Your next iPhone might not be bundled with those glossy white earbuds you’re used to. In fact, it might not even work with those earbuds, or any other headphones you own. Apparently, Apple might be getting rid of the little headphone jack altogether.
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According to Forbes, one of the possible changes to come out of Apple’s acquisition of Beats Electronics could be its iPhones and iPads abandoning the venerable headphone jack.
After spending $3 billion, and with a significant headphone company to recreate in its image, Apple has the perfect opportunity to make Beats headphones with a Lightning connector instead of a headphone jack. And according to 9To5Mac, it’s introducing an amendment to the MFi specification that introduces the possibility of Lightning headphones, compatible with any iPhone 5 or newer with a simple software update.
Lightning headphones would be a good idea, at least in theory. The connector is no less fragile than 3.5mm TRS, and the standard’s digital output means that audio processing can be done in the headphones, optimised for each headphone model, powered by Lightning. They’d be ‘Made for iPhone’, of course, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
But what if, as Forbes suggests, Apple is going further and getting rid of the industry-standard 3.5mm headphone jack on its iPhones and iPads at the same time? That would be a big deal, and could turn out to be a big mistake. The change from the 30-pin dock connector, which debuted with the original iPhone and lasted until the iPhone 5, to Lightning was jarring enough — I have a $900 B&W Zeppelin Air sitting at home doing nothing because of it. But there are thousands, probably tens of thousands, of pairs of headphones from different brands that would be locked out of the market instantly if Apple sold its next iPhone without a headphone jack.
Bluetooth is the natural antidote to this poison pill — and these days, you’d be hard pressed to tell Bluetooth headphones from a wired pair. But that doesn’t change the fact that most people have a favourite pair of headphones, probably quite an expensive pair, that won’t work out of the box with the potential new headphone-jack-less iPhone. So the big question to come out of Apple buying Beats isn’t what the company will do with Beats Music. It’s what Apple will do with Beats’ headphones, and with its Lightning connector, and with its iPhones and iPads. Only time will tell, but Apple has made these big decisions before (like killing the 30-pin dock) without blinking.
Whether this innovation actually comes to pass, and how severe and jarring that innovation is — how far Apple goes with Beats and Lightning — will determine whether this move turns out to be a success or a failure, and how much bad will it will send Apple’s way. [Forbes]