If a report from the Japanese blog Macotakara is to be believed, Apple is planning on getting rid of the headphone jack in the next iPhone. As it attempts to once again shrink its flagship device, Apple is reportedly planning on shipping EarPods that connect through the Lighting port with the next iPhone in order to remove the thicker 3.5mm headphone jack. This is a bad idea.
No one is clamoring for a thinner iPhone
Apple may in fact want to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack. For unbeknownst reasons, it’s obsessed with making the iPhone thinner every two years in direct hindrance to the possibility of improved battery life and a stronger chassis. (The iPhone 6S got stronger coincidentally as it got thicker, who knew?) There are a ton of reasons to keep the 3.5mm headphone jack intact, and seemingly only one rationale for Apple to get rid of it next year — to make a thinner iPhone, which absolutely no one is clamoring for.
If Apple makes the Lightning port the only option for wired headphones, it would be a huge shift that would likely infuriate a large portion of the public. The idea is outlandish, but Apple is not beyond doing seemingly outlandish things. It killed the 30-pin connector after selling a billion of them and famously killed both optical and floppy drives with no remorse — doing things that upset people in the name of progress isn’t new for the company.
The benefits don't seem to outweigh the (literal) costs
Unlike the 30-pin connector, the 3.5mm headphone jack isn’t proprietary technology owned by Apple. It’s the universal standard for headphones and has been for many, many years. (Apple patented a smaller headphone jack, which now seems unlikely to come to fruition given Apple’s port-hating habits.) Apple has already approved Lightning headphones, with companies including JBL and Philips. And of course, the move would mean you’ll need an adapter if you want to use the headphones you currently own. To address this issue with its own headphones, Apple will reportedly include new Lightning EarPods with the new iPhone. Even with the possibility of a slightly thinner iPhone, the benefits don't seem to outweigh the (literal) costs.
And those new Lightning headphones wouldn’t work with your Mac, or your Windows PC, so forget about carrying one set of headphones with you. If you use an aux cord or an FM transmitter in your car, you would need another adapter. If you want to commandeer the sound system at a party from the guy who keeps playing Nickelback off his phone, well so much for that. Now you’re stuck listening to someone passionately singing "coca-cola roller coaster" until your ears bleed or everyone leaves. (Everyone will leave.)
And a single port will make charging your phone while listening to music a new problem. How would that work? How do I charge my phone in my car and use headphones? Or on a plane? Or with a portable charger? Or at that Nickelback-infested party? There is no clear answer to any of these questions, outside of a Lightning port splitter, which is very far from optimal. A thinner iPhone isn’t a better iPhone if we have to carry a dongle.
We need a new standard for headphones
There’s an argument to be made that the 3.5mm headphone jack is out of date and needs to be replaced, but it would be better if we replaced it with another standard. Right now the current options for replacing that standard are proprietary, and would only segregate users between platforms. Right now I can take a pair of Samsung or Apple headphones and plug them into just about every computer or stereo in the world. If Apple ships Lightning headphones and Android devices — which are quickly moving toward USB Type-C as the standard charging port — start shipping with USB headphones, interchangeability between devices would quickly fall to the wayside.
The truth is we need a new standard for headphones, and we haven’t figured out what that is yet. The shift from 3.5mm to whatever the next standard may be will be painful, but it shouldn’t have to be done multiple times for multiple platforms, and I shouldn’t need a series of varied headphone adapters strategically placed around my house.
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