There's only one word for Apple's strategy after watching yesterday's keynote: Untethered.

We've seen the start of this with Handoff, but we saw the carry-through yesterday with the watch, with its built-in GPS and the disconnected hiking app demo, and particularly in the AirPods -- but also sneakily in the Lightning port. More on that last one in a second.

The AirPods obviously constitute the cleanest vision of untethering. First, Apple's embraced and extended Bluetooth. Forget nasty pairing, but also say hello to pair once, access anywhere, as long as you’re in your personal niche of the Apple ecosystem.

And the AirPods do access. They’re not secondary to hearing sound, not limited like even your fanciest 3.5mm headphones. AirPods are more than just a set of controls to pause & skip, maybe answer and end a call (and what a hack it is getting just that much interaction to work over the 3.5mm).

No, the AirPods are much more than earphones. AirPods are an interface. They are your Star Trek communicators. You tap, you get Siri, you ask whatever [Apple] device is near you to do what you need. They're commoditizing device access.

The AirPod isn't just a decent earphone, though it is that. It isn't just a silly salesman's Bluetooth earpiece, though it is that too (you can use one at a time, if you want, and it's Jawbone city all over again). It's not just a way to listen to music on your computer, though it is that too.

The AirPod is Apple's interface to audio-augmented realty. This is the HoloEar to Microsoft's HoloLens.

What really clued me in was my own absolute embrace of Lightning-only input. Now look, I love the legacy audio port. When I called the Beats acquisition as the end of the 3.5mm in 2014, I said the following:

I've often thought of the 3.5mm headphone jack as one of the most impressive wins for open standards. Everything I've used to listen to music portably since I was listening to a tape of my Falco album during runs as a kid to my iPhone today has had one, which means that there's one type of hardware with the potential to last even longer than my monitors -- my headphones.

I still appreciate that, but it's simply not the way Apple's does design. The 3.5mm port is a distraction. Why would you have two audio-out ports? Lightning works fine for audio, and, much more importantly, the Lightning port allows [digital] data to go both ways. Note when the keynote talked about the way the JBL headphones could adjust the amount of noise cancellation based on communication with the phone over Lightning. That's not a great example, but it gets across Apple's point:

For Apple, headphones should no longer be passive. They should be full players in your digital life. They should be interfaces.

Whether that's Apple's Bluetooth++ or Lightning headphones or an Apple watch or macOS Handoff, what's important is that every device works both ways with every other, that every device is literally an I/O port. The new digital hub is completely distributed.

This increasingly distributed digital world is exactly what we should expect to get more of from Apple. You, untethered from any one specific device, with a wealth of ways to access any of them. And as that interface gets less and less substantial, less and less cumbersome, the interface will gradually fade until it converges with what we now conceptualize of as augmented reality. But when it actually hits, we’ll just call the augmentation our phone. Or watch. Or PC. Or nothing at all.

This freedom is what device & software integration — that is, having Apple provide all of your devices — buys us, and it’s impressive seeing how what, on their face, appear to be such minor advances (“Oh wows. Apple’s made Bluetooth headphones. Yays.”), really are small pieces moving on a much, much larger chess board.

How I put it at Michael Tsai's blog:

"The way Apple justified this was pretty disappointing—no real reason was given."

I think this is a softball. Apple likes [imo, etc] to design without concern for legacy when they can. If you were going to design the perfect iPhone today, would it have two audio-out ports? No. Even more, would you add a legacy port that was inferior -- at best equal -- at audio-out? Goodness no.

And we should've seen it coming. Buying Beats signaled the end of the 3.5mm. This seemingly small move has been a long time coming, and Apple has much bigger plans for what you can do with what you wear on your head than the control hacks we've seen with 3.5mm. The JBL example at the keynote, though weak, was telling. Think of headphones as interface, not as audio-out devices limited to music control and a mic for calls.

Though I totally agree with the lack of courage. If this is better, quit with the adapter as a pack-in. If everyone needs an adapter, you screwed up.

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