The real reason Apple wants to kill the 3.5mm headphone jack

“As an Apple follower for three decades, I’ve come to understand that everything it does has some strategic goal in mind, and in some cases aims to drive broad industry innovation,” Tim Bajarin writes for PC Magazine. “My sense is that both of these impulses are in play when it comes to the headphone jack.”

“From a historical perspective, Apple has always had a contrarian streak. It started with the design of the Mac, an iconic device that introduced the mouse and GUI. But it was another hardware change that caused the biggest uproar: switching from a 5.25-inch floppy disk to a 3.5-inch rotating storage medium in a hard shell,” Bajarin writes. “That change produced a venomous response from PC insiders at the time. Yet, this one move by Apple drove the entire PC industry to drop floppy drives and move to the 3.5-inch storage format. In 1989, Apple shocked the industry again by creating a Mac with a built-in CD-ROM drive. Apple saw the value of mixed media, and needed a new medium for storage that went well beyond what it could get on a 3.5-inch disk. Again, industry vets mocked Cupertino.”

“These and other lessons from Apple’s past indicate that Apple’s big gambles often pay off and force the rest of the industry in a new direction,” Bajarin writes. “I suspect this is the case with the audio jack. Dropping it could drive the industry closer to the overall vision of wireless headsets, charging, and communications.”

Read more in the full article – recommended, as usualhere.

MacDailyNews Take: If not at launch, then relatively soon after, we expect Lightning headphones to be able do more than just reproduce sound:

For one example, see Apple’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™.

Also, if you’d prefer no wires at all, you can do as we’ve been doing for years now and just go Bluetooth. We’ve been using wireless Jaybirds (currently the Jaybird X2 Sport Wireless Bluetooth Headphones (around $115)). They’re easy to charge, easy to pair, light and comfortable, and work perfectly with our Apple Watches and iPhones.

SEE ALSO:
Apple’s next-gen iPhone will feature all-new non-mechanical Home button, no 3.5mm headphone jack – August 2, 2016
Apple supplier preps for removal of 3.5mm headphone jack in next iPhone – June 30, 2016
Mossberg: New Even earphones tune themselves to each individual’s hearing – June 29, 2016
Alleged iPhone 7 chassis lacks 3.5mm headphone port – June 28, 2016
iPhone 7 rumored to get second speaker, larger camera – June 27, 2016
Apple is known for dumping legacy tech before the rest of the world catches up – June 27, 2016
iOS 9 code reveals Apple’s plans to dump 3.5mm headphone jack in future iPhones – January 20, 2016
Apple’s intention to kill the 3.5mm headphone jack is brilliant – January 13, 2016
iPhone 7 said to be waterproof, replace 3.5mm headphone jack with Apple’s Lightning – January 8, 2016
The fastest Lightning cable is also one of the least expensive – January 8, 2016
Apple will drop headphone jack to make the iPhone 7 super slim, source confirms; wireless charging and waterproof, too – January 7, 2016
Petition demands Apple keep 3.5mm headphone jack in the ‘iPhone 7’ – January 7, 2016
More reports claim Apple has dumped the 3.5mm headphone jack on iPhone 7 – January 5, 2016
Why Apple may axe the 3.5mm headphone jack – June 20, 2014
Apple may be poised to kill off the 3.5mm headphone jack – June 7, 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

32 Comments

  1. One thing for sure is that the reason to kill the jack was not tied with an idea to put a second speaker there — the latest revelations show that the holes were added to the bottom of the new iPhone just for the symmetry of design. And, indeed, putting two speakers so close together would not make an actual stereo sound, so the additional inner space was probably used by Apple to add more battery to the device and (or) to compensate for the double volume that double camera takes in a Pro variants.

    1. Bravo. My feelings aren’t quite that caustic, but Apple has lost it’s way with Cook and Ivy. We want upgradeable Mac Pros, not artsy fartsy pos. We want anti glare screen options and rock solid OS’s like Snow Leopard. As for Trump, he’s going to kick crooked Shillary’s ass in November. Go ahead and down vote me. This isn’t reddit.

  2. There is one different between getting rid of the floppy and getting rid of the headphone jack…

    The optical disk was a standard…

    Lightning is Apple proprietary…

    If they would have used USB-C for the connector then yes, then that would be comparable.

    As it is right now, having a separate pair of headphones for my Mac and iPhone would just not be acceptable…

    This isn’t the same as the 30-pin switch either…

    That was inconvenient but it was just a ~$10 cable not a $60+ pair of headphones…

    1. Bajarin gets it. Almost every time Apple has done something like this it moves the entire industry forward. Your comment about standards is partially correct, but the 3.5 inch disks he speaks of had multiple competing formats at the time and didn’t become “standard” until the format Apple adopted was widely accepted. Same goes with the CD-ROM drive, there were different drives in the early 90’s and the one Apple settled on became the standard. So your argument kind of falls apart there. Also, with lighting being on over 1 billion iOS devices either natively or with a 30 pin adapter, the situation is completely different. Lighting can do a lot more than USB-C is capable of on a mobile device, uses less power, and is smaller physically. Also, if Apple is able to push wireless headsets that are far superior to existing tech, then they will start being able to get rid of wires. Over all this will end up being a good move for Apple and the entire industry, especially if it drives wireless adoption.

        1. Unless Apple plans to give away the lightning port protocol and turn it into a public standard, your arguments have a little hole in them.

          While both the 3.5″ floppy disk, as well as CD-ROM were only properly standardised once Apple implemented them, the choices Apple made with respect to the format of the two were still from among the public international standards. Same thing happened when they introduced USB (on the first iMac). In the PC world of that time, the common connections were parallel port (for printers), serial port (for older modems) and, on rare occasion, SCSI (when speed was needed). USB practically didn’t exist beyond technical specifications, and Apple was the one who introduced it into actual, shipping computer hardware. But again, even though Apple launched it and others embraced it, that too was a standard.

          Lightning port has been in existence since the iPhone 5 (four years now), and Apple is the only company that puts it on their hardware. So far they haven’t shown any interest in sharing this technology and making it an international standard.

          That is a huge difference. If only Apple devices are capable of using lightning for headphones, vast majority of headphones on the market will still have 3.5mm (or 6.5mm) connections, rather than lightning. And quite many makers may not really bother with lightning models.

          As much as I am looking forward to seeing this change, in hope that the technology will allow for more innovative solutions, I’m not sure it is as profound of a move as were the ones from your examples.

          1. That’s why the crux of my argument was the wireless connection, Bluetooth is standard on basically everything. But a device market over 1 billion strong will not be ignored by any manufacturer, it’s not like the old days when we were in the single digits, that’s why Apple can do this, and it’ll work. Every iPhone model is the best selling phone of all time when it comes out there is no way sennheiser, cheap Chinese ear bud manufacturers, et al will just not make lightning headphones…. Especially since Apple customers actually spend money on accessories. But to your larger point, I understand. It’s just a completely different situation now. Also, all the nave to do is have a lightning to 3.5mm cable/adapter. This isn’t going to be a big issue.

      1. …the 3.5″ became standardized only after Apple adopted it?

        Golly, that’s not how I remember it being.

        Sure, the Mac came out with a 3.5″ … which was 400K.

        And there were some MS-DOS formats using 3.5″, such as the SS and DS that HP used on their HP-IB (IEEE-488) systems such as for the HP-150 (DOS based touchscreen). Can’t recall their exact format anymore, but they weren’t compatible with the later DOS based 3.5″ which came about after the age of the 1.2MB 5.25″ floppy.

        Later, Apple came out with 800K format … and later with the high density 1.4MB, which was also compatible to MS-DOS 1.44MB disks…and not compatible with Apple’s original 400K format.

        Suffice to say by the above, there’s some of us still kicking who remembers the headaches from having to deal with six (6) different 3.5″ floppy drive formats in the office spread out over only a few years.

        -hh

        1. I remember 4 3.5in floppy densities.. Single, Double, High and Enhanced, each doubling the prior density. I bought the Enhanced Density disk and 3rd party drive for my C128 way back then. 😀 Tons of space to work in.

  3. I surmised when I first heard rumors that the reason Apple wants to do this is that it allows for data to flow back to the device for any number of reasons without having to put extensive processors in the headphone device.

    Could be helpful in generating better noise cancelling, better surround sound experience not just for movies but also for augmented reality.

  4. My one misgiving on this whole thing is that we really don’t know yet if wireless headphones cause cancer . Thats a scary prospect that in a couple years we find out that a large number of people are getting brain cancer .I’m not a alarmist- but cell phone radiation is dangerous.

    1. Initially, I had thought that your concern is misplaced. I then did a bit of research. Bluetooth uses about the same frequency spectrum as household microwaves (2.4GHz), while regular GSM mobile phones use 900kHz or 1.8GHz (950kHz / 1.9Ghz for some operators). So, they all use more-or-less similar frequencies used by microwave ovens for cooking food.

      Mobile phones have maximum output of about 2W, while Class 2 bluetooth (most common in phones) goes out to 2.5mW. A microwave outputs some 1,000W (1kW).

      So, what does this say? Ordinary microwave oven outputs close to 500 x more power than an ordinary cellphone, which itself outputs close to 1,000 x more power than a bluetooth device (class 2). Important thing to keep in mind is that those 1,000 Watts that microwave oven emits to cook food are directed specifically in the direction of the food plate, while your mobile phone antenna (and that of your bluetooth device) are designed to dissipate that energy in all directions as evenly as possible.

      One other thing to consider; mobile phone radio output is variable and depends on the strength of the signal received from the cell tower. The output can vary the maximum of about 2W all the way down for a few milliWatts (mW). This is why people in suburban and rural areas have noticeably shorter battery life than people in the cities; their phones have to work at maximum power in order to connect to a remote tower, while for us in the cities, cell towers are close together and we almost always have five “bars” on our phones, so the radio operates on just few mW of power (instead of thousands of mW needed to reach that distant cell tower).

      Consequently, if cellphones give you cancer, rural folk are, regrettably, much more likely to get it that urban folk.

      Of course, jury is still out on that one, and based on the math given above, it would take many thousands of years of cellphone use before we expose our body to enough microwave radiation to cook a turkey…

  5. I think possibly the best line in a great article is the last one: “And despite its jabs earlier this month, Samsung is likely to quickly follow suit.”

    Not just Samsung… everyone else too.

    1. There’s no closing the analog hole. As long as sound itself remains the result of differences in air pressure, there will always be an analog hole.

      Also it makes little sense to close this hole when it’s very rarely ever used.

    2. That is the first thing I thought of…

      This is kind of like the not really supported any longer analog component video cables. No DRM support means that even though it can do 720p and 1080i, most cable, satellite boxes, and video game systems, no longer support them, or only do in SP mode. Even when they are supported, some networks like ESPN and PPV services do not allow them. They say it is too easy to capture that video and digitize it for “piracy”.

      The analog audio headphone, despite it being a standard, it the same thing. A way to get the audio, even audio protected by DRM, out of the device and then converted to a non DRM audio format for “piracy”.

      1. No, the comparison really isn’t valid. There’s no way to do digital only audio. Audio at some point must be analog, and thus is always capable of being re-digitized.

        Again, it’s silly to think DRM has anything to do with this since the analog hole is not only physically incapable of being closed, but also is very rarely used since there is so much digital source audio without DRM.

        Additionally, DRM isn’t in Apple’s interest. It only utilizes DRM as required for the service or demanded by the content providers. Apple benefits from users being free without DRM and buying more product.

        If Apple were on the other side of this equation, they would:
        1) Only sell music with DRM (which they dropped as soon as they could).

        2) Not provide services that legitimize music from potentially illegitimate sources (IOW not provide iTunes Match).

        3) Restrict the platform’s ability to play standard file formats such as AIF, WAV, MP3, ALAC, AAC (open) and only allow it to play proprietary formats specific to Apple’s platform.

        No, the simplest explanation for removing the headphone port, if true, is that Apple doesn’t like ports especially when they’re dedicated to single usage and potentially making their devices bigger/thicker than they otherwise could be.

  6. So apple does’t like the 3.5 number…
    Killed the 3.5in disk
    Killed the 3.5in display of the original iPhone
    now in killing the 3.5mm jack..
    pretty sure it will end up for good.

  7. The reason:
    Apple is pushing hardware designed for obsolescence and frequent replacement at their famous 30% margins. Wireless earbuds that have sealed in batteries will crap out in a year or two while a good quality set of earbuds can. Last a very long time. Why else do you think they took the trackpad, keyboard and mouse and eliminated the ability to use rechargeable batteries?

    Apple is switching into a fashion house that markets cheap expendable shit at high margins designed to lady for a short season.

  8. It’s hard to take an article seriously that has so many glaring errors.

    Just from the summary:
    “But it was another hardware change that caused the biggest uproar: switching from a 5.25-inch floppy disk to a 3.5-inch rotating storage medium in a hard shell,” Bajarin writes. “That change produced a venomous response from PC insiders at the time. Yet, this one move by Apple drove the entire PC industry to drop floppy drives and move to the 3.5-inch storage format.

    The 3.5 inch disk was also a floppy disk (just in a hard shell). It was the internal disc itself on both that was physically floppy, hence the name.

    It didn’t receive a venomous response at all. It was faster, more reliable, larger capacity, smaller, and more durable. It could fit in a shirt pocket. That it wasn’t compatible with 5.25 inch floppies didn’t matter because the data and apps weren’t compatible with a Mac to begin with. It was quickly adopted on PCs by simply having it be added (while keeping the 5.25 inch drives).

    While Apple was one of the first to adopt the 3.5 inch floppy, it wasn’t Apple’s design, nor was it Apple’s drive. Apple really didn’t drive the industry here as there was a consortium of 21 companies that standardized the specification around what was essentially a Sony design (there were competing 3.5-ish standards at the time). That Apple was using the drive was largely irrelevant to the rest of the PC industry until much later when compatibility was established.

    “In 1989, Apple shocked the industry again by creating a Mac with a built-in CD-ROM drive. “
    That would’ve been really shocking in 1989 since it wasn’t until 1998 when they did this.

    “Apple saw the value of mixed media, and needed a new medium for storage that went well beyond what it could get on a 3.5-inch disk. Again, industry vets mocked Cupertino.”

    The author is leaving out the most important point, and that is that Apple removed the 3.5″ floppy and since it was a CD-ROM drive and not at CD-R/RW drive, Apple had introduced a Mac that had no ability to write to removable media without additionally purchased accessories. Nobody mocked Apple for including the CD-ROM, but there was plenty of noise from people upset that there was no removable recordable media. However, for most of us the floppy drive was something that was already impractical and obsolete, so the author’s point here is valid, despite the facts being inaccurate.

    1. 1991-quadra 900 – option of up to 2xCD-ROM, if not the first then one of the first. Ben may have been off by a year or two, you’re off by seven, unless you meant completely eliminating the floppy and only offering a CD – the first iMacs.

      As to the 3.5 inch “floppy”, Apple put it in the first Mac in January of 84, and though the Mac wasn’t the first, it was the first to popularize it, and it was the Sony mechanism introduced in ’81, but mod’ed to Apple’s specs. It wasn’t floppy – the medium was, but the disk units were rigid. If it wasn’t for Apple, PC’s would have stuck to the 5.25″ format for many more years than they did. There’s a world of design and engineering between the 3.5 in. disk and its predecessors.

      Being so pedantic can backfire so easily.

      Cheers,

      dmz

      1. “unless you meant completely eliminating the floppy and only offering a CD – the first iMacs.”

        Obviously I meant this since Apple wasn’t the first to offer a CD-ROM, nor was there much reaction to it until they released the CD-ROM with no floppy iMac which is what the author was talking about. Either way you look at it though, it wasn’t 1989 as the author wrote.

        “As to the 3.5 inch “floppy”, Apple put it in the first Mac in January of 84, and though the Mac wasn’t the first, it was the first to popularize it, and it was the Sony mechanism introduced in ’81, but mod’ed to Apple’s specs.”

        None of this contradicts anything I wrote.

        It wasn’t floppy – the medium was, but the disk units were rigid.

        Again, that’s pretty much what as I said, “The 3.5 inch disk was also a floppy disk (just in a hard shell). It was the internal disc itself on both that was physically floppy, hence the name.”

        The point is, the author is wrong in not calling the 3.5″ a floppy disk, which it very much was:
        “Yet, this one move by Apple drove the entire PC industry to drop floppy drives and move to the 3.5-inch storage format.”

        That should’ve been written as “…drop the 5.25″ floppy disk for the 3.5″ floppy disk”

        “If it wasn’t for Apple, PC’s would have stuck to the 5.25″ format for many more years than they did. “

        That’s not true at all. The very floppy disk format that Apple adopted was based on a Sony design that was accepted by a consortium of 21 computer companies with others on board with it. It was a superior format that had very little resistance in acceptance in the PC industry.

        The Mac represented a tiny market share at the time, and it wasn’t like the PC industry had to adopt the format to become compatible in any way with the Mac. In fact, it wasn’t until years later after 3.5″ floppies were ubiquitous in PCs that Apple produced drivers allowing PC formatted floppies to be read in their “Super Drives”.

        “There’s a world of design and engineering between the 3.5 in. disk and its predecessors.”

        I have no idea why you just wrote that.

        Being so pedantic can backfire so easily.

        Being counter-pedantic with an inability to read properly can backfire even more.

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