You Can Kiss Your 3.5mm Headphone Jack Goodbye

We keep hearing reports that Apple is ditching the standard, 3.5mm headphone jack on the upcoming iPhone 7.  Now, there’s yet another report from China supporting that claim, with another twist.

According to Chinese tech publication Anzhou, Apple will definitely replace the 3.5mm on both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.  But this may also coincide with a push towards wireless, Bluetooth-connected headphones, with Apple selling the companion headphones as well (see how this works?)

Anzhou wasn’t quite clear on how wireless and wired Lightning will intermingle, though another Chinese source, WeiFeng, pointed to a dual, Lightning-or-Bluetooth architecture.  That approach would allow users make a selection based on the activity and environment: plugged-in for taking calls, for example.

The shift towards Lightning could usher in a number of improvements, including better audio quality, better controls, and wider, app-based listening options.  Sounds great, though it’s not clear the world will happily embrace the shift away from such a tried-and-true, 3.5mm standard.

Cynically, the move would also boost sales of another product for Apple: 3.5mm-to-Lightning converters.  Those would allow older devices to play along with Lightning-enabled headphones, or older headphones to play with newer iPhone 7s.  That sounds complicated, though it may simply be the opening salvo in a long, drawn-out format war among competing smartphone and headphone manufacturers.

16 Responses

    • Universal Indie+Records

      Why? Other companies eventually follow suit.

      • Anonymous

        No. They won’t. Lightning is proprietary to Apple. Even if they can license it, they won’t. They will either stick with 3.5mm or switch to something else entirely.

        All this really means is that Apple users will now have a significantly limited selection of headphone/earphone options. And higher priced, as Apple products are notoriously overpriced and any other manufacturers will have to pay licensing fees.

        • Anon

          They like to stay proprietary, but it’d be nice to see them do this alongside adopting usb-c like they did with the macbook.

        • Tim

          Apple has used lots of different connectors. Lightning is proprietary, as were the 30-pin connector, and ADC. USB (original A/B, and now C), Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, and DVI (including dual-link) were not. Neither were 802.11 or Bluetooth. (Apple didn’t invent any of these, but they did popularize most of them. Most people never heard of USB before the iMac.) Even IEEE 1394, which was developed by Apple, isn’t actually proprietary.

          Heck, the new Macbook charges over USB. That’s a more standard connector than any other laptop in the world that I can think of.

          Apple does not “like” to stay proprietary. They invent something new when there’s nothing in the marketplace that meets their requirements. When the market has something that’s already good enough, they happily use that. It’s to their advantage to get their connectors widely adopted. They’ve tried the fully proprietary model of connectors (e.g., with ADC) and it did not work out well for them.

          In this case, they’ve used 3.5mm headphone jack for decades because it’s been good enough. Now it’s becoming the weak point of their system. If there was something better that already existed, I’m sure they’d use that.

          The only recent instances (within the past decade) that I can remember of Apple keeping a new connector proprietary were the digital/multipurpose connectors on mobile devices (30-pin and Lightning), and their Magsafe connectors. For Magsafe, they have a legitimate reason (look at all the downright dangerous USB power adapters people buy on eBay). For iDevices, they really only deal with a fairly small number of companies (car makers, some dock makers), and they wanted the flexibility to change things internally (e.g., adding and then removing analog video support).

          Headphones are not at all like either of these — the market is much more like the market for IEEE 1394 devices, for example — so I don’t anticipate them using the same model as in those cases.

    • sc

      I will NEVER upgrade to a new iphone without the 3.5mm jack. I don’t think many people who already have headphone will ever upgrade either. And buy a $300 headphone when I already have one?

      Bye Bye Apple. They’re making a big mistake. Bad news for Apple. I’ll sell the stock also. I can’t see it going up after this news. They are shooting themselves in the head with this move. How stupid can they be!

  1. Anonymous

    This will allow the iPhone to output hi-def audio in a pristine manner. Works for me.

  2. Peter Stroud

    I’m down with any attempt for better sound quality. Most folks don’t realize how jank the quality really is out of that mini phone jack…compared to USB D/A conversion.

  3. 3.5mm

    So this is the second time that I’ve heard the claim that moving away from the 3.5mm jack will “improve” audio quality.

    A well constructed 3.5 TRS (stereo phones) or TTRS (stereo phones + mic) connector with high quality cable is more than up to the job as an analog connector to headphones.

    TT (Telephone Type)/Bantam connectors are only 4.4mm, yet those are the ones used in the end studios. Yes, those are balanced, often with brass connectors, but obviously up to the job.

    If anything, moving to a smaller analog connector limits the total power than can be handles without distortion.

    If there is any truth to claims that audio quality will be improved by a yet smaller jack, it MUST be because of a move to going digital over the connector, because this just isn’t the way things work in analog world.

    There is a practical reason for a smaller connector, and that is the ability to make the device thinner in dimensions.

    And then the obvious “proprietary” advantage as others have mentioned.

    Just to clarify things on a solid engineering level and put the red flag up for misleading marketing.

    • JeffC

      Thank you for beating me to the question:
      How exactly does “The shift towards Lightning could usher in a number of improvements, including better audio quality” work?
      It’s nonsense.
      A crap MP3 file is still a crap MP3 file and sending over unicorn hair via rainbow beams will not make it sound better any more than sending the same file over 10GB ethernet would make vs 1GB ethernet.
      Even if we are talking about high res audio, a 3.5mm connection is more than up to the task.
      It’s seriously annoying when statements like this are casually thrown around this way – it’s careless and deceptive at best.