Apple and the Missing Headphone Jack Controversy

September 9th, 2016

You would think that Apple’s periodic decisions to ditch or change ports on their gear would be old hat by now. But when leaks about the iPhone 7 emerged, two issues arose, and one just went way beyond the usual expectations about a the new model. So the case design was going to be essentially the same with some new color choices. Not such a big deal, although some suggested that the model designation shouldn’t go up a full digit to iPhone 7.

So make it iPhone 6 SE or something.

But that wasn’t to be, because the case does look a little different, and the bulbous fitting for the camera is smoothed out. Most cases designed for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus supposedly will fit perfectly fine on the new model. So despite the fact that people might well complain over the fact that it’s not different enough, there are obvious advantages.

It doesn’t matter that there is longer battery life, a brighter display with superior color rendition, an upgraded camera system (or systems), a redesigned Home button, faster performance (exceeding that of a number of Macs) and other improvements. Looks say it all regardless of what’s inside. Harken back to the release of the iPhone 6 in 2014. Do you even remember the new features? It was mostly Apple Pay support and camera improvements, a speedier processor, and — oh yes — the larger displays, in 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. Aside from the larger screens, how many of you would even remember what else actually changed?

But the iPhone 7 is all about the vanishing headphone jack, and perhaps Apple’s reasons for making the change. This is where it gets kind of dicey. You see, Apple mentions alleged conspiracy theories about the move that it claims aren’t accurate. Senior VP Philip Schiller talked about Apple having the courage to make the change, which may be true, but that isn’t a reason for removing something that just works. After all, the headphone jack may be a very old technology, based on a still older technology that dates back to the 19th century, but that is no reason to give it up.

Is it less reliable? Well, it doesn’t require advanced integrated circuitry — and Apple can’t charge a licensing fee for the technology. It’s cheap to make, but it takes space, and Apple has a problem with some things that take up space. Now perhaps the headphone jack is a point of failure. It also makes it more difficult to make the device water-resistant. In addition to reducing the iPhone’s susceptibility to water, there’s more room for a second speaker and other components, along with a slightly larger battery.

What you give up, however, may be the deal breaker for some. True, Apple provides the headphone jack to Lightning adapter, so your existing headgear should work fine. But what if you wanted to listen to something and still charge your iPhone? Well, suddenly you need yet another dongle, such as the $39.95 Belkin Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar. You connect Apple’s headphone to Lightning adapter to one of these ports. It looks clumsy, but I’ll assume it’ll work just fine.

But you get the picture.

Now there will no doubt be a growing lineup of Lighting-based headphones and such for the new iPhones, but what about converting them back to a traditional headphone jack for use on Macs, PCs, Android handsets, etc? This can get mighty confusing or at least cumbersome.

Apple is assuming we’ll all accept the change over time, and I suppose most of you might not have a problem getting with the program. The adapter ought to do the job. If you lose it, Apple is charging just $9 for a replacement, and maybe you should get one or two extras in case the one in the box goes missing.

Apple has certainly made a reasonable effort to get you up to speed, done in a way that will impact the smallest number of people, except for those who can’t buy the reasons for the change.

The end game may be more about switching everyone to wireless headgear. Apple’s initial foray is AirPods. It is somewhat costly for such gear, at $159, and may seem like overkill. According to Apple, its custom W1 chip provides a sort of overlay onto Bluetooth to deliver easy setup and other features. It works fine on an iPhone or Apple Watch, but evidently requires iCloud to interface with your Mac.

Despite the complaints, Apple will live this down, and perhaps iPhone users will come to love the improvements, and learn to tolerate the loss of the headphone jack, just as they learned to tolerate the loss of a floppy drive and an optical drive. At least that’s what Apple is no doubt hoping.

I will charitably assume that Apple did some degree of market research to determine how customers will react to the change. It may even be that the early online chatter on the subject was deliberately fed by Apple to gauge customer reactions, pro and con. I suppose time will tell.

It will also be interesting if some iPhone users protest by sticking with older models, or might consider jumping to Android as a result of this move. But switching to Android means they will have to confront security flaws that won’t be fixed, and the recent problems with Samsung hardware are troubling. That includes the Galaxy S7 Active that doesn’t survive the dunk test, and the Galaxy Note 7 that was recalled due to battery defects.

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2 Responses to “Apple and the Missing Headphone Jack Controversy”

  1. jScottK says:

    Nintendo tried something similar with their wildly successful DS line, extolling the virtues of its proprietary combined headphone and microphone port. It worked at so well that its immediate successor (the DS Lite) went back to the standard 3.5mm jack after all the complaints.

  2. dfs says:

    Somehow I can’t get very worked up about the missing headphone jack (I’ve had a pair of wireless over-ear headphones for several years now). As far as I’m concerned, if the iPhone 7 has anything new and worthwhile, it’s all about the camera. I’m very eager to read reviews and see some sample shots. If I like what I read and see, I’ll probably make the upgrade.

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