Dumping the headphone jack for Lightning and other ways Apple could reinvent headphone tech

“Apple is interested in health technology and it seems as if Apple will launch an wearable wrist computer is coming later this year. Many aspects of that device – such as its reported reliance on biometric sensors — could also be included in headphones, as well,” Kif Leswing writes for Gigaom. “To do anything interesting with sensors in headphones, Apple would first need to decide how to transfer data from the headphones to a device. Bluetooth is one option, but equally interesting is Apple’s proprietary Lightning cable.”

“Apple has introduced a specification in its Made-For-iOS (MFi) program that allows headphones to be connected through a Lightning cord, instead of the 3.5mm headphone jack,” Leswing writes. “Why would they do this? There are a few immediate advantages that have nothing to do with ear sensors: first, the headphones could draw power from an Apple device or — if the headphones had a built-in battery — could even power the iPhone they’re plugged into. Audiophiles will point out that the 3.5mm jack outputs analog audio, and the Lightning port is capable of passing digital audio, which could be 48kHz and lossless… Eventually, ditching the 3.5mm jack in favor of a single port could also allow Apple more design flexibility — thinner devices, bigger batteries, increased water resistance.”

“But what the Lightning jack opens up most of all is a way for a sensors and microphones embedded in headphones to talk back to an Apple device. This could mean using Apple’s greater device processing power to run noise cancelling software, or it could send back biometric data to Healthkit app with data… As Rachel Feltman at QZ writes, companies other than Apple have done a lot of work on wearable ear computerse. The ear doesn’t move around the way the wrist does, so taking readings of biological metrics like heart rate and blood pressure is easier,” Leswing writes. “Even before the Beats deal, Apple produced 10s of millions of their white earbuds. Apple has an opportunity to do something wild with headphone technology, and eventually, it won’t be a secret.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. – Steve Jobs

As we wrote two weeks ago:

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:
Why Apple may axe the 3.5mm headphone jack – June 20, 2014
Apple may ditch analog 3.5mm headphone jack for Lightning to make thinner devices – June 6, 2014
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

33 Comments

  1. Not Again!

    Audiophiles will point out that the 3.5mm jack outputs analog audio, and the Lightning port is capable of passing digital audio, which could be 48kHz and lossless…

    Music is Soooo much better when you listen to raw source digital data:
    100010111001011010111101010100100101
    Crank it up!

      1. Have you ever heard digital audio played through speakers as raw digital data? You don’t want to. It’s just a high pitch squeal of 1s and 0s. Hopefully my humorous point is getting across.

        For those who don’t comprehend: Somewhere along the line, you have GOT to have a conversion from digital to analog so we mere humans can comprehend hearing ‘music’. BFD if the AtoD converter is in the computer or in your headphones. It makes no difference at all.

        IOW: TechTard journalist at work, yet again. Get it? I get tired of explaining geek humor.

    1. Absolutely bang on. The problem is a mass-market device tends to allow for these kinds of things. Thankfully, all Apple has to do is make lighting Earbuds, and they’ve covered their asses. And of course, Beats can release a line of lighting headphones/buds, so no problem there… Good stuff!

    2. Yeah. I think it would be great if Apple introduced induction charging, wi-fi only data transfer, and Bluetooth only earphones/headphones across their entire range of iProducts (although it would probably be difficult to do that with the shuffle). They could even stop including earphones with iPods. No ports or other holes in the devices would be nice.

  2. i had an accident with my i phone and had to use att insurance to replace it and the replacement units came with cables that just did not work (in fact i was looking at one just now and the proprietary end just dropped off ) if apple wants to have me connect with the 30 dollar cable as an option fine but if I’m riding in my poobox pre stone age company truck where the hight of modernity is the jack plug i want the OPTION to use it i don’t want to talk my boss into buying a new truck or radio because i can’t plug in my phone . CHOICE!!!!!

        1. Actually, now that I think about it, analog audio can just be passed through the Lightning connector, no internal DAC needed in the headphone, or it could be used either way.

    1. taojones2013.
      You do have a choice to use spell check!
      When you have exhausted the free choices available to you and are seen to use your choices well,
      then you can ask Apple inc. for a choice.
      You can also ask your boss for a choice of a better truck if he sees that you are capable of handling the current you’ve got.
      As it is, you appear to be an accident prone person reading between your lines. 🙁

  3. “Apple is interested in health technology and it seems as if Apple will launch an wearable wrist computer is coming later this year.”

    Train-wreck of a sentence, that.

  4. Would be a shame because Apple is just about the only company that actually implements a decent digital-to-analog audio chain in their mobile devices. The measured performance of the iPhone 5 actually outclassed some dedicated headphone amps and DACs. By offloading the digital-to-analog conversion to the headphones themselves, it introduces a lot of variation.

    http://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/iphone-5/audio-quality.htm

    Whereas right now, the listener can count on the iPhone to deliver a high quality analog audio signal to the headphone jack, the same can’t be said for the various headphone manufacturers out there if they are forced to integrate a DAC and op-amp into their Lightning-enabled headsets. Yes, Apple can potentially show the same level of attention of detail in their Lightning-to-analog audio adaptor. But, a dongle is not exactly the kind of technical elegance that the Apple is known for.

    1. BUT, now that Apple makes headphones, they would all have to come UP to the quality that apple includes in their headphones or lose iPhone marketshare (which is big) to Apple.

      I agree that as headphones go wireless, Apple will just say that this is the preferred wired method.

  5. no, shit. this is not acceptable. apple costs me more money that they simply change basic accessories. it won’t work at this time. if apple will do this, I won’t buy any apple piece of shit. unfair for related business. of course, apple has sold tons of iphones. but it doesn’t mean that they are No. 1 leader for any technology to follow. f** off, apple.

  6. My take:
    – data doesn’t charge headphones or transfer/sync between the phone and headphones, so a lightning port may be unnecessary
    – Bose, Skullcandy, and Sony make headphones that Apple hasn’t yet been able to compete with and use relatively standard headphone jack technology
    – Apple would have to provide headphones that are vastly better than others of its kind (and we’re talking headsets, not earbuds) to justify the need to change the jack (much like the huge improvement in using the lightning port over the original 30-pin port for data transfer/charging)

    With all of that said, wouldn’t it be great if there were an Apple/Beats co to create a pair of headsets (taking the above into consideraton) with the power of Beats, refinement/taste of Apple, and the visual design influence of both?

  7. Analog loss just doesn’t happen on such a short cable as a headphone jack, so there is no reason to think that a lightning headphone could work any better than a regular one. Also it is extremely rare for an iPod to be used in such an utterly quiet environment that 16 bit audio is fully audible. In a car for example, I doubt that you could hear the difference between well mixed 8 bit and 16 bit.

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