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Why Apple Killed The Headphone Jack on the iPhone 7

2016.09.07 20:38 PT

[ Buzzfeed ] The 3.5-mm headphone jack is universal and has been for quite some time. Look at a laptop, desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, car, airplane, alarm clock, receivers, computer speakers, conference systems, headphones, etc. What you’ll find is that anything everything that can output sound has a 3.5-mm headphone jack. And Apple killed it on the iPhone 7.

Apple is very good at killing off stuff. I remember when Steve Jobs came back and a couple of years later introduced the iMac. Everyone who used a computer used a 3.5-inch floppy disk at the time. But Jobs killed off the 3.5-inch floppy disk. The future was writable CD-ROM. Fast forward 18 years and Apple has been eliminating the SuperDrive, a rewritable CD/DVD drive, from MacBooks. Yes, Apple has no qualms about killing off old stuff to embrace the future.

There are good reasons to kill off old stuff. The 3.5-inch floppy disk had a 1.44MB (that’s megabyte) of storage while the CD-ROM had 700MB. The SuperDrive? A DVD can store about 4.7GB (or 9.4GB double-sided). Compare that to a 32GB USB drive you can buy for $15. The USB drive is not only faster but smaller and more durable. It’s pretty obvious the DVD needs to die. CDs were better than floppies. USB drives are better than DVDs. But what about the 3.5-mm headphone jack? What’s better than the 3.5-mm headphone jack?

Before we talk about what might be better, let’s first talk about what Apple thinks is wrong with the universal 3.5-mm headphone jack. Dan Riccio, SVP of Hardware Engineering at Apple thinks its old, takes up space, and dumb:

We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space.

I understand space is tight in an iPhone. But Apple created this problem by continually making the iPhone thinner and lighter. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have problems that were the result of Apple putting too high of a premium on thinness and lightness; read iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Unresponsive Touchscreen and Class Action Lawsuit Against Apple for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Unresponsive Touchscreen. The iPhone 7 is also the result of Apple continuing to put too high a premium on thinness and lightness. If the iPhone 7 was designed a little thicker there wouldn’t be a problem with a tiny 3.5-mm headphone jack taking up really valuable space. That space became really valuable because Apple took space away in the name of thinness and lightness. Think about it: if the iPhone 7 was a little thicker there would still be a 3.5-mm headphone jack. If the iPhone 7 was a little thicker there wouldn’t be an insanely ugly camera bump.

The 3.5-mm headphone jack made it difficult to meet IP67 water resistance (not waterproof) according to Apple. That’s probably true, but making a smartphone with a 3.5-mm headphone jack water resistant does not require killing it off. Other smartphone brands have been able to design waterproof smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are waterproof (IP68) and still manages to have a 3.5-mm headphone jack. The 3.5-mm headphone jack sporting Sony Xperia Z5 series of smartphones are all IP68 rated.

Apple seems to think its proprietary Lightning port is a better audio connectivity solution. Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s say you’re flying Singapore Air to South Korea. If you’re anything like me I immediately start watching all the movies I haven’t seen. Let’s also say you just bought an iPhone 7 and because you wanted to go all in with Apple’s future vision of audio connectivity went ahead and bought the incredibly overpriced AirPods (US$159). Yeeah, you’re in the future now. You want to watch all those movies, but there’s a problem: there’s no way to connect your future-is-now super awesome AirPods. So when the stewardess comes around with the 3.5-inch headphones you raise your hand and take a set. That’s just one example.

Apple’s ultimate vision for the future of audio connectivity is no wires at all. I get that. I don’t like having a lot of wires, but the 3.5-mm headphone jack was universal, reliable, and affordable. If Apple really wanted to make some space inside the thin iPhone 7 chassis I think the Lightning port, which takes up way more space than the 3.5-mm headphone jack, should have been eliminated too. Why? There’s already a wireless charging standard and you can sync via WiFi. The always required to have with you USB-to-Lightning cable and power block could have been eliminated from our lives. And the elimination of the Lightning port might have enabled the design to be not only water resistant but waterproof.