Apple Headphone Jack Removal Malarkey: A discussion of how it would be stupid.
I’ve always wanted to put the word Malarkey in a title.
For the last three millennia, one rumor has spread like wildfire in spite of being untrue over and over again: Apple is going to get rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone. It’s back again, and this time it has more traction than it has ever had before. Big tech sites are writing stories about it. Enthusiasts are coming down on one side of the debate or the other. “Pros and Cons”-style articles are exploding into reality at a breakneck pace.
The truth is pretty simple though, and this Verge article is spot-on. Removing the headphone jack is a profoundly stupid idea in my opinion, and no amount of supposed benefit outweighs the negatives. They make some great points on the Verge. Here’s my own take:
The headphone jack is an established standard, and has been for decades. This is good for the market.
The current audio methodology of data>DAC>amp>phono jack works really well. It perfectly delivers quality audio to human ears. It allows for variations in design, performance, and processing in order to create an entire market of different audio gear. A whole ecosystem exists around this setup.
Some have said this is like when Apple removed floppy disk drives, or CD drives, or switched to the lightning port…except it’s not like that at all. There isn’t anything better to replace the phono jack. Audio still has to travel to a DAC, and then an amp, and then headphones. Connecting headphones to a lightning connector means the headphones, or the cable, have to contain the DAC and amp to make the sound go.
I have a pair of Sony MDR1A-DAC headphones that do exactly this. But, they also have a phono jack for devices that don’t support a digital connection.
Now, eventually maybe every headphone will support digital connections. Or wireless Bluetooth(which has its own latency and compression issues sometimes). But that time is not right now. The R and D cost to integrate these parts into existing headphone models is not small, and headphone weight has to go up to accommodate extra chips and batteries.
Further, including a headphone jack doesn’t preclude the iPhone from supporting Bluetooth and Lightning headphones. It doesn’t preclude Apple from increasing waterproofing (although they claim it does, Samsung has proven them wrong). It doesn’t preclude Apple from making a slightly slimmer phone (the current body is a little wider than the phono jack).
Instead, this seems entirely like Apple trying to brute force a whole market into following its whims. Which is bold. And ridiculous. Beats headphones have been on clearance at many retailers for months now, so Apple probably has a whole new line of Bluetooth and Lightning Beats(tm) headphones they want to roll out. Which will, of course, be incompatible with other devices that use standard jacks. Other manufacturers will have to follow suit or risk being left in the dust.
(Unless they don’t, and this whole thing turns out to be a quickly-failed experiment).
However, I have another fear, and if I were an Apple shareholder, it’d be the actual thing keeping me up at night over this decision.
Apple might be ruining their biggest money-maker: iTunes
Apple’s largest profits come from the sale of digital goods through iTunes. A good chunk of this money comes from sales of music, and Apple Music subscriptions.
Every portable Apple device comes with a free pair of Apple earpods. They’re a solid little default earphone, with in-line controls, and you can instantly access a whole ecosystem of music with decent quality sound.
With the headphone jack gone…what does Apple do to replace these? They could engineer a new earpod which plugs into the Lightning port, and contains an amp and DAC. But that would be pretty expensive, and it would also cost more to include it in the box.
They could include no headphones at all and leave you to find a Bluetooth or Lightning model…and right there they’ve blown it. Are they hoping most consumers already own one of these things? Are they hoping people will be satisfied with phone speakers?
They could also produce a DAC/amp dongle and sell it separately to provide compatibility with older headphones…but now you’ve got an extra thing hanging off your phone. Inelegant to say the least. Hardcore audiophiles will often carry a separate amp to use with their phone, but those setups are more versatile and often rely on attaching the amp brick to the back of the phone so that it’s still portable. Sort of.
Dongles are lame.
Apple has to include a listening method in the box that’s better than phone speakers. Right? I mean, I guess they don’t have to do anything. But I’d be blown away if the gateway to iTunes was reduced to external speakers, no matter how good they were. The bundled earpods have been a hallmark of Apple portables forever, and the included phone mic and button controls improve usability.
Removing the headphone jack would be change for the sake of change. It segments the headphone market. It requires the use of an external DAC/amp combo for sound. It removes easy access to the iTunes store, the true moneymaker for Apple. It offers no significant benefits to the market.
A better way would be to introduce all new headphone products first, then once people decide that the new standard is the best, slowly phase out the headphone port. That’s probably the way the market itself will progress. People are slow to change unless something is so profoundly better that they understand the benefit in one second. The original iPhone had that sort of momentum. Removing the headphone jack, at least so far, does not.
I’m waiting to be impressed. If they show me something really really cool to justify this, it might totally turn me around. Instead, through their silence on the matter, I just feel like Apple wants me to buy more headphones.
I’ve bought so many headphones oh god why.