Why Apple Removed The 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Now that the iPhone 7 is out and touting the best performance and battery life out of any iPhone ever, many users are still left wondering, what happened to the headphone jack?
Look no further than Apple’s keynote speech from September 7, 2016. Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said the decision came down to one word, “courage.” Yes, removing a universally accepted audio connector from your flagship device does take a certain amount of courage. Instead of remaining consistent with every other electronic manufacturer from laptops to cell phones, Apple has made their move to stand firmly behind their lightning adapter.
If you don’t believe the marketing smokescreen, Schiller eventually provides a much more compelling argument. He goes on to describe what everyone really wants in a newer device – bigger and brighter screens, bigger batteries, stereo speakers, faster processors and more – but there’s only so much space inside a handheld device. Logically speaking, if we could remove an ancient analog connector and reuse the space for something better, wouldn’t we do it? Short answer is yes, but the problem is, change is difficult.
The 3.5mm jack has been in use since the 1950s and is most commonly used for portable audio equipment in today’s age. Yes, it’s an aging technology, and it only has one function, and that’s to send audio signals. Apple’s Lightning connector is much more robust in that sense. Not only is it capable of charging the phone, it also offers content control through the connection all while carrying digital audio signals.
Remember the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, Apple didn’t just fix it, they threw it away.
Headphones are so common that owning a separate set of headphones specifically for the iPhone is going to be a burden on some people. Luckily, Apple provides a lightning to 3.5mm adapter with every iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. However, using the adaptor will render your new EarPods with lightning connector useless. Unfortunately, because of the new design choice, you also won’t be able to listen to music and charge the phone at the same time.
Getting back to the notion of space, the iPhone 7 didn’t just shrink the phone at the expense of the 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s still as thick as the iPhone 6S at 7.1mm, but they likely filled that space with the new A10 Fusion chip and a battery that lasts up to 2 hours longer than the iPhone 6S.
Apple is not doing this to anger their customers, that just happened to be a byproduct. The end game here is control. Apple owns the Lightning connector, and because they own it, they have control over who uses it and who doesn’t.
Could you imagine a world where Lightning ports are standard on cell phones and computers? Bet you Apple does, and they’re testing the waters. If the Lightning port takes off, accessory manufacturers have no choice but to pay Apple’s licensing fee to create products for those ports, or risk losing to their competitors.
Troy Wolverton of The Mercury News, brought up an interesting point about some troubling scenarios in the future. If Bluetooth and Lightning (ie. digital) connections become more prevalent, we could see restrictions such as what music gets streamed and what devices are authorized if Apple gets pressured from copyright owners or if they decide to act on their own. The 3.5mm headphone jack never had this problem.
While Schiller said the company wasn’t going in that direction in an interview, Apple certainly supports digital rights management in iTunes and Apple Music.
From Apple’s point of view, moving away from the 3.5mm headphone jack seems like a no-brainer. For consumers though, you’re essentially stuck with a new set of headphones and potentially more headaches in the future.