So, rumour has it that with the next-generation iPhone — or rather, starting with the next-generation iPhone to then include future iPads and Macs — Apple will remove the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and use the Lightning connector for audio input/output.
I dislike discussing rumours, but the debate has quickly reached stupid proportions (stupid being the operative word) that it has become difficult to ignore. Of all the articles and contributions I’ve read so far, this one by Peter Kirn at CDM is one of the most balanced and the one I agree with most.
Personally, I don’t have strong feelings about this change (if or when it’ll take place); my first reaction has been one of quiet resignation — I’m the kind of user who will get an adapter and keep using the earphones and headphones I’ve spent so much time on finding, and that’s it, crisis averted.
I don’t intend to spend one Euro in a new pair of Lightning or Bluetooth earphones/headphones. I’ve always had a bit of trouble in finding comfortable solutions for my ears, and I’m happy with what I have, from a pair of heavy but beautiful 1980s Technics headphones (for when I’m in ‘audiophile’ mode), to a lighter foldable pair of JVC over-ear headphones for everyday use at my desk, to cheaper earphones for when I’m out and about. Earphones have been the most annoying to find, because my ears have a different fit: I can’t wear Apple EarPods in particular because the right bud keeps falling off, while the left one fits fine. Conversely, while a lot of people complained about the previous Apple earphones, they were a better fit for both my ears.
So, if Apple includes a new pair of Lightning EarPods with the iPhone 7, and if their shape stays the same as it is now, I’ll probably sell them and buy an audio adapter.
Where this purported change gets irritating for me is that it’s completely unnecessary, it introduces a proprietary solution, and it’s a pseudo-innovation that only furthers Apple’s agenda. I smile when some people bring up the iMac’s introduction and compare this purported change to that time when Apple dropped the floppy drive and ADB and SCSI connectors in favour of optical drives, USB and FireWire ports. Not only were all those standard formats, they also were undoubtedly an improvement over the formats and connections they replaced.
This change, from 3.5mm standard jack to proprietary Lightning connector, is Apple removing an obstacle that’s hampering their design process/progress towards absolute thinness; and Apple introducing a solution that, as Kirn notes in his article, gives them more control  and the opportunity of selling more products, since now Apple is in the headphone business as well. Users are the last to benefit from this change: except for those who are perfectly fine using Apple EarPods, this change will mean spending additional money for at least one decent adapter — maybe two if you want to leave one attached to your car stereo system.
Don’t tell me this could be a welcome change because it’ll bring thinner iPhones. That the current iPhones 6 and 6s are already uncomfortably thin is confirmed by the amount of people using them with a case. A new iPhone as thin as the latest iPod touch may be cool on paper, but definitely slipping from your hands (by the way, the iPod touch is so thin and yet it has a standard 3.5mm jack, how about that).
I also don’t believe that removing the standard audio jack leads to better waterproofing. Sony and Samsung, in particular, have produced lots of smartphone models that are waterproof or water resistant, and still have the standard 3.5mm jack.
Finally, there is no increase in audio quality either. As Kirn writes, What happens here is that the digital-to-analog circuitry moves from the phone to the headphones. That could potentially have some sort of benefit as far as electrical interference, but beyond that, there’s no reason to believe it will make any difference at all – and mainly might become a reason for headphone makers to charge more.
- 1. Kirn: “Accessories with Lightning jacks can be forced into the Made for iPod certification program (MFI), which since the days of the iPod has allowed Apple to have say over who is certified as an accessory and how those devices are designed.” ↩︎