An iPhone without a headphone jack? No way!

It's a terrible idea that makes no sense.

iphone 6s stock

Every now and then an Apple rumor takes on a life of its own. Websites start treating it as fact and speculatation starts on whether the new product/feature/change is a good idea. Michael Simon did just that this week when he wrote about the current rumor that Apple may remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. He thinks it’s a great idea. I think it would be terrible.

This rumor is not new. It started in June 2014 when Apple released specifications for using the lightning port for audio. Back then, pundits imagined a future without headphone jacks. While Apple didn’t remove the jack, headphone manufacturers were able to create headphones with advanced features such as an onboard DAC (digital-analog converter). So far, there is one headphone—Phillips’ Fidelio M2L—that uses this technology.

It’s hard to imagine that Apple would remove the headphone jack. The change has been compared to such revolutions as ditching floppy drives and optical drives, the addition of the USB connector in the original iMac, and, more recently, the USB-C connector on the MacBook. But there’s no comparison. In the first cases, the changes affected the way you got data onto a computer. It wasn’t that big a deal to switch from floppies (which were already too small to hold much at the time) to things like Zip drives and rewritable CDs. When the optical drive was removed, it was because most people didn’t need it; you could buy an external drive. And for the USB connectors: adding an adapter to a stationary device isn’t a big deal (though it’s annoying to have to pay for one).

If Apple did remove the headphone jack from the iPhone, then everyone who owns headphones would need an adapter. And this isn’t some cheap adapter, such as the one you may use to connect a 1/4-inch headphone jack to an iPhone. The Lightning port does not put out analog audio, so the adapter will have to contain a DAC, making it a fairly expensive dongle (say, $25 or so). And using an adapter with a mobile device is annoying, and such things get lost easily.

So many people own headphones—some of them expensive—that limiting the use of these cans on an iPhone or requiring a special adapter would frustrate many consumers. I don’t plan to buy headphones that only have a Lightning connector; I wouldn’t be able to use them with my iPad, my iPod touch, my iPod shuffle, my amplifier, or any other device.

The argument given for the removal of this jack generally has to do with making the iPhone thinner. But the iPhone can get a lot thinner and still contain the same jack. The iPhone 6s is 7.1 mm thick, but the iPod touch is only 6.1 mm. It’s hard to imagine Apple making an iPhone thinner than that. And if they did? Well, the iPod nano, which has a headphone jack, is only 5.4 mm. So there’s plenty of room. And even if there wasn’t, Apple has already patented a slimmed down headphone jack, which could be used with an inexpensive adapter for existing headphones. (Apple should worry more about the camera lens that protrudes on the current iPhone…)

ipod nano 2015

Apple's iPod nano has a headphone jack and is thinner than the iPhone 6s.

And there’s Bluetooth. I love Bluetooth headphones, but they’re more expensive and don’t sound as good as wired headphones. (Apple’s Beats wireless headphones cost $100 more than the wired version.) And they need to be charged. Not everyone wants the hassle.

With the hundreds of millions of people who own headphones, and the myriad devices they connect to, removing the headphone jack is not just a bad idea, it simply makes no sense. The rumor was wrong last year, and I’m willing to bet it’s wrong again this time.

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