s included USB cable is too short to use while charging), but it was quickly knocked down by the dongle. “The headphone jack adapter took the top spot almost instantly,” Fruhlinger and Thompson write. “And only last quarter has it been replaced by the wireless AirPod headphones people suspect the jack’s removal was trying to steer us towards in the first place.”

Indeed, Apple’s wireless headphones only took the top sales position this August for the first time. Though the AirPods are widely loved, they cost $160 and are easily lost–just like their bestselling counterpoint, the $9 dongle (which is $8 too expensive). That may be one reason many many iPhone 7, 8, and X users have had to buy extra dongles. The other reason is what many buyers describe as its low quality. According to the Best Buy report, the dongle took over the first spot in the second quarter of 2017, just a few months after the iPhone 7 release. Is this a coincidence or a testament to its durability and/or ease of misplacement?

[Source Images: Apple]

Back when the iPhone 7 was introduced, Apple’s VP for iOS, iPad, and iPhone Product Marketing Greg Joswiak declared the 3.5mm stereo mini-jack “a dinosaur.” At the same time, Apple’s worldwide marketing boss Phil Schiller said it took “courage” for Apple to eliminate the jack. It’s true that Apple was courageous in the past to eliminate legacy ports and floppy disks–but there was a logic behind that: A failing company needed to simplify to make a modern computer (the iMac) and save itself from death. Right now, Apple is valued at more than $1 trillion.

Technically, there was never a reason to remove the jack. The world’s top phone manufacturer proved it with the Galaxy S9: Samsung made a point about how its phones have a stereo mini-jack because, you know, it’s common sense. Looking at the sales numbers, it seems that this is just one more way for Apple to make bank on an unnecessary piece of hardware. While it doesn’t publish revenue figures on specific products, we know that the services and accessories are driving Apple’s growth. In fact, revenue from accessories multiplied by two between 2015 to 2018. If you were to buy every Apple dongle, it would cost $857.

The real cost, however, is the price of frustrated customers who suffer the consequences of design decisions that are good for Apple, but not users.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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