What Apple Could Learn From Nintendo’s Headphone Mistake

Nintendo removed the headphone jack on the GBA SP 13 years ago and I still haven’t forgiven them for it. Compared to the Game Boy Advance (or GBA), the SP had rechargeable batteries, a bigger and brighter screen, and felt great in your hands. It should have been the greatest handheld gaming unit of it’s time, but it lacked one key thing… a headphone jack.

There have been rumors that Apple would repeat this mistake when launching the newest iPhone, so many of us were prepared for yesterday’s news, but the big difference between these two consumer technology giants is that if Apple’s new bet turns out to be a big mistake, they are unlikely to come back and fix it in future models.

What Apple Could Learn

As a chiptune musician, I still collect and use old handheld gaming systems and not a year goes by that I don’t curse the executive who removed the headphone jack from the GBA SP. If it wasn’t for the missing headphone jack, the SP would be my favorite device for GBA games and making music. Instead of using the ubiquitous headphone jack, Nintendo required gamers to use an extra dongle that plugged into the SP’s rechargeable power port. These dongles were cheap, but limiting in three major ways.

  1. You can’t charge and use the headphone jack at the same time- Because the SP only had one port, you had to choose between charging your device or listening to it. This might not be so bad when you are on the go, but if you are the sort of person who likes to listen to podcasts while you are at work or play Pokemon while charging your phone, only using one port for audio and charging means you’ll have to choose between power or audio.
  2. Power ports are not as sturdy as 3.5mm headphone jack- The headphone jack was designed for constant on the go usage. They work great when on a jog or when walking around with a device in your pocket. Power cables were designed around a whole other use case. When charging your device, you probably aren’t moving around or storing it in your pocket, so the ports are designed to be a little less sturdy. When using a dongle for the GBA SP, audio would constantly cut in and out. That’s why I can never use an SP when I’m performing on stage. No matter how good your dongle is, it still has to rely on a good audio connection from your device. I doubt the lightning port on an iPhone is going to hold up to normal wear and tear without constantly dislodging itself.
  3. One more thing to lose- The requirement of an extra dongle means one more piece you’ll probably leave at home or work… then you are stuck with a pair of headphones that you can’t use. As you switch between different devices, you’ll probably be taking the dongle on and off frequently. Leaving it on your desk, or in your gym bag, or wherever. I bet iPhone users are going to start amazing extra dongles just to leave around everywhere in case they left their dongle at home.

Never Bluetooth

I’ve whined about dongles so much that you might be saying “But Doc, just get a pair of bluetooth headphones.” I’ve tried throughout the years to jump over to BT headphones, but it’s always such a shitty experience that I doubt this tech will ever truly catch on in the same way as normal headphones have.

  • Bluetooth audio tech is still terrible- The connection is not reliable and the audio quality is low tech. Bluetooth isn’t just wirelessly transmitting high quality audio, it’s using it’s on proprietary compression. That’s on top of the audio compression that you are using (MP3, M4A, WAV, etc). Bluetooth audio works okay for phone calls or listening to podcasts, but really loses it’s charm when listening to music.
  • Switching between devices sucks- After your morning walk or bus ride, you probably switch over to your laptop for a few hours, then switch back to your mobile device on your way back. This daily task was the single worst part of using bluetooth headphones. Constantly pairing my device drove me nuts. That’s not even mentioning all the times a friend or co-worker might hand you their device and say “listen to this”, but you can’t because you’d have to pair your headphones to their bluetooth just to watch a 30 second video.
  • Twice as many things to charge- Charging a portable device is annoying enough, now imagine needing to charge your headphones too. Ugh.

Apple Does What Nintendon’t

Nintendo claimed that removing the headphone jack was necessary at the time. There’s just no way they could have fit such a cumbersome extra piece into this state of the art tech. After consumer backlash though, Nintendo never made this mistake again. Proprietary controllers or chargers, sure, but consumers didn’t want an extra dongle just to use their favorite headphones.

Apple probably won’t back down. In fact they’ll probably remove headphone jacks from every laptop and device they make in the future. Which means that folks like me, who still carry around their DS Lite or some fun pocket synthesizers or an older iPad, will have to keep an extra bag of dongles on them just to be prepared.


Pokemon Go run through neural networks


A couple of weeks back, I shared some Poketography from the streets of NYC. These were all shots taken through Pokemon Go then cleaned up with some simple editing. This week I thought it’d be fun to take that same concept and see how it looks when run through Prisma, a new neural network image app that uses AI to recreate your images in the styles of famous paintings. Here are some of my favorite results.


Pokétography: Street Photography through the Pokémon GO app


I’m in New York for WordCamp NYC this weekend and getting some walking in before the event. I’ve been getting a bunch of Pokemon Go time on this visit and started to get a little board with the game itself, so I wanted to see if I could get some street photography through the Pokemon GO app itself.

It certainly added an extra level of challenge to taking photos, first you have to wait for a Pokemon creature to appear, then you have to find a way to line your creature up with a scene you find interesting. Most of the time you are shooting Rattatas or Zubats, but when something special pops up, like a Tauros or Pinsir, suddenly I get a little thrill about taking the photo because I know those creatures appear less frequently and are likely to run away soon if I don’t catch them. So I only have a minute to find a shot and make it work with them.

Mostly, this was just a fun little challenge, but the plus side at least I have an extra excuse for when I’m pointing my iPhone around on the street. “I’m hunting Pokemon.”







Is this the death of Seene?

Whenever I’m giving a workshop on fun mobile photography apps, Seene is always at the top of my list, but today I learned that Seene has quietly been acquired by Snapchat. The deal actually makes a lot of since for both parties… Snapchat’s bizarre filters could get even weirder with Seene’s 3D mapping technology and Seene never really managed to get a critical mass of users to keep itself sustainable.

These news articles keep referring to Seene as a “selfie app”, but it’s face scanning mode is a relatively new addition to the app. It’s cool, but not all that useful. Plus it never really worked with my glasses on… The real great use for Seene was for having a unusual way to capture landscapes, architecture, or even food. Adding a slight element of depth to an otherwise static photo really made the image pop.

Aside from the 3D tech, the app was also built around a community aspect. Sort of like an Instagram for 3D images. Within the app, images could be viewed by moving your phone around to get a feel for the depth of the image. Though the community never really took off, it was a very close knit and supportive group of users at it’s core. Though my images went up in my Seene timeline, most of the time I would just export them as a 15 second looping video that I’d share on IG, Twitter or wherever.

For me, Seene was a great tool for creating unique images and I have a feeling that Snapchat is not going to maintain it for long. My hunch is they’ll shutter the app within the next three months and just use their face scanning tech within the existing Snapchat app. So my suggestion is to download Seene right now (for iOS or Android) and give it a try. Hopefully if the app does get shuttered, the 3D image capturing tech will continue to work.