How Apple can handle removing the headphone jack

Disclaimer: When I refer to headphones, I mean earphones, in-ear earphones and headphones.

There is no denying it, the iPhone 7 is almost definitely (I’ll say 70% chance of happening prior to chassis leaks) going to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack and force users to use either Bluetooth or Lightning cabled headphones.

In this blog post, I try to address what are likely the most frequently asked questions when it comes to removing the headphone jack from a future iOS device, starting with:

Why is Apple doing this?

Apple is clearly doing this (in my opinion) to create another revenue stream for the company, making people upgrade their existing 3.5mm headphones to a lightning equipped or Bluetooth capable headphones.

Apple will likely up-sell the idea of the fact we live in a wireless world today including Beats Wireless Headphones, which will encourage users to buy a pair of them.

In Australia, the Beats Wireless Headphones start at around AU$260 which is an awful lot of money for a set of headphones. That is almost the equivalent of getting a 128GB iPhone 6s vs. 16GB iPhone 6s in Australia, which people are mad about the premium cost of storage upgrades.

What are the benefits in removing the headphone jack?

There can be many reasons and benefits for Apple removing the headphone jack from the user’s perspective, including:

  • Help improve the water-resistance or make the phone waterproof.
  • Put the lightning port to better use when you are out and about listening to music while not charging.
  • Save significant space inside of the phone.
  • Able to repurpose the extra space for an extra bottom facing speaker (stupid idea if you ask me as both speakers would be bottom facing).
  • Use the extra space for a larger battery.
  • Potentially better audio quality through the lightning connector compared to the analogue 3.5mm headphone jack.

What are the disadvantages of removing the headphone jack?

There are many disadvantages from the consumer perspective for Apple removing the headphone jack, including:

  • Dropping compatibility for all 3.5mm headphones out there.
  • Not being able to listen to music through 3.5mm headphones and charge at the same time.
  • Be forced to use some kind of an adapter (at an extra cost) to use the 3.5mm headphones with the device.
  • Be forced to buy an male lightning to dual female lightning adapter to listen and charge at the same time.
  • Be forced to invest in Lightning cabled headphones or Bluetooth headphones.
  • Be forced if using Bluetooth headphones to toggle Bluetooth on/off every-time you want to use it.
  • If using Bluetooth headphones, will use up more battery life.
  • If using Bluetooth headphones, have to charge up yet another item.

How can Apple make the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack less painful?

There are many possible ways that Apple can make the transition less painful over the next few years.

  • Provide an adapter (unlikely to happen).
  • Offer a range of adapters for various use cases (likely will happen).
  • Allow people to tap and go with headphones via NFC that are compatible, which turns on Bluetooth and pairs automatically.
  • Include a set of Lightning cabled EarPods with future iOS devices.

What about charging and listening to music at the same time?

This is an area of much concern for many people. Apple will likely have thought about this beyond forcing people to use Bluetooth headphones at the same time as charging.

The are four ways they could solve this issue, including:

  • Lightning Adapter: This can be either a male lightning to dual female lightning adapter OR a male lightning to female lightning + female 3.5mm adapter.
  • Wireless Charging: This would solve the problem for people who charge their phone while at a desk or similar while listening to music and would only charge when placed on a compatible dock, so less cables when you pick up the device to change the song you are listening to etc.
  • Lightning Dock with 3.5mm Headphone Jack: This already exists and users should be able to connect their 3.5mm headphones to the dock and listen to music that way, while the dock is used to charge the device.
  • Smart Connector: A recent leak also shows that Apple might be putting a smart connector like on the iPad Pro but on the back of the iPhone 7. This would be cool if you get a plug to convert your lightning charging cable to work with the smart connector. One major disadvantage is it being placed on the back, which would make your device just as useful as the recent Magic Mouse 2 with a lightning charging point at the bottom. Also it would cause an issue with cases (depending how thick they are) to not make smart connector accessories connect properly. If it were me, I would put the smart connector where the headphone jack is currently if they are getting rid of it.
iphone-7-leaked-bastille
Potential leak of the iPhone 7 with Dual Camera Lens and Smart Connector (3 dots) at the bottom on the back.
Magic-Mouse-2-charging-port
Magic Mouse 2 charging via Lightning cable with port being on the bottom, shows a similar issue with charging via Smart Connector if it were on the back of the iPhone 7/Plus.

The iPad Air 2, iPad Pro 9.7inch and iPod Touch 5G and 6G are all around 6mm thin and all have a headphone jack. If the iPhone 7/Plus is the same thickness, why can it not have a headphone jack?

If this turns out to be true, it proves that Apple removing the 3.5mm headphone jack is not purely to make the phone thinner.

Apple is likely wanting to remove the headphone jack to a) get people to buy new headphones and b) repurpose the space for other components in the phone, potentially including a larger battery.

Will Apple be forced to release an adapter like it did for the 30-pin to Lightning connector? And if so, what would it look like and how much will they cost?

Of course.

The cost of the adapter all really comes down to how the adapters are designed and what they do.

Below are some assumptions I have for the types of adapters that will be available:

Lightning to 3.5mm Tiny Brick: This would be a very small Lego brick like sized adapter that you would plug into the lightning port and only get a 3.5mm output and could cost anywhere up to AU$29 for a genuine Apple version.

Lightning to 3.5mm + Lightning Cable: Similarly designed like the Lighting Digital AV Adapter that Apple sells but has a 3.5mm headphone jack for listening to music and a lightning port for charging. Would likely cost AU$59 for a genuine Apple version.

 

Apple Digital Lightning AV Adapter
Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter which costs AU$75 at JB Hi-Fi.

Bottom Extension to the iPhone 7/Plus: This would be an adapter that is the width of the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus that fits flush with the curved edges of the phone that will have a headphone jack, lightning port and redirect the speaker’s audio and microphone to be front facing. Could also add a software tweak when plugged in, to use the phone speaker below the FaceTime HD camera for true front facing stereo speakers. This adapter could cost AU$59 for the iPhone 7 and AU$69 for the iPhone 7 Plus but it would solve almost every issue with the device.

Bottom Extension in an iPhone 7/Plus Case: This would be very similar to the previous one described but in the shape of a case, possibly made out of leather or polyurethane costing at least AU$89.

Bottom Extension in an iPhone 7/Plus Battery Case: This would be very similar to the previous one described in the shape of a case but with an extra battery to it for extended battery life. This would work as a new Apple Battery Case and hopefully designed better than the current one for the iPhone 6s. This would cost at least AU$189 depending on the materials used.

6sbatterycase
iPhone 6s Battery Case from Apple costing AU$165.

Conclusion:

My stance on the whole situation of removing the headphone jack is obviously not positive, but it all comes down to adapters and their costs.

I regularly use 3.5mm headphones including EarPods (which I think are really good) and a Cassette to 3.5mm adapter in my car, but this would force me to buy at least two adapters or get a proper car audio dashboard setup that works with USB cables to iOS and Android phones which could cost up to AU$200 and a separate adapter for casual use, making the whole transition very costly.

And this leaves me to the question for the post:

“If Apple does remove the headphone jack from future hardware revisions, will you invest in Bluetooth headphones, Lightning cabled headphones or adapters?”

In my case, I own a set of cheap Bluetooth headphones I got off eBay but they have an audio skipping issue with them likely due to a non-clean line between the headphones and my iPhone 5s in my pocket when listening, so if this is a constant issue with all Bluetooth headphones, I will likely go for adapters to make my headphones work everywhere.

Please comment below your views on this as I’m curious to know what others would do if Apple or any other technology company does remove the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Thank you for reading this blog post and if you learnt anything new, be sure to like this post and follow me for more posts like this in the future.

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