Apple Killing The Headphone Jack Would Be Bad For Everyone, Including Apple

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.

Image via Shutterstock

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]


Comments

    Bluetooth is not a real option. Bluetooth headphones require their own power, so either consume batteries or need recharging. Existing setup runs off the phone - it's so simple.

    I also have multiple sets of headphones, and like having the choice. I can use good headphones when I want to, but I don't want large/expensive headphones on while I go jogging.

    If Apple lose the 3.5mm jack, but Android makers keep it, then I can see a lot of people (me included) going with an Android device.

      I'll go one better.
      I have Etymotic in-ear buds, and Sony noise-cancelling headphones [which admittedly need batteies]. These work with iPods, iPads, iPhones, radios, Walkman cassette players... you get the idea.

      If Apple change the connector on new devices, I'll stick with OLD devices - and save a fortune.

        I'll go one better. I have custom molded in-ears that I use on and off stage and I would be absolutely pissed if I can't use em on new iPads and iPhones

    Killing a 30-pin proprietary connector and the 3.5mm headphone jack are two different things entirely. If they actually remove the 3.5mm jack, I'll be astounded. It's more likely Apple will include Lightning audio support and call it magical or some nonsense and keep the other jack.

      Killing a 30-pin proprietary connector and the 3.5mm headphone jack are two different things entirely.

      +1

      Apple replaced a proprietary connector with a new proprietary connect on their devices. 3.5mm is non-proprietary connector used on pretty much every device. No way that would work.

        If Apple removes the 3.5 jack they will release a dongle lighting to 3.5. Just like they did for the 30-pin connector. So to the person with the B&W Zeplin speakers ... Get yourself a dongle and stop complaining.

          A dongle that will cost 40$ and will break every 10 days

      +1

      You know one of the big advantages with lightning connector is that it can go in one of two orientations (so you don't ever have to flip it like USB 1-3). The advantage of the 3.5 mm jack is that it can go in in any orientation. If Apple made a lightning connector that was round and sturdy like a 3.5mm jack then I would use it.

        Once USB Type-C becomes standard, I can see Android devices having USB Type-C ports which allow two orientations.

        They have:
        http://apple-history.com/images/models/ipod_shuffle_2g.jpg

      i'm betting the lightning audio support will include dr dres gimmicky EQ preset and call it magic

      its more likely apple will require you to share the charging port as a charging/audio port

      meaning you cant charge and listen at the same time

      But it would be a pretty stupid design choice tohave 2 of the same type of ports

      So whichever one they choose, itd be shitty either way....but people will still buy into their proprietary crap

      Also, time to invest in adaptor companies

        meaning you cant charge and listen at the same time
        Just an FYI, last I heard/read it's not a good idea to charge and listen at the same time, what with power surge possibilities etc. I think it says so in the safety sections of manuals. But don't quote me on it.
        I've had a bit more of a look but can't find anything, so maybe I'm just imagining things.

        Last edited 06/06/14 6:14 pm

          "last I heard/read it's not a good idea to charge and listen at the same time, what with power surge possibilities etc"

          You gotta be kidding me. Yes, you are imagining things. Why write this stuff? GARHARHHGHAG.

          are you talking about the women who recently got electrocuted while using her laptop on her chest, plugged in to a power adapter that was not safety tick approved?

            your actually joking. The only reason why that is in the manual is because of the extra charging time may drain stop the battery lasting as long and that is fixed with a replacement. Its the same thing with any phone saying that you shouldn't use and charge at the same time. And who doesn't do that?

      Keep in mind it was Apple that decided to change the TRRS connection on their headphone jacks in the first place - Everyone was using the standard originally created by Nokia of "left right mic ground" (aka OMTP), then Apple came along and swapped the order of the Mic and Ground pins.

      This meant that basically nobody else's headphones worked properly with Apple devices, meaning Apple users *had* to buy Apple earbuds. The headphone manufacturers needed to start making their products using Apple's new configuration to actually sell their products to Apple users - that Apple can claim licensing fees for because they have patents on the "left right ground mic" (aka CTIA) configuration.

      While that's not quite the same as killing off the 3.5" jack completely, I wouldn't put it past Apple to do something like that in an effort to get more people to buy their products and make it more difficult for people to leave their ecosystem, as they already have a history of doing it.

      Last edited 06/06/14 4:51 pm

        Tell me about it. Finding a decent set of headphones with inline control is damn near impossible for any non Apple device.

    so presumably that would entail junking the headphone apm stage, and adding analogue/digital convertors in the headphones to encoce the left/rignt channels and microphone, and draw power off the ligntning convertor... hardly "just a software upgrade"

    remember that the lightning connector is just 4 lines, but unlike the 4 lines of the 3.5 mm jack which are dedicated, the lightning connector are reversable

    I can't see apple dropping the 3.5 mm jack entirely. If you're listening to music and are your battery is low, you can no longer listen to music...

      was just going to post this, can't charge your phone and use headphones at the same time? seems unlikely they would be so short-sighted... unless they expect everyone to use wireless charging?

        New features, so it's the headphones from lightning connector - whilst you wirelessly charge as standard.

    I can see them dropping the headphone jack and offering a lightning to 3.5mm adaptor with on board DAC instead.

    I am guessing if they do go down that road they would have to offer an optional Lightning to 3.5 converter.

    Just imagine the army of people that already own very expensive noise cancelling headphones. I doubt they all will upgrade their superior Bose noise cancelling headphones with some crappy replacement from Beats.

      I can't imagine it will actually happen, but if it does, I bet Bose would release a new lightning connector cable for my expensive Bose noise cancelling headphones :)

      Last edited 06/06/14 4:05 pm

      People who go on about how rubbish Beats are and then brag about having Bose are inadvertently hilarious.

        To be fair, Bose do make some of the best noise-cancelling devices. I wouldn't use them outside an airplane though. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I don't even like Sennheisers.

          I also recommend not using your headphones outside of the airplane. Especially when flying.

          Funny. I much prefer Sennheiser headphones over Bose ones, but I never use noise-cancelling headphones (instead using headphones that just provide good isolation).
          However, Beats headphones are abominable garbage if you want something that provides a tolerably flat frequency-response curve.
          For reasonably priced supra-aurals I would probably get a pair of Grados SR60i headphones. They have brilliant performance for their price, well above many headphones double the price.

    I shall pelt them with mini-discs from my ivory tower of always-rightness.

      I pelt you with DATs from my even higher, even more ivory tower.

        I'll wave my MD-HDs from somewhere in between (44.1kHz 16-bit 2 channel raw wave recording on MDs).

    this will go the same as sony and the memory cards for the vita.....bad. a day will come when apple believe thier own hype and disappear up their own backsides

      Since there's no hint Apple actually plan to do this, your point is moot.

        i know i just wanted to us the disapear up ther own backsides line, its a funny visual
        :D picture it.

    So with lightening cable headphones plugged in, how is one supposed to charge their phone whilst listening to music? When I do put in the headphones to listen to music it's usually at the end of the day to relax, by which point my phone is in need of charge.

      Wireless charging will be a new feature as standard for this reason.

    Let's be clear that there isn't even the faint whisper of a rumour that Apple actuality plan to abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack... All we have is speculation from a Forbes writer that Apple could potentially do this given a leak that they plan to support headphones connected via the lightning port.

    Well Apple changing from its 30 pin connector cost them in our household. The hold they had over us with each new model disappeared and meant that most of devices and docks were no longer compatible any way, so we were no longer tied to apple. The whole household has now migrated to android devices.

      ... which also aren't compatible with your devices and docks. Unlike the iphones, which you could have fixed with an adapter.

      You sure showed them.

        I bet he's now loving not being tied to itunes, and the rest of proprietary istuff :)

        His point was that since he was no longer forcibly tied in to the Apple ecosystem, he was free to move to one that uses an open standard connector and a wider range of supported peripherals.

        Or, or, or... They wanted to change but had too much invested in the ecosystem?

        That's what Apple is all about, after all. The Ecosystem.

      Then you'd be using clunky last century connectors that feel flimsy and are awkward to use. The lightning connector feels solid, engages with a firm pressure, doesn't fall out easily, and can be inserted either way (try plugging in your Android's power supply in the dark!). It really is superior in every way to the mini USB type connector, and the old Apple 30 pin connector.

        for both my ipad 3rd gen 30 pin connector and android mini usb connector, plugging them in in the dark is not a problem. might not happen first time, but a quick twist of the cable flips the plug.
        your superiority complex is predicated on a half second of lost time - my 30 pin connector doesnt fall out easily, neither does mini usb so that point is moot.

    Removing a 3.5mm jack and allowing raw data streams to be passed to an offboard dac+amp stage via Lightning are very, very different things.

    Slightly off topic - people have mentioned that the replacement of 30 pin connector makes ALL older peripherals useless - this is not true. I bought a 30 pin > lightning adaptor and my docks and other accessories work perfectly well...

    Now I'm not saying this is the right thing to make customers do, just that old accessories are still usable.

    Also - is there any potential upside to using the lightning dock for headphones (apart from the slight audio improvement)? Just brainstorming but what if they intended to turn the headphones into more than just a set of speakers? Maybe health kit peripheral? Or a Google glass type wearable device?

    Just thinking out loud with an open mind. Not an apple fanboy, just not dismissing before we have any real facts...

      Using a lightning dock for headphones will only provide a slight audio improvement if you then use a good external DAC. Think about all the USB headphones out there that have to include a DAC: how many sound good?

    Apple has a way of doing things and the reason I can imagine they're doing this is because they want to make the phone thinner and that 3.5mm jack isn't allowing them to do it.

    All one enterprising manufacturer needs to do is create a Lightning to Audio 3.5mm Jack adapter and all the remaining stuff is back in business. This reminds me of the time when most medical and critical devices that communicated over a serial port were suddenly left in a lurch as newer motherboards and PC's did not come with a Serial port. I still have the USB2Serial and the USB to IR to communicate with most of my Nokia Phones and change the graphic to customize it and take backups. Now no one misses the serial port or the IR port.

    However most of the devices connect over the 30-pin or lightning adapter anyways, my car communicates with my phone over BT (which is fine in the car, but otherwise not)

    I still use an iPhone 4. I'll take any now-"outdated" tech for it if anyone doesn't want it. ;) I don't see the need to upgrade it. Had it since 2010, battery still lasts more than a day. Nary a scratch. Waste of time updatin.

    As for scrapping the headphone jack. That's a fantastic way to drop a lot of your fans. I see a lot of Razer gear with smartphones.

      I'll take it too, but that's cos I want to mod it and make it do strange things.

      Last edited 06/06/14 7:15 pm

    30-pin dock connector didn't debut on the original iPhone, it wason the iPods from 3rd gen.

    Also, I'm sure you'd be able to get an adaptor for it.
    If you want to waste...err...spend money on a swanky phone, why not spend money on headphones too?

    Calling shenanigans on your Zepplin Air complaint...I didn't use the dock when I had a 4S anyway. Whole idea of the Air was the airplay and as someone else mentioned if you want to charge as well grab a 30pin to Lightning connector.

    "All we have is speculation from a Forbes writer that Apple could....."
    and there we have it... technically inept "technology" jurno creates new "technology"

    Actually, this makes sense if 3.5mm jack to Lightning converter is in order.
    it's an inevitable change for sub 5mm devices that will eventuate

    Last edited 06/06/14 9:24 pm

    Just putting my 2 cents in about the 30pin > lightning connector issue.

    Just wanted to let everyone know that you are able to get 30pin Bluetooth adaptors. They have a female 30pin socket which plugs into most docks (ones that provide power i.e. charge your device) then your able to bluetooth music to your device which makes it way more usable.... And compatible with Android or any other bluetooth source.

    As for the 3.5mm jack, my vote is that it will stick around with the lightning audio port giving extra features. Apple patented the smaller 3.5mm socket so doubt thickness would be an issue for the immediate future. I think the option for the power to flow in both directions is interesting in that a powered pair of headphones (or speaker) could charge the phone.

    Ultimately we'd have to wait, health sensors could also be in the pipeline following some of apple patents.

    Apple is getting so deviously evil. If they remove the 3.5 jack they will basically monopolize audio peripherals for their devices. So more money for them.

      Apple no longer have the market share they once did, hence can't manipulate the world like they also once did. Doing something like this only serves to push people further away from Apple.

      Plenty of other phones on the market who don't choose to do this crap.

        Yeah exactly! It's pretty funny to see how powerful they think they are. Then again as much as they don't really have much marketshare in most countries due to the overwhelming amount of android devices they still do have power and other companies could very well try to follow suit

    I'd suggest they won't get rid of the headphone port but they will produce a new type of headphone standard with a lightning port requirement for additional features. Doing this gives them additional possibilities, not less, and gives them a marketing edge over all the competition.

    Last edited 07/06/14 7:30 am

    Who said anything about getting rid of 3.5 mm jack? All Apple's done is make an audio specification via Lightning public. The next iPhone's likely to be bigger and both ports can co-exist side by side. Consumers can choose the audio quality vs buck they wish to consume.

    It's like Thunderbolt. Apple didn't make it the only type of port on the Mac. 30 pin to Lightning was a necessary move to make better devices (though I absolutely agree with anyone saying $35 for a cable that fails often is a "Bad Apple")

    Seems to me it's entirely speculation. It seems to be more about adding a spec to functionality that was already there rather than replacing another port. Remember the headphone jack and the lightening connector can be used for all sorts of things... Not just audio and power.
    I wouldn't want it to happen - but I don't think there any indication it will.

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