Apple may ditch analog 3.5mm headphone jack for Lightning to make thinner devices

“A new program designed to allow third-party manufacturers to build headphones that would connect to an iOS device via the Lightning port, rather than the legacy 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, could mean that the latter’s days in Apple’s supply chain are numbered,” Sam Oliver reports for Apple Insider.

“Apple executives have never been afraid to pull the trigger on controversial choices to break from legacy technologies,” Oliver reports. “The original iMac kickstarted the adoption of USB at the expense of ADB and the floppy drive; the MacBook Air made it acceptable to drop optical drives and, later, spinning hard disks.”

“Following their announcement of a new headphone module for the all-digital Lightning connector at WWDC, Apple could now be on the verge of killing perhaps the most legacy of legacy technologies: the analog audio jack,” Oliver reports. “It could make headphones smarter. A bidirectional digital link with Apple’s uber-powerful handheld computers could make for better noise cancellation, improved audio quality, and even turn them into biometric sensors.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Bring. It. On.

Mac users are never wedded to old tech when there’s progress to be made.

Also, another good reason for the Beats buy. If Apple and Beats both change to Lightning headphones, the rest of the world will have to follow.

Of interest: Apple Inc.’s U.S. Patent No. 8,655,004: “Sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets.”

Apple’s patent abstract: A monitoring system that can be placed proximate to the head or ear of a user is disclosed. According to one embodiment, the monitoring system can be used with headphones, earbuds or headsets. The monitoring system can, for example, be used to monitor user activity, such as during exercise or sporting activities. The positioning of the monitoring system can also facilitate sensing of other user characteristics (e.g., biometric data), such as temperature, perspiration and heart rate. The monitoring system can also be used to control a an electronic device. In one embodiment, the monitoring system facilitates user control of the electronic device using head gestures. More info here.

From your ear to your wrist in the blink of an eye™.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dan K.” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Apple introduces MFi specs for Lightning cable headphones, iOS software update to deliver support – June 5, 2014
Apple preps HD audio for iOS 8 plus new Apple In-Ear Headphones and lightning cable – May 13, 2014
Apple patents biometric sensor-packed health monitoring earphones with ‘head gesture’ control – February 18, 2014
Apple paves way for more affordable iOS accessories with lower MFi and Lightning licensing fees – February 7, 2014

65 Comments

  1. In iPhone (6) it is going to be about making more room for battery, rather than about making devices thinner.

    iPod touch is about 5 mm thick, and it has audio connector. So it is not really issue of thickness.

    1. Room for battery is not going to be issue for bigger versions of iPhone 6, but for normal-sized iPhone 6 it is critical. The increased capacity of battery in iPhone 5S is still not enough.

    2. Eventually it is about battery space, and I don’t just mean thickness of the phone. The headphone jack takes up space that could be used for additional battery. And rarely is the headphone jack and lightning jack in use at the same time. That means typically space is wasted.

  2. I think this would make sense for a watch. But unless Apple introduces a method of wireless charging, you wouldn’t really be able to charge your phone and listen to it at the same time.

    1. Creating headphones or other accessories that connect via the Lightning Port makes sense. I don’t think Apple would completely eliminate the 3.5 mm headphone jack, though, for most of their devices. They can still have both.

      1. That’s not the Apple way. If Apple develops Lightning headphones, you better believe the 3.5mm jack is history. Apple will also sell 3.5mm-Lighning adapters, so you can keep using your old headphones until you upgrade, probably to Beats Lightning headphones.

            1. Why kill off perfectly useful, more simple and less expensive technology if the returns are minimal? People tend to have more than one pair of headphones they can use with their iPhones. I’ve had iPhones since 2007 so I have a bunch, some expensive. Why would I want to carry around a dongle (powered by the iPhone most likely, so there goes the extra battery life) just to use my existing investment?

            2. I have lots of old stuff laying around, too. To your point, I have perfectly good Firewire hard drives laying around that I can’t use with a new MacBook. Why? Because USB 3 essentially replaced FW for most applications.

              Why would you want to carry around a dongle? We don’t know, yet! First, this story is based on a rumor so we’re just guessing anyway. Second, if Apple did decide to replace the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, no doubt they’d have a damn good reason to do so, and whatever replaced it would likely be worth the hassle for most.

              My personal opinion is that they’d damn well better, because the good old 3.5mm headphone jack works great, and as you say, works with numerous devices laying around. By the same token, I’m not going to sit and critique a decision that we don’t even know whether Apple’s made yet! That’s just stupid.

              There is no “there goes my battery” argument with respect to this dongle because it would just be replicating functionality that already exists internally in an iPhone. To connect headphones to the Lightning connector, it would be a D/A converter and headphone amp. Those both exist and draw power currently, so there would be no explicit power drain difference as you imply.

            3. Not to be picky, but if you lose analog out, the D/A (and A/D for the mic) adapter, whether it’s a dongle or built-in, will need power and will also require power for an audio amplifier. It will either require a battery or get it from the phone. Personally, I prefer my headphones to be simple passive devices.

            4. Your passive mics and headphones… Those devices can be passive because they are driven (powered) by active devices inside the phone!

              A/D, D/A, preamp, and amp… Those devices are simply built into the phone now, and powered by the battery. Moving those devices from inside the phone to outside the phone doesn’t suddenly make them draw more power.

              Again, there would be no intrinsic difference from a power consumption standpoint.

            5. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m under the impression that no analog signals pass through the lightning connector. I may be wrong, but why am I seeing lightning to 30 pin adapters with 3.5mm plugs incorporated into the design?

            6. I think you’re correct – no analog on the Lightning connector. My guess is that any adapter like you’re talking about would have to have silicon in it to convert A/D or D/A if those lines were to be supported from the 30-pin dock connector. I’m not sure those dock connectors have that much functionality, though I haven’t really looked into it. I ditched all my 30-pin stuff when I got my iPhone 5 and iPad mini. 😉

    2. Every docking music player of today can do exactly what you suggest: play music and charge the phone at the same time. That’s the advantage of the dedicated port (whether 32-pin connector, or the Lightning port — both can charge and play music at the same time).

      1. With that said, I’d be willing to switch to, say, Bluetooth headphones, but I’d really rather not take the hit to battery life.

        I think that realistically we’re at least a year or two away from Apple dropping the headphone jack entirely. Maybe start with the iWatch this year, and roll that out progressively over the next year or two to the rest of their mobile products.

        1. You could always go with Bluetooth, that was never related to the 3.5mm headphone jack (or lightning port).

          Also, charging the phone from headphones makes little sense; those headphones would need to have some power source (battery), making them needlessly heavy.

  3. This could get interesting. The irony is that as convenient as using iPhone 5s as one of my main listen devices, I was already in the process of looking at a dedicated digital music player. I want something that can play large and higher musical files than what available on iTunes. Hopefully they will make an adapter because I still like to stream radio stations from my iPhone.

  4. i don’t think this has to do with battery. it has to do with finally getting the nerve to take the plunge and finally do away with this old tech.

    1. I think it adds space for additional battery, but more importantly it simplifies manufacturing. Apple is simply eliminating a component from the production process. That saves money.

  5. I can see Apple doing away with audio port and relying switching exclusively to the lightning port precisely at the same time EU adopts the law to require universal standard for data connection and charging on mobile devices (essentially mandating the micro-USB used by most Android devices)…

    1. I don’t see the EU getting away with that. Apple will challenge in court, and I don’t think the European courts would go so far as to stomp on all innovations.

      In fact, this move by Apple could be done to show additionally that a charging port like Lightning can do far more than just charge and/or sync. It could also get Apple around the EU’s change, because the EU would effectively be banning headphone jacks on iPhones if its rule is permitted to stand.

  6. Battery space might be one consideration but a couple other equally important things come to mind:
    1. Multi-function heaphones–i.e. they also check your heart rate, blood pressure and/or glucose levels.
    2. Power can flow both ways in the spec, i.e. the phones can charge your device or vice-versa.
    3. New remote control options would be possible

  7. Just thinking out loud about this from the perspective of a DJ. Right now, it’s really easy to hook up an iPod / iPhone / iPad to a powered speaker for impromptu parties or cocktail music. A cable with an 1/8″ jack to 1/4″ or XLR and away you go, no audio interface needed. With every output routed through Lightning you’d need an external sound card (Apogee Duet or NI Audio 2 or the like) just for something that’s quick & dirty with the headphone out. Granted, some company could come up with a simple Lightning – 1/4″ or XLR cable but just giving a different perspective.

    1. Well, 3.5mm jack is not exactly professional connector. In other words, you still need some cable adapter to hook it up to a 6.3mm line input (or XLR) on a house PA board. So, whether it is 3.5mm adapter (analogue) or Lightning (digital), makes little difference. In fact, since lightning is a digital port, presumably, you could use some 24/96 D-A interface for much higher audio quality (assuming you have 24-bit audio files on your phone…).

      1. I already have 3.5mm – XLR and 3.5mm – 1/4″ cables that were custom made specifically to hook up my iPhone (etc.) to either a powered speaker or my main mixing board, no audio interface needed. Great time saver for remote locations when my main DJ rig is set up in a different room. Pop the cable into the iPhone, plug into the speaker, and hide the iPhone on top of the speaker while I do other things at the gig.

        For my main rig I can hook up my iPad Air via Lightning and use Traktor DJ or Algoriddim djay and play my AIFF/ALAC files through the Duet with A/D and D/A conversion up to 24-bit/192kHz, though very few pop/club tracks are available in 24-bit. Then balanced line outs from the Duet go into a stereo channel on mixing board which feeds my KV2 PA.

        Anyway, I’m just thinking that sometimes it’s quicker and easier just to use the headphone jack and not bother with an interface.

        1. Not that Apple really cares about the pro audio market anymore. I’m still on Snow Leopard for my main DJ MBP as it’s rock solid, unlike the trainwreck that is pro audio on Mavericks – pops, clicks, crashes, etc. Here’s hoping for good things from Yosemite.

        2. Cool. I can understand your thinking, although one could argue, when you have to plug in an adapter, does it really matter what kind is it (3.5mm -> XLR, or Lightning -> XLR)? I guess about the only advantage of 3.5mm is that it is currently more ubiquitous, so in a pinch, you could pop into a 99c store and get one of those “Trisonic” 3.5mm -> RCA (or 3.5mm -> 6.5mm) adapters and you’re good to go, while the lightning interface you’d have to get in advance.

  8. The iPod line has reached its max thinness.
    They can’t slim it down any further without removing the audio jack.

    The audio jack is an old tech. It only makes sense to get rid of that as soon as possible.

  9. Um, no.

    Not even Apple has the power to drop the legacy 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. Maybe for the iWatch, but not for the iPod and iPhone. At least not for the foreseeable future.

    1. I’m sure someone said something similar when some company decided to go with the 3.5mm jack instead of the legacy 1/4″ stereo jacks that were the standard.

      Things change, and we all know that Apple isn’t afraid to make changes quicker than a lot us think are feasible at the time.

      I guess we’ll see…

      1. The industry started standardizing on 2.5mm headphones for cell phones. How long did that last? Apple may have gotten away with this if they switched to lightning connectors 4-5 years ago when companies were climbing over each other to come out with new speaker docks, but now, with the popularity and dimensional differences of Android phones, we’re seeing more and more bluetooth docks and dedicated lightning docks are few and far between, AND more expensive.

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