This post is part of the series In-Depth
Other posts in this series:
- In-Depth: Understanding the Cortex A53 on Mobile SoCs
- In-Depth: Why phone manufacturers continue to eliminate the headphone jack despite all the backlash (Current)
Ever since the iPhone 7, there has been an addition to the list of things smartphones can usually endorse as features – the inclusion of a headphone jack. Not that Apple was the first to exclude what for years has been considered a mandatory part of any personal computing device from their smartphone. But because it’s Apple and the iPhone is the most popular phone in the world. So it sets the standard.
The immediate reaction of the average consumer has been of hate and annoyance: “Where do I plug in my in my headphones?” and “I hate adapters.” And I can’t help mention it is important to note here that the general public reaction to any change to a popularly used product tends to be negative. The best example I could cite for this is the unanimous hatred with which even the tiniest UI altering app updates are initially met with on social media which then completely disappears in a couple of days. That, in this case, combined with the general dislike for Apple in the tech enthusiast community. The headphone jack removal is no app update. It is a huge change. A hardware change.
Most smartphone manufacturers decided the best way to capitalize on the situation was to be able to flaunt a new feature without having to change anything. What is disappointing is most tech reviewers have also supported this consensus by constantly listing the inclusion of a headphone jack as a positive thing and its exclusion as a definite drawback- which, at the outset it is. I agree. But I don’t think reviewers have done enough to explain the positives to it and why it may be necessary to remove it.
Okay, so let us discuss pros and cons. And why I think removing the headphone jack is, in fact, the right decision. Before getting into it I would like to address the apparent pointlessness of discussing the pros and cons of having something versus not having it. Having it is obviously more beneficial as long as its presence doesn’t create any problems, which, the headphone jack seemingly does not. What I mean is if you only consider things in the context of you going to buy a smartphone today, obviously having a headphone jack is better versus not having one because irrespective of whether you use it or not, you have the option. This is common and I think the most reasonable argument against it: why not just include it? You can still have the options which you propose as superior alternatives to the headphone jack (digital audio via USB/lightning port or Bluetooth audio) with the headphone jack still present for those who still want to use it. But that’s what the thing is: why should we continue to use something if there is any superior alternative available in the first place. Just because some people are too lazy to move on from old inferior tech. And no matter what anyone says, the alternative options will never really catch on and will continue to remain alternatives to this inferior technology for no reason unless you remove it. So the pros mentioned here are all about why the alternative options today make more sense and are superior to the point where the need for their development outweighs the inconveniences associated with removing the old option.
Before getting into it I want to briefly explain this thing for those of you who may not know: when you listen to an audio file through your headphones, the digital data of the audio file is converted to analog data i.e. the physical sound you hear, by a component called the audio digital-to-analog converter or DAC. The quality of sound you hear is significantly influenced by the quality of the DAC in use. The major change with moving from the 3.5mm standard to USB-C or Lightning port or Bluetooth to output audio is that the former does so in the analog form which means that the digital-to-analog conversion is already done inside the phone by its own DAC. The USB-C or Lightning port, on the other hand, are digital ports and output data in the digital form which means that the digital to analog conversion needs to be done outside by an external audio DAC.
Listed below are the pros and cons of removing the headphone jack.
Let’s get these out of the way first since they’re pretty obvious and need lesser explanation.
NEED FOR ADAPTERS
You’re gonna need a USB USB-C to 3.5mm or Lightning to 3.5mm adapter if you want to use your wired headphones since most still have the 3.5mm plug. But thankfully, all companies that have chosen to remove the headphone jack, including Apple, do include one free of cost in the box. Which is critical. If they hadn’t it would have been incredibly user-hostile.
If you’re someone who uses their in-ears only for portable use with their phone and has separate bigger headphones or speakers for your home or desk setup, which is the case for a lot of us, you have no problem at all. You just use the adapter as a permanent attachment to those in-ears and you will forget they are even there.
But not all of us fit this very rigid use case. Maybe you have one beloved pair of headphones you plug in everywhere.Maybe you have multiple headphones you use with your phone. Or maybe you just need to plug in an aux cable often. Buying multiple adapters is a temporary solution for the last two issues.
INABILITY TO CHARGE YOUR PHONE AND USE WIRED HEADPHONES AT THE SAME TIME
This is a major gripe. I do think having two USB-C or two lightning ports on phones is a plausible idea but I don’t necessarily recommend it as it is too much for a phone. Maybe for the power user though. But, more importantly, why even use wires for both of these functions in 2017 when we have Bluetooth audio and wireless charging.
WIRED HEADPHONES LEGACY
There do exist quite a few great USB-C/Lightning headphones and while they are potentially better than 3.5mm ones as I explain later, they are still very rare today. The big audio specialist companies such as Sennheiser, Audio Technica, Westone etc. haven’t really done anything to accommodate this new trend. They could even make high-quality adapters with superior DACs to replace the stock ones in the box.
But that’s the thing about these high fidelity hardware product markets like audio gear, automobiles or watches. The established high-end companies have generally remained oblivious of the progress in the digital tech world. It took a Tesla to blow up the automobile market by successfully demonstrating what is possible by incorporating the best of modern digital technology and software in their new electric self-driving cars for the established companies to seriously focus on electric cars too. It was only when the Apple Watch made smartwatches mainstream did the big old Swiss luxury watchmakers finally get into smartwatches too. It’s the same situation with the audio gear industry too, I think. Adoption is slow but it will definitely happen. Not anytime soon though.
An exception here is Shure, a major high-fidelity audio company with a new product they recently launched. It’s like Bluetooth headphones and a detachable Bluetooth DAC all in one. It’s very innovative and very impressive and shows that they are definitely working to evolve with modern trends.
ADOPTION IN LOWER END DEVICES
Most of the low and even mid-range phones continue to have micro-USB. Who knows how long it will be before we see USB-C in the complete range of smartphones? Whatever superior digital audio solutions we do develop will be through USB-C and won’t be compatible with these lower-end devices.
But who cares about poor people anyway, right?
I’m just kidding. I hope things move faster.
Note that all of the cons mentioned above are only applicable if you still want to use wired headphones. And while I do claim a digital USB/Lightning port is still the better way to do that, there do exist all these issues because it is going to take some time for the industry to shift from the highly established 3.5mm jack. So all of these cons can really be summed up as a single point i.e. the temporary compatibility issues associated with shifting from the 3.5mm standard to a newer one. And that is nothing new. This happens whenever we move from an old standard to a new one.
However, the other alternative, and the one I think most people ought to be shifting to, wireless Bluetooth audio, is free from any such issues and is all set to go. More about it in the pros listed below.
BETTER FORM FACTOR AND DESIGN/VALUABLE SPACE SAVED
At the very outset, this giant analog port looks ridiculously outdated on a 2017 smartphone body where everything else is cut down to a bare minimum ultra-thin magnificence. If the guys who invented the 3.5mm jack technology back in the 1800s could time travel to 2017, they’d sure be proud but mostly super surprised to see their invention still be part of a smartphone, the one flagship consumer product representing all that is cutting edge in the tech industry today.
It looks out of place and it is. Inside, there are transistors fighting for space in the range nanometers! It is then just plain ridiculous to include this large analog port with its own separate digital-to-analog conversion circuitry (the audio DAC) unless it wasn’t an absolutely unavoidable analog component such as the display or the camera or the speakers.
Like I mentioned earlier, the primary change with removing the headphone jack and using the USB-C port or Lightning port is that the digital-to-analog conversion no longer needs to be done by the phone since these are digital connectors and send the audio data out in the digital format. So it no longer needs to include the audio DAC (Digital-to-analog converter) inside it. The digital-to-analog conversion is then done by a DAC present within the USB-C/Lightning connector headphones or Bluetooth headphones. Or in an intermediate DAC connector such as the adapters provided in the box to use with 3.5mm headphones.
This freedom from dependency on smartphone DACs is something I personally have deeply longed for since a very long time. And it’s not just me, of course. All audiophiles are very aware of this problem. But we are a niche. Most people don’t care so nothing has been done about this for so long. The problem is most smartphones use mediocre performing DACs. The audio quality component of smartphones has not really evolved at the rate the other two major analog components on a smartphone, namely, the screen and the camera quality have. One reason for the accelerated development of those two components could be the extra emphasis put on them by tech reviewers on YouTube. Which is obvious since they are primarily filmmakers and are naturally inclined to be a little obsessed with image/video and display quality (remember “Team Crispy?”). Although, yes, camera quality is something the average user is also very particular about too. But I honestly don’t think anyone needs more than 1080p on a smartphone screen unless you want to use VR. But quad-HD displays have been the norm on Android flagship devices for a long time now.
It’s not that all phones have bad DACs. HTC and Apple, for instance, have always included quality DACs in their devices. And very recently a lot of phone makers are doing that too; mostly out of a desperate need for new things to differentiate themselves in a crowded Android market by citing “high definition audio” as an extra feature.
It was so bad for me, I remember, that when buying a new phone the only thing I cared about was having a decent audio DAC because it was such a rarity. At one point, I almost went ahead and bought an Asus phone with a super bloated Android skin which I hate. I remember people who carried a separate iPod along with their phone at all times to listen to music. Just shows how grave the problem is. But like I said earlier, also very niche.
But really it’s common sense if you think about it: when you invest in a good piece of audio equipment i.e. headphones, from an audio specialist company, you want that company and that product you chose and paid for to deliver a good audio experience to you to be solely responsible for the audio experience you receive. But it is in fact partly affected by the audio DAC in your smartphone.And a lot of people aren’t aware of this when they buy high-end headphones for the first time and are unknowingly let down.
In this regard, Android Lollipop was a major milestone as it enabled USB audio support natively on Android which means you could output digital audio out of the micro-USB and then use your own external DAC if you wanted to. iOS already had this option.
This meant you could hook up your phone to your high-end home audio setup and more importantly, you could finally have high-quality audio on the go irrespective of which phone you owned if you were willing to a carry a small portable DAC. Now there aren’t too many options that are really small enough to carry with you in your pocket if but I think the best one, hands down, is the Audioquest Dragonfly and I’d like to give a shout out to them here. Not only do they deliver incredible quality and power at the size of a flash drive but the new versions are made to be especially power efficient to be able to be used with smartphones. There’s two of them–the Black and Red priced at $100 and $200 respectively.
With the headphone jack disappearing from phones, we expect to see more of portable smartphone DACs and USB-C/Lightning headphones with in-built DACs.
NEW POSSIBILITIES WITH DIGITAL AUDIO
Having audio output digitally also enables a world of extra possibilities for headphones to tap into. Because you are using a digital port, along with the digital audio output you can also send any other data you want to from your smartphone. Active noise cancellation can be enabled without adding specialized microphones to the headphones by instead using the phone’s microphones to the collect noise data and send it to the headphones instead. You can have EQ management at the hardware level using the software on your phone which means you actually change the tuning inside the actual headphones. This is very different from the usual software EQ management we find in music player apps. There is so much more you can do.
And I’m not talking imaginary future stuff here. Most of this stuff is already real in a lot of USB-C/Lightning headphones and Bluetooth headphones. The $150 Rayz Plus by Pioneer is a good example.
And what HTC has done with its USonic digital audio system is absolutely incredible. For those who keep track, HTC has been the unprecedented king of smartphone audio for years not just with their market leading audio DACs but also with the amazing stereo BoomSound speakers. And that now they too have chosen to do away with the headphone jack for a digital system definitely says a lot in its favor. The HTC USonic system is their proprietary USB-C in-ears with accompanying software on the phone. The headphones have active noise cancellation and Sonar sensors to create a custom audio profile based on your ears to give you superior audio quality. This is something that can seem like a gimmick but, based on most reports, it’s really really not: the custom audio profile makes the sound quality stunningly better than with it turned off and different audio profiles (customized to different people) are very noticeably distinguishable.
This is perhaps the best new feature made possible by digital audio I have seen but I really can’t claim to have seen all: there are a lot of Lightning headphones out in the market today. In comparison though, USB-C headphones are few. But we expect to see more of them very soon with more and more Android phones including the Google’s own Pixel going jack-free.
A lot of Bluetooth headphones also have a lot of very interesting extra features made possible by digital audio. Such as the AirPods with brilliant never-seen-before features such as the ability to automatically pause playback when you take one side out or tapping on them to perform functions. The Jaybird’s Bluetooth headphones have an excellent implementation of the hardware level EQ management I mentioned above.
Ports, in general, are the most difficult parts of the device to waterproof because they are where the water directly comes in contact with electricity. The 3.5mm jack isn’t just one more port to waterproof, but also the most difficult one because it is such an old technology. Some manufacturers have had to resort to flaps to cover the headphone jack which are to only be opened when required in order to guarantee the water resistance claim.
ISSUES SPECIFIC TO THE 3.5 MM STANDARD
For all of the complaints about losing compatibility by removing the 3.5mm jack, the 3.5mm standard isn’t without compatibility issues of its own. If you’ve never plugged in a pair of headphones into a device and have it fail to work, you’re just lucky. It’s pretty infrequent, yes, but it does happen. If you’re using headphones you bought standalone on any Android or iPhone which is the most common case, there shouldn’t be a problem. The problem usually occurs on laptops and tablets and by using headphones that came with a particular device on a different device.
You must have noticed on 3.5mm connector pins there are these rings- usually two but sometimes 3 or 4. These are called conductors. Each conductor transfers one part of the data, like the left or right channel audio or additional inputs. This has not been standardized. It has been attempted but not very successfully. Hence there is fragmentation. You probably know that 3.5mm headphones that offer additional functionality like microphone input and remote functionality like play/pause/skip only work with either Android or iOS or only with the one particular device it came with. This too happens for the same reason.
USB-C is standardized hardware and with the software specification standardized, there should be no such issues.
You’ve probably at least once experienced your headphones stop working on only one side. It’s the most common way for headphones to go bad. it’s very frustrating when it happens to a brand new pair you got. The reason for this is a classic analog transmission problem. The wires near the 3.5mm pin get bent back and forth so many times that it causes a short in the wiring.
FRAGMENTATION CONCERNS RESOLVED
When the first Android phones from LeEco and Moto Z started ditching the headphone jack last year, there was no USB-C audio standard yet. So there was major concern about a fragmentation issue building up with different companies using different standards or making their own proprietary standard like LeEco did with CDLA (Continuous Digital Lossless Audio).
But just as Intel had predicted since April, the USB-IF published the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification in late September last year which standardizes audio over USB-C. This means fragmentation issues get resolved and OEMs can now very easily ditch the headphone jack for USB-C audio.
BETTER BATTERY LIFE
Contrary to initial speculation, USB-C audio will actually be more power efficient than the 3.5mm standard as per the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification by the USB IF.
It has long been prophesied there will be one single connection standard for all consumer devices and accessories for all data and power transmission needs and it is something we all dream of. We finally have it with it USB-C. It is forecasted to do exactly that. It has all of the capabilities such a universal standard demands. Just that it’s not going to happen overnight. Shifting standards is a gradual inconvenient process. Replacing the headphone jack is a major step towards it though. USB-C is already all set to replace the HDMI port on laptops and the need for any HDMI adapters for any personal computing devices is going to end. With the audio coming through USB-C too, it is all set to take over home media connections making everything much easier.
One hurdle major hurdle in this particular pursuit though is Apple still continuing to push their proprietary Lightning port on their iPhones and iPads. While it’s completely understandable when Apple wants to be locked into their own ecosystem with their software, playing the proprietary game with hardware, especially something as crucial as connection standards, is just despicable. There seems to be no other reason for it other than extra profits they earn by licensing accessory makers to use their Lightning port.
If the iPhone had a USB-C port instead of Lightning, all the Lightning connector headphones that emerged in the market in response to the iPhone ditching the 3.5 mm jack would all be USB-C headphones instead, compatible with Android phones too. That would have been so helpful to the Android phones that don’t have a headphone jack. Apple’s move would then have contributed in a much more direct way to the cause of replacing the 3.5 mm jack in the tech industry.
THE TIMING IS ACTUALLY PERFECT
For all those saying that while the headphone jack should eventually be done away with, we are not ready to do it yet since the alternatives to it have not matured enough to replace it; what exactly are you waiting for? We finally have a universal future-ready digital port in USB-C. Micro-USB definitely wasn’t capable enough. Bluetooth audio has actually been good enough for the average person’s sound quality requirements for quite a few years. Not only do we have USB-C, but now we even have a USB-C digital audio standard which allows any manufacturer to easily implement USB-C audio easily. And even that happened after and because of the phones that ditched the headphone jack initially.
Like I said, the Bluetooth audio point is separate from this entire discussion. The pros and cons I’m talking about mostly relate to 3.5mm jack versus wired USB-C/Lightning audio. And even without it i.e. if lets us say Bluetooth audio didn’t exist; I would still argue in favor of removing the 3.5mm jack. It would still be an outdated redundant port that needed to go. It would be a weaker argument though, owing to all the issues I listed as cons. Maybe then the idea of including two USB-C ports or two Lightning ports would be more plausible. But let’s not waste time thinking about this useless hypothetical situation when in reality, we do have wireless Bluetooth audio. It’s awesome and with it, the argument for removing the 3.5mm headphone jack hits a home run. Apple’s got it right here when they claim “the future is wireless.” At least for consumer audio, it definitely is.
Bluetooth audio is fully standardized and has no compatibility issues. So not only is it already capable enough to serve as a replacement for the 3.5mm jack from phones and create more space but also guess what–it’s wireless. So there’s the added convenience benefit of no more dangling and tangling wires.
Bluetooth audio isn’t absolutely flawless though. It has its share of disadvantages although none too significant. And more importantly Bluetooth audio is getting better so rapidly that each of these issues is becoming lesser and lesser significant almost to the point of not being an issue anymore. Let’s run down these issues quickly. In order of increasing significance.
A lot of people while arguing in favor of the 3.5mm jack like to include a point about “Bluetooth not being reliable enough to replace wired audio.” What they claim is that there is just way too frequent connection issues. That sometimes they can’t connect and connection often drops in between playback. I think that is complete nonsense. While connection issues aren’t completely zero, it is rare and not even close enough to be an actual issue. Bluetooth headphones and speakers aren’t something new. They have been a successful product category for years and that wouldn’t have been possible if this was an issue. If you honestly face this issue you probably bought a bad product or got a faulty piece; especially if you’re having connection drops. Next, battery life or rather the need to be charged is one disadvantage. Personally, I don’t consider this to be an issue for any product as long as it can easily last a full day. Then you just put it to charge every night and you’re good. Takes one minute. Smartphones, for example, struggle to last a full day and so battery life is a definite issue for them. Most Bluetooth headphones today will last you around 7-10 hours. That I estimate lasts the average user two full days at least.
Price is another disadvantage. Bluetooth headphones definitely run a little more expensive than wired ones. Whichever Bluetooth headphones in the world you decide to buy, you can always get a better sounding pair of wired headphones at the same price. And this is the sole reason that has stopped me from ever buying any Bluetooth headphones. Because when buying headphones, there is nothing I value above sound quality. Which brings us to our last and the most significant issue with Bluetooth audio: sound quality. This is an actual issue. This is the reason some audiophiles won’t even look at Bluetooth headphones. It’s like Beats headphones to them. Not that all Bluetooth headphones unanimously sound bad. But like I said, you just have to pay more for better sound. In fact, if you’re willing to really pay, there exist some terrific sounding Bluetooth headphones. But the reason I say this also is an insignificant issue is that most people simply don’t care about sound quality. I’ll make this hypothesis: at least 90% people will find the average $30 Bluetooth headphone meets their sound quality needs. And moreover, the trade-off in sound quality (if they notice any at all) is well worth the gain in convenience from being wireless. Honestly, people love going wireless so much. I know so many people who after using Bluetooth headphones say they can never go back to using wired ones. Just check out how popular these $25 Bluetooth headphones are. The only reason Bluetooth headphones aren’t more popular today is that most people have never cared enough to try them out. Think about it: if instead of ever adding a 3.5mm jack, phone makers had always included Bluetooth headphones in the box, they would totally be the norm today. And people would be losing their minds then if suggested the idea of having to actually plug in their headphones and have it be connected by a wire to their phone all the time. Because you’d be surprised at the number of people who are totally fine with the in-the-box headphones and consider separately paying for headphones crazy. Another thing I’d like to point out here is that getting Bluetooth instead of wired can actually end up improving sound quality for you in some cases because Bluetooth audio transmission being digital means Bluetooth headphones too like USB-C/Lightning headphones have their own DAC and very often headphone manufacturers actually include really good ones that are a major improvement from the DAC in your phone which ends up benefitting the sound quality overall. Thus, Bluetooth headphones being DAC independent always deliver the same sound irrespective of which smartphone or computer you pair them with. They have this advantage over wired headphones.
The newest version of Bluetooth, Bluetooth 5.0 which featured in the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus and is now coming with more and more new phones is a giant leap forward for Bluetooth audio. It’s said to have 4 times the range and twice the data transfer speed! There are many other improvements too. A notable one is that you can now stream from one device via Bluetooth to multiple ones simultaneously, something if you wanted to do with wired headphones would require additional hardware in the form of a line splitting adapter.
The main reason for limited audio quality with Bluetooth headphones has been the limited data transfer rate which limits playback of larger high-quality music formats but with double the speed now, all that is set to change drastically soon.
So bottom line, I think sound quality here is definitely no issue here for most people and almost everyone can easily afford a pair of Bluetooth headphones that meets their needs and it’s set to get even better very soon.
Here’s how I see it; how the future looks like or rather it should look like, what we should be striving to move towards:
No more 3.5mm jack on phones, computers, and tablets. The average person (let’s say around 95% of the population) uses Bluetooth headphones. Home audio setups and smaller speakers are all wireless via Wifi or Bluetooth. Car speakers have Bluetooth.
Audiophiles who want the really high-quality audio (the remaining 5% of the population) do so by connecting their high fidelity headphones with their built-in DAC or with a separate portable DAC to the USB-C/Lightning port. Just like you would connect any other specialized accessory to a smartphone.
And as Bluetooth headphones get better, the number of people willing to still stick with wired headphones for a possibly better audio quality gets lesser and lesser. Bigger professional audio setups, of course, that use brick sized DACs, always have used the USB/Lightning port to connect and will always do so.
Let us say such a scenario has been achieved. There are no more devices with a headphone jack anywhere and everyone’s happy. Then, like the Blackberry smartphone which tried to bring the physical keypad back, a phone with the old headphone jack appears in the market.
Who buys it? Who wants to go back? People who’re high on the wireless don’t want to go back to wired obviously. Ask anyone who uses Bluetooth headphones today if they ever consider going back to wired. As for the audiophile group, using the 3.5mm jack would also mean using the phone’s inbuilt DAC, which no matter how good it claims to be, can’t obviously be better than specialized ones they are plugging in externally. The 3.5mm jack is a major step backward either way.
I’d like to quote fellow Twitter user, @Yummy_Brains0 here:
No way, man, high-end audio gear is wired, high tech audio gear is wireless. No audiophile is listening to music on their smartphone.
— Chris (@Yummy_Brains0) August 3, 2017
“High-end audio is wired. High-tech audio is wireless.”
That’s just what it is, simply.
I think the AirPods are a testament to the potential of high-tech audio today. It shows us what is possible with digital and wireless Bluetooth audio today and more headphone makers should try and do some of that with their Bluetooth headphones. Hopefully at lower prices. That will go a long way in shifting people to Bluetooth headphones.
While we are still on Bluetooth audio, I’d like to mention one product that I think has always been underrated but now with the headphone jack disappearing crisis could be a welcome savior for a lot of people: a Bluetooth audio dongle. Maybe while you do appreciate the potential of Bluetooth audio, you just really love the wired headphones you currently own and don’t have the heart to go looking for a whole new pair of Bluetooth headphones so you continue to bear with the inconvenience of an adapter. If that is the case with you, this could be perfect for you.
Bluetooth audio dongles are tiny and can clip onto your clothing like an iPod shuffle (very often mistaken for one too by simpletons). You plug your headphones into the dongle and for a completely wireless feel, you can throw the loose cable inside your shirt. Your phone then streams via Bluetooth and is free of wires. Additionally, you can also use it to make any speaker wireless by connecting the dongle to the aux input. The Sony SBH20 is a really good one. I can recommend this one personally because I used it for a good six months before unfortunately losing it. It functions flawlessly and the DAC is probably better than the one on your phone. However, this was back in 2013 so it’s an old model using the older Bluetooth 3.0. You can probably find newer ones with Bluetooth 4.1 too such as this really popular one by TaoTronics.
And if the beloved wired headphones that you want to use with your jack-less phone happen to be the Audio Technica ATH-M50X, the most popular entry-level audiophile headphones ever, there is a special product for you: this Bluetooth dongle made especially for the MX50. It adds onto the body of the headphones and makes them wireless. As for the DAC quality, Audio Technica approved this thing themselves so it should be good.
Shure too recently launched a similar product as I already mentioned once earlier here. It transforms their existing highly popular in-ears into wireless Bluetooth ones using a detachable Bluetooth DAC.
I don’t know how long it will be till the headphone jack is completely eradicated from all personal computing devices but I definitely believe it will happen. It’s hard to imagine it happening in the mid and lower range devices anytime soon. Only when that happens do we truly move on from it and 3.5 mm headphones start to become obsolete and compatibility issues start to subside. Also, it is critical when the big companies make the move because they obviously lead the way and the rest of the market develops around them. Apple doing it with the iPhone 7 is what made the idea actually take off. The next biggest smartphone seller in the world, Samsung though does not seem to be anywhere close to doing it right now. Not only do they continue to take a dig at Apple and other companies that have removed the headphone jack, at their phone launch events by specifically pointing out the inclusion of a headphone jack but they are also including a very premium pair of AKG 3.5 mm headphones in the box with their flagship devices this year as if to reaffirm their faith in the 3.5mm standard.
While not quite matching up to Apple or Samsung in terms of sales, the Nexus or now Pixel phones also hold an important place in the market and have a significant influence on it owing to the fact that these are designed by Google themselves and are hence something all Android OEMs look to as a standard. And that they are incredibly popular within the tech enthusiast community too. Based on leaks so far it is almost certain that the new Pixel phones launching on October 4th are excluding the headphone jack. That is great to see. The first generation Pixel didn’t do it and that is totally understandable considering they were trying to sell a new product. It would actually have been downright stupid to do something user-hostile like that. But I thought the little bit of a dig they too decided to take at the previously launched iPhone 7 in their ad was a little bit of a cheap shot. And because of that, they definitely lose a little credibility by removing the headphone jack now. Something Samsung will face to a much larger extent whenever they decide to kill the headphone jack.
It will be interesting to see how Google addresses it at the Pixel event on 4th. Google is the one company among the tech giants that’s been known to value doing what they think is good and what will promote progress over their profits. Much to the concern of their shareholders very often. So ditching the old headphone jack is exactly the kind of thing you expect them to be in support of.
It’s not difficult to appreciate the challenge Android OEMs face in removing the headphone jack. It almost certainly leads to a decrease in profits. No one is NOT going to buy a phone because it has a headphone jack. But the opposite is not true. So it mostly seems to be a direct ‘profits’ vs. ‘doing the right thing’ decision for companies now.
This, however, is not the case with Apple though. By removing the headphone jack on the iPhone they are pushing their entire lineup of specialized wireless Bluetooth headphones- the Apple AirPods and the whole set of Bluetooth headphones by Beats, a company they now own. All of these Bluetooth headphones have a special proprietary Apple W1 chip in them for enabling the special features you see on the AirPods and the special features thus only work with iPhones. So while no one really is not buying an iPhone 7 because of a missing headphone jack as is evident from the very successful sales numbers for it, more people are now buying the special Bluetooth headphones too. So in terms of profit, it has been an overall successful move by Apple. Something no Android OEM that ditched the headphone can claim yet. Android phones that have ditched the headphone jack so far have all fared poorly in general. Which is what makes it an even bigger deal that the Pixel is doing it now. This is the reason most business-minded companies like Samsung or OnePlus haven’t done it yet and it’s hard to find any reason they will anytime soon either. Because from a business perspective, there is no direct scope for profit; only possible losses. This is why things may take a little more time to happen and you can expect to see the good old headphone jack around you for some time.
What’s going to help the change gradually happen is more improvement and development of Bluetooth and USB-C/Lightning headphones. Especially the extra high tech features becoming more popular to shift people the mass of users to digital audio.
Among the three most important phone makers today, Apple and Google are already on board. So it will be a big breakthrough when Samsung make the transition too. It won’t take long then for the remainder of the market to follow through.
But judging from Samsung’s history to always hold on to the older tech when there is user demand for it such as with the removable battery and sd card storage, it could take very long.
Meanwhile, what I’d suggest you do is, go get yourself a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones if haven’t already. Go wireless. It’s almost 2018.