PCP: Against Headphone Jacks

Meagan Cardno - 4A Nano
Posted on: September 25, 2016

I’m not here to berate you if you are one of the bandwagoners who dislike anything new produced by Apple (because it’s Apple), just as I am not here to pat you on the back if you are one of the bandwagoners who blindly accept any change Apple has and call it “revolutionary” (because it’s Apple). If you fall into either of those two categories, I recommend you read both sides of this PCP and decide whether or not Apple’s decision to do away with the 3.5 mm headphone jack was a bonus or a blunder.

However, I have two words for everyone complaining about the new iPhone 7 not having earphone jacks:
Git Gud.
It’s not what we are used to, no. It’s gonna be a pain for a little while, because we have been used to these kind of phone connectors since… oh yeah, the late 19th century, back when they were used in switchboards for people wanting to call ol’ Jim Bob down the street. Yeah. These types of connections have been used for over a century.
This dated design shows, too. It’s not a new trend by any stretch of the imagination to remove wires when they are easily replaced by a wireless alternative— when was the last time you used a wired phone? Or was forced to use an ethernet cable because wifi wasn’t available? Or played with a wired video game controller (aside from Super Smash Bros. of course)? Wireless charging is becoming more and more commonplace in smart phones and other devices. Even using a USB adapter to sync your phone or mp3 player to your car is somewhat archaic, but the benefits of charging while listening to music is too good to give up.
However, the typical headphone jack offers no such benefit—unless you get some sort of weird satisfaction out of untangling headphone wires. They are more of a liability in that regard, since the connection between headphones and your phone is the most common place of torsion and tensile strain, and the most common place for headphones to be ripped, torn, or otherwise deformed to the point where they cannot function properly. The stress is not usually induced from use in stationary objects like a laptop or monitor, but from use in strenuous or mobile positions like being in your pocket (or better yet, falling out of your pocket). I know from personal experience that the headphones I use with my mobile devices have about half the lifespan of headphones I leave dedicated for “home” or stationary use.
The primary reason for Apple’s removal of the ancient design is the technical limitations it puts on any phone design. Not only is the 3.5 mm diameter hole taking up precious space within the internal workings of the phone (space that is getting smaller and smaller with each model), but it is physically limiting the minimum thinness of the phone to the diameter of the hole needed for the jack.
This hole also is basically the Achilles’ heel of the iPhone’s surface integrity or, if you prefer, the equivalent of that very poorly designed exhaust shaft that lead right to the centre of the Death Star. It is only because of the headphone jack’s removal that the iPhone 7 could boast to be dust- and water-proof to the IP67 standard. The jack serves as a very, very large hole on the exterior of the case, conveniently located for any sort of fluid (or projectile) to wiggle its way into—and wreak havoc on—the interior workings of your very, very expensive device.
Yes, adapting to life without a headphone jack might prove a bit awkward at first, but fear not! Apple is even providing an adapter for those users who insist on staying jacked in via the archaic 3.5 mm headphone jack— a very nice “transition” solution, which also shows that all of the information needed to listen to a stereophonic song does not need 3.5 dimeters of space to be properly transmitted via wiring. Even if we are to stick with a “wired” solution to listen to music, it is obvious that the 3.5 mm diameter standard we use right now is desperately in need of an upgrade.
But why do we even need Apple to hold our hand along with this transition? Bluetooth headsets are not new technology, but seem to have been forgotten by the majority of the population. This is could be due to a number of factors: convenience (having to sync and desync between devices is less quick than simply unplugging a cord and plugging it in the device of interest), cost (typically higher for Bluetooth devices of similar quality to a wired counterpart, although not to the extent of it being an entirely new ballpark of cost), or just plain ‘comfort’ (in my own words: laziness of people unwilling to change from the old because it’s what they know). Whether or not these inconveniences are enough for you, the user, to change right now, is up to you. But these are factors that haven’t stopped us from moving to wireless elsewhere, and certainly aren’t going to continue holding back Apple from a technical standpoint.
So yes, you are free to criticize Apple. Criticize their hardware exclusivity, or their hardware design that makes it almost impossible to perform simple repairs or replacements without going to an official Apple store (and paying an arm and a leg) or cracking something and voiding your warranty. But don’t confuse genuine criticism with society’s anti-progressive “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when they do something actually innovative. After all, this is exactly the sort of increased-efficiency and maximized-benefit design choices that we as engineers are often striving to design or implement. Blindly opposing a change such as this simply because it is “inconvenient” to us to adapt to a new design is nigh on hypocritical on our part. Welcome to the future of technology. I had wires, but now I’m free. There are no wires on me.