It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the next iPhone will ship without a headphone jack. Rumors have been swirling for months, and last week a supposed snapshot of the iPhone 7 packaging all but confirmed it: Apple’s new handset won’t include the traditional 3.5-mm EarPods, but rather new Lightning ones.
This doesn’t concern or surprise me. The headphone port is one of the oldest pieces of legacy tech and quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Apple to ditch it. Like many of you, I’ve been using a pair of Bluetooth earbuds for years, and to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I plugged a pair of headphones into my iPhone. But I understand the backlash. People spend lots of money on wired headphones with the understanding that they will be compatible with any audio-capable device they buy.
What does surprise me is that Apple seemingly cares about their plight. Rather than force millions of iPhone 7 buyers to add a new pair of headphones or earbuds to their order or purchase an overpriced dongle, the same packaging screenshot reveals an uncharacteristic plan to include a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter in the iPhone 7 box, presumably in an effort to cut off the backlash and the inevitable class-action lawsuit before they can even start.
While it’s certainly a nice gesture, I don’t think it’s the right move.
Dongles and adapters aren’t exactly uncommon in Apple’s world. Every few years or so Apple decides some previously important piece of tech has run its course, and tens of millions of users are left with suddenly obsolete accessories.
To help ease the transition, Apple generally offers a stopgap solution. When the 30-pin connector was replaced with Lightning, for example, there were not one but two adapters designed to keep alarm clocks and car kits running for a few more months. Small, clumsy and expensive, there was nothing convenient about them, but they served their purpose; within a year or two, mostly everyone had converted to Lightning and Apple was able to safely leave the 30-pin port in the past.
The headphone jack presents a more difficult dilemma. While 30-pin and Lightning were both proprietary ports limited to Apple’s mobile devices, the 3.5mm port is everywhere: PCs, stereos, dashboard decks, alarm clocks, you name it. Removing that port from the iPhone doesn’t make it much closer to obsolescence, and in fact, it’s doubtful it will have much of an effect on the headphone market at all. Sure, there may be a few more Lightning-based cans on the market (and certainly a few models made by Beats), but for the most part, Apple’s decision to axe the headphone jack isn’t about the industry, it’s about the iPhone.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.