Apple kills the headphone jack on the iPhone. Good idea or planned obsolescence?

phone without jack
© Apple/ phone and airpods

When Apple brought out the iPhone 5 with its new Lightning connector, we were outraged. So many stereos, appliances, even Philippe Starck designed lamps had the apple plug designed into them, and they were all suddenly obsolete. How could they take what was the de facto standard connection and then just change it? We railed against the planned obsolescence, the waste.

Since then, of course, Android phones have become far more common and they all work with a bog standard USB connection, while Apple’s lighting connector remains their proprietary standard and nobody is building furniture around it. Instead, if you buy your Tivoli radio or Subaru Outback, it connects by Bluetooth. Nobody is making that mistake again.

Now Apple has introduced the iPhone 7 and the outrage machine is running full tilt again because they have dropped the headphone jack. Suddenly thousands of sets of headphones are obsolete! How will people connect their phones to their stereos? It is, much more than the previous power connector, a truly universal standard! How can they do this? TreeHuggers in particular should be outraged!

Well, I have to say, I am not, for a number of reasons.

1. The mini-jack was never really the standard.

headphone jackLloyd Alter/ headphones with adapter/CC BY 2.0

Headphones traditionally had a much larger jack, known as the TRS phone plug, that was the real standard forever. The mini-jack was an adaptation to fit into portable radios and then the Walkman. When I use my good Grado headphones I have to use an adapter to fit into the iPhone.

Apple is including a mini-jack to Lightning adapter with the phone, for free. I think that is pretty much consistent with what every owner of a big set of headphones has done forever: use the adapter. It's not such a big deal, and I had to pay for mine.

2. The mini-jack is a really terrible connector.

headphone jacksWikipedia/CC BY 2.0

The apple headphone jack has four rings, each with a mechanical friction connector that is subject to bending and failure. The jack in my last macbook was the first thing to go, and it doesn’t work in my iPhone 6 either, probably filled with lint or something. We should all be happy not to have such a fragile connector inside our expensive phones.

3. We are going wireless anyway

I don’t actually care that much that my headphone jack doesn’t work on my iPhone 6 because I have bluetooth connection to my hearables and listen to my phone calls, podcasts and google directions through them. I would hate to go back to wires.

In this case I think Apple has made the right move; the plug was a big hole in the phone that took up a lot of real estate and was pretty fragile. The lightning connector is marginally better (I just had to replace my socket because I bent all the connectors trying to clean lint out, why didn’t they give us wireless inductive charging?) but it is at least multifunctional and not so deep and open.

Then there is the Android world, where all the plugs are standard and universal. But that would be too easy and I wouldn’t have to pay thirty bucks for a USB to lightning cable. There’s no profit in that.

What do you think?

Tags: Apple Inc | Electronics | Gadgets


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