Another day, another rumor that Apple is going to ditch the headphone jack on the next iPhone in favor of sending out audio over Lightning. Or another phone beats Apple to the punch by ditching the headphone jack in favor of passing out audio over USB-C. What exciting times for phones! We’re so out of ideas that actively making them shittier and more user-hostile is the only innovation left.
Look, I know you’re going to tell me that the traditional TRS headphone jack is a billion years old and prone to failure and that life is about progress and whatever else you need to repeat deliriously into your bed of old HTC extUSB dongles and insane magnetic Palm adapters to sleep at night. But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!
Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of us outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why. But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. Also, historically, Apple has proven to be very good at timing the removal of established legacy ports.
If it weren’t for Apple we’d probably still be using computers with VGA and serial ports. The essence of Apple is that they make design decisions “no one asked for”.
And in five years we’ll look at analog headphone jacks the way we look at all the other legacy ports we’ve abandoned.
As if Apple should make a change just because this port is old. No, the right question is not “when”, it’s this: Is the proposed solution better enough than the status quo to justify a disruptive transition?
We don’t know how Apple will position it as superior, as John acknowledges right here. We’re just supposed to assume that this is a better solution, and that it “seems like it might be the right time”, based on… who knows. Until Apple answers that question, which they yet haven’t done publicly or through controlled media leaks, we can only speculate.
So barring some bombshell announcement that changes how we think about digital headphones, this is a step forward and 7 steps back.
It is nigh impossible in mobile for existing customers to “just vote with your wallet” any more without significant time and cost.
What is good for Apple is not inherently good for you. There are times when what Apple does is in sync with what benefits their customers, such as in areas of privacy and security. But that same company released Apple Maps when it was literally years away from being ready for the real world, because it benefitted them to not deal with Google. The same company that forced U2 into everyone’s iTunes libraries without consent as a marketing ploy. The same company that made their music app frustratingly difficult to use so they could shove their subscription service into every nook and cranny of the user interface. Apple is not on your side by default.
I didn’t argue that this change will be good for users. I argued that it could be. We don’t know yet!
One of the ideas I’ve seen bandied about regarding the purported removal of the standard headphone jack on this year’s new iPhones is that maybe it’s because the iPhone is switching from Lightning to USB-C. […] I say no way.
What if Apple is planning on Bluetooth earbuds that include a Lightning jack, like the Pencil? Plug them in to the device you want to pair them with, tap “Pair”, and you’re done. Easy to charge, too. (But again, this only works across iOS and Mac if Macs gain Lightning ports.)
See also: Marco Arment on The Talk Show.
The bottom line for me is that no one seems to have any idea what the benefits would be to justify the hassle. The TRS connector is not as obviously antiquated as the floppy drive was. And Lightning and Bluetooth headphones are possible without removing it. I most often use the headphone jack in the car or on a plane when I’m simultaneously charging the phone via the Lightning port. It sounds like doing this with the iPhone 7 would require dongles, if it’s possible at all.
Sidenote: I think the real problem with the original iMac was not the lack of a floppy drive—you could easily add an external one if needed—but the removal of high-speed I/O. The CD drive was not writable, and flash drives were not yet plentiful. USB 1.1 was an improvement over serial ports, but it was terrible for connecting external storage. SCSI was removed and replaced with nothing until the iMac DV added FireWire.
But how long does it really take Apple to kill legacy tech? We threw together a chart to map it out.
Update (2016-07-01): Jason Snell:
I’ve heard a lot of reasons why people think Apple will remove the headphone jack, but as I said this week on Upgrade, I’m not sure I’ve heard a single one that makes sense or justifies the inconvenience that would be the result of such a move. Let’s go through them.
What is this, “Logan’s Run”? The age of something isn’t reason enough to kill it.
Apple better have very good benefits for this that customers will want, but none of the reports so far indicate any.
Combined with the disappointment sure to result from the same physical iPhone design for three years in a row — a mediocre one, at that — I fear for the public perception of this fall’s iPhone and Apple as a result.
Without AppleCare, this headphone jack represents a $180 increase in repair costs.
Update (2016-07-02): See also: The Talk Show with Nilay Patel.
Update (2016-09-06): Jesper:
I am dumb enough for many things, but not to believe that this will prevent Apple from going this route. They will set this path subject only to their own discretion, and I praise their freedom to do so. What I can’t quite get over is seeing people who were open earlier to seeing the alternate solution, the unseen parts of this equation, what only Apple knows right now, are taking delight already in consigning anyone not already dancing in the streets over the loss of the shackles of old jacks to the slow luddite moron basket. So much for sticking to the argument, seeing it play out, and possibly even taking Apple to task for killing something that was actually simplicity in its purest form over something that – for the purposes of being a replacement – is simple in wolf’s clothing, bringing side effects, needless manuevering, repetetive loss of connection and general anguish in its wake.
My only prediction for Wednesday’s event is that there will be no “it just works” over the wireless headphone story for iPhone 7.
All of which makes me strongly suspect that Apple planned all along to deliberately leak the fact that it would be dropping the 3.5mm socket – even if Makotakara discovered it first. It did so, I believe, because it knew that there would be outrage from some quarters, most notably those who own expensive wired headphones which they like to use with the iPhones as well as other kit.
Leaking the news such a long way in advance would ensure that people had time to prepare, both emotionally and practically.
The headphone jack is what’s preventing phones from getting any thinner. It’s the limiting factor.
A lot of people really love thin phones. But if you don’t care about thinness, you can put it another way: The headphone jack is what’s preventing phone batteries from getting bigger. You do care about battery life, right?
In the post-headphone jack era, your music will remain digital until it reaches the headphones, which can have a much nicer converter. You’ll skip over that analog conversion business—and get better-sounding audio.
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