Ah the good ol’, trusty headphone jack. It has been with us for so long and given us sweet music to our ears for years. The first couple of phones I owned didn’t have the 3.5mm headphone jack and it required that I listen to music in other ways. I wanted so badly to have a headphone jack so I could listen to music on my phone. Though I still do miss my trusty Samsung slider phone from 2007. Good times.
The first phone I owned that had a 3.5mm headphone jack dates back to 2011. It was the Samsung Galaxy SII (or as Sprint called it, the Samsung Galaxy Epic 4G Touch). I remembered how awesome it was that I could just plug in my earbuds and listen to music without an adapter! Of course, the 3.5mm headphone jack has been prevalent in devices way before this. You can find this jack on the first iPhone, many cell phones before that, mp3 players, CD players and many more.
This 3.5mm jack actually dates back to the 19th century, when a quarter-inch jack was began to be used by telephone operators (bbc.com). They would use the jack to connect and disconnect phone lines. The 3.5mm jack we commonly see is actually just a miniaturized version of that seemingly timeless quarter-inch jack. If you’ve been in a music studio, you will notice that the professional head phones and electric guitar cables are quarter-inch jacks.
There have been a number of rumors swirling around that could be signaling the end of the 3.5mm jack on at least one smartphone. You guessed it, the iPhone. Apple is notorious for putting the kibosh on technologies that, to them, are outdated. We don’t have to look far back to see the time when they stopped including CD drives on their MacBooks and iMacs. In this year of 2016, we could see that happen again with the release of the iPhone 7, which could very exclude a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Here are my thoughts about the possibility of the 3.5mm headphone jack becoming an obsolete peripheral for smartphones:
A couple of reasons why getting rid of the 3.5mm is a good thing
In a world filled with cables, power cords, charger cables, headphone wires and so many more, it would be great to be able to start a life of wire-free technology. For the case of personal audio, the technology is already there: Bluetooth. In fact, bluetooth has been around for a while as well. However, it’s becoming a more power efficient and plausible alternative to wired headphones. This is a great start at becoming wire-free.
I will be the first to admit that my wired headphones aren’t top-of-the-line best, but they provide decent sound that I can enjoy. That being said, my audio connection can be rather finicky with my phone. If I am working in the yard or exercising and I bend down at an angle where there is some strain on the headphone connection to the phone, it will occasionally pause my music, start fast forwarding, changing songs and other unwanted actions. That is because it has a controller on the wire of the earbuds. My experience is that the wires wear down faster and expose internal wiring. Wireless headphones eliminate that problem.
Before you get your pitchforks; hear me out. I am listing this as an advantage because I have noticed the gap in pricing between wired and wireless headphones closing. SkullCandy is a good example of this. Visiting their earbud selection, I noticed that you can pick up a quality pair of wireless earbuds for nearly the same price as a quality pair of wired earbuds. The gap is closing and it will continue to do so over time.
Potential For Innovation
Let’s face it. Over the past 5 years, we have seen smartphones get bigger screens, but they have done that with a thinner overall profile. (Exception: this year with the S7) Apple seems to have a thing about making their devices as thin as possible. The iPhone 6/6s is pretty darn thin already. Now we hear that they want to make even thinner without the headphone jack! Sometimes it boggles my mind, but I think I know what Apple is up to with all of this. They are challenging themselves by trying to do more with less. Even though the iPhone is one of the thinnest smartphones out there, it does pretty darn well with battery life and overall performance. It’s top notch.
Removing the headphone jack allows them to continue to challenge them to do more with less. From an engineering standpoint, it will likely be incredible to see how much Apple can cram into such a thin smartphone. More on this later. See my “What About the End-User?” section.
Reasons why getting rid of 3.5mm jack is a bad thing:
Millions of Useless Ear Pods
Oh, the horror! Mountains of ear pods rendered useless to each person that gets the headphone jack-less smartphone! As it has happened before with the introduction of the lightning cable, millions of headphones, auxiliary ports, and other accessories would be useless. The transition to a jack-less smartphone would be difficult.
What About the End User?
This is the biggest point in the argument to keep or get rid of the headphone jack. Virtually every person that has a smartphone owns a pair of wired earphones. Mainly because almost every smartphone we buy comes with a pair of earphones. You can also buy a low-quality pair for dirt cheap virtually anywhere.
Excluding the headphone jack from a smartphone means that user has no alternative but to get wireless headphones. That can be highly inconvenient to an end user who may be on a budget and can’t afford to buy another pair. It will be viewed as an obstacle as opposed to a better way to listen to music to some.
Yes, pricing is also a disadvantage in itself when getting rid of the headphone jack. If Apple were to get rid of a headphone jack and give users the option to get what could be “Lightning headphones”, that would require headphone makers to get permission or licenses to make lightning headphones. A lightning connected headphone will essentially drive up purchase cost, because the headphone makers are having to pay for that permission or license to make a lightning connected headphone or earbud.
Summing It Up
So there you have it. Those are my thoughts on the possible impending doom of the headphone jack. Is it inevitable that we will see the disappearance of the headphone jack on our smartphones? Yeah, I think so. Technology is going wireless and we should start embracing the ways that we can go wireless. Though there is still a long ways to go before we are completely wire-free.
As uncomfortable as it feels to have a big tech company like Apple tell us that the 3.5mm headphone jack is becoming outdated and needs to go, they have a point to some extent. Will it be a smooth transition to the wireless world of audio? Probably not, but it’ll work out for the better in the end. It’s just not gonna be pretty. As they kind of said in the Titanic, “Wired headphones, it has been an honor listening to you” *plays sad violin music as the boat sinks*