Monday, June 3, 2024

“Lightning” Headphones That Require Bluetooth

Josh Whiton:

A crazy experience — I lost my earbuds in a remote town in Chile, so tried buying a new pair at the airport before flying out. But the new wired, iPhone, lightning-cable headphones didn’t work. Strange.


By now the gift shop people and their manager and all the people in line behind me are super annoyed, until one of the girls says in Spanish, “You need to have bluetooth on.” Oh yes, everyone else nods in agreement. Wired headphones for iPhones definitely need bluetooth.


With a little back and forth I realize that they don’t even conceptually know what bluetooth is, while I have actually programmed for the bluetooth stack before. I was submitting low-level bugs to Ericsson back in the early 2000’s! Yet somehow, I with my computer science degree, am wrong, and they, having no idea what bluetooth even is, are right.


True Apple lightning devices are more expensive to make. So instead of conforming to the Apple standard, these companies have made headphones that receive audio via bluetooth — avoiding the Apple specification — while powering the bluetooth chip via a wired cable, thereby avoiding any need for a battery.

Via John Gruber (Hacker News):

I think the problem these cheap manufacturers are solving isn’t that Lightning is expensive to license, but that it’s difficult to implement for audio. Actual Lightning headphones and headphone adapters have a tiny little digital-to-analog converter (DAC) inside the Lightning plug. It’s like a little computer. Doing it with Bluetooth and using the Lightning plug only for power is surely easier. It’s just lazy. But it’s kind of wild that the laziest, cheapest way to make unofficial “Lightning” headphones is with Bluetooth.


10 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Genius! I love these kinds of clever workarounds.

Sam Rowlands

This story makes me so glad that I decided to support one the few companies that still include a headphone jack on their mobile devices.

Old Unix Geek

Let's see... what makes more financial sense?

* Buying one of countless chips that do audio bluetooth decoding very cheaply and let me adapt my product easily to non-Apple devices using the same circuit board?
* or making a whole new design and circuit board just for lightning and having to deal with Apple?

It's pretty obvious what I'd do if I'm optimizing for cost...


so glad I'm not the only one that thought this! I see people calling it lazy but I actually think it's a pretty clever workaround. Made me laugh when I first read about it.

Geek, don't USB-C earphones also require DAC?

Going the Bluetooth route for audio transmission is kind of genius, I have to say.

On the other hand, this shows how Lightning was protecting the market for iPhone peripherals. USB-C to analog audio dongles are ubiquitous and are advertised as being compatible with iPhones and iPads. Another win for consumers in my opinion.

Old Unix Geek


USB-C and Lightening have different protocols (ways of encoding information temporally across one or more serial connections) which must be decoded before any data is sent to the DAC. That means using different electronics, which increases per unit price.

Old Unix Geek

(In the linked article they're calling the protocol decoder + the DAC a "DAC". I don't think that is correct terminology since "DAC" stands for "Digital (to) Analog Converter", and in times gone past, they were wired to a k-bit bus for k-bit sound. Typical values of k were 4,8,16... but terms change).

Jeeeezus, I just read the original X post in its entirety and the Futurist Dude comes off as a right asshole.

Agreed. I can't even imagine why that was his response. Everyone there understood the problem, except for him, so are the consumers actually being tricked?

Leave a Comment