PCP: Too Soon to Remove the Headphone Jack

Alex Lee - 4A Nanotechnology
Posted on: September 26, 2016

There’s been some controversy surrounding the iPhone 7, the latest model in Apple Inc.’s flagship line of phones. When Apple first revealed the iPhone in 2007, they forever changed the world of cellular technology. While the concept of the smartphone had already existed, most notably in the form of the Blackberry, it was the launch of the iPhone, with its sleek, futuristic design and revolutionary intuitive touch screen interface, that truly ushered in the era of the smartphone that we live in today. Now Apple is once again attempting to be pioneering by removing the ubiquitous 3.5 mm headphone jack from the iPhone. Frankly, this decision sucks, and I do not think the headphone jack should be eliminated…yet.

First off, let’s clear up some false information. I’ve heard some say that the jack was removed to make the iPhone 7 thinner. If this were true,  you would have gotten another paragraph from me ranting about how much of our tech have gotten small enough, and we really don’t need to go thinner; fortunately for you, I only have to write one sentence, because that is just not true. The iPhone 7 has a thickness of 7.1 mm, just like the iPhone 6, so thankfully Apple still has some sense in them.

Here’s something that might surprise you: I actually support removing the headphone jack *gasp*. Apple is right: the future is wireless. The headphone jack should and will become obsolete soon. Apple’s VP Marketing, Phillip Schiller, stated that the reason they’re removing the jack is to have more space for other tech, and I agree with this. The space occupied by the headphone jack seems small, but as technology continues to improve, every micron really matters. It’s becoming harder and harder to justify the inclusion of an audio jack that first came about in the ‘60s. Bluetooth headphones have existed for some time as a wireless alternative to the jack, and trends indicate that it is on its way to becoming the next standard in audio technology.

So, why am I writing against the elimination of the headphone jack? I don’t think it’s the right time to do it yet. While the idea of wired headphones may be becoming archaic, look around. The majority of people on the street are still using wired headphones. The technology clearly still is being heavily used, and if it were to disappear right now, the majority of people would be hugely inconvenienced. The iPhone’s user base skews toward younger demographics, and even then, I’m sure a significant portion of them will not be happy with this decision. The fact their phone will now be a bit faster and more efficient is going to be of small consolation.

Some might argue that Apple’s decision will push people into the future, and force the obsolescence of the headphone jack in favour of Bluetooth and other technologies. After all, I did say Apple was attempting to be pioneering again with this decision. This argument might hold ground if that was actually what was happening; however, as I mentioned above, the headphone jack is already on its way out. Bluetooth headphone sales overtook normal headphones in dollar value sales for the first time this year, and the growth in the Bluetooth headphone market is at least six times as large as the growth in the overall headphone market. The market does not need a push to bring it into the next level of technology. It’s not even that far in the future; I think that if we put off removing the headphone jack for a little longer, the market would naturally phase it out itself. We are already almost there – but we’re not quite there yet, and Apple jumped the gun on this decision.

Also, about Apple being pioneering… that’s not actually that true. This is quite different from the revolution that happened when the iPhone was first introduced. Apple probably had analysts who were looking at the trends and projected that 2017 was going to be the best year to remove the jack. However, they were one or two years off.

Besides, while Apple is removing the headphone jack, they are not actually removing wired headphones. Apple has announced that they will be introducing headphones that will occupy the Lightning port on the iPhone. This is the same port that is used for charging the iPhone, when every other phone out there uses a micro-USB port. While this means you will no longer be able to use wired headphones and charge your phone at the same time, it is also indicative of Apple’s overall policy.  Apple has a history with vertical integration of its products. There are many things associated with the iPhone and other Apple products that are very different from other companies’ equivalents. They use their own OS; they have their own app store; they use a different port standard, the Lightning port, which is unique to Apple. This is because Apple wants to have complete control over its products and regulate extensions and accessories for its products, both official and third-party. The fact that Apple isn’t just removing the headphone jack, but is also introducing its own headphones to connect to the Lightning port, implies that on some level, this is one of Apple’s ways to increase control over another aspect of accessories for the iPhone, and is not just a benign acknowledgement of the obsolescence of the headphone jack.

To reiterate, the headphone jack truly is archaic and on its way out. Nonetheless, I do not agree with Apple’s decision to remove it from the iPhone at this time. Wired headphones are still used by the majority of the population, and it is unnecessary to remove the jack before Bluetooth headphones and other wireless alternatives achieve around 70% market share. The public does need a push to update to the next tier of technology; it’s already happening. We just need another one or two years to make the switch, and Apple’s decision to do it now will do nothing but inconvenience large portions of its user base.