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Will Apple’s missing headphone jack affect other industries?

By Adam Doud September 15, 2016, 3:30 pm

There is a growing trend in mobile today that seems hell bent on getting rid of the 3.5 mm headphone jack. For those of you not familiar with…sound…the 3.5 mm jack is pretty much the industry standard for headphones. There are some variations here and there, notably in the sound production industry, but for years and decades, if you were listening to audio on a consumer device, it was passing through a 3.5mm headphone jack. Which makes Apple’s missing headphone jack something that needs to be talked about, even though we already had this conversation earlier in the summer.


We get it – it’s old

Whether or not the headphone jack is dated or not is not the debate. It is. No question. Our own Adam Lein argued as much half a decade ago. But the fact of the matter is, we’re not just talking about mobile here. Headphone audio is everywhere folks, and one of the biggest phone companies in the world is getting rid of the industry standard. So the big question is, what’s the industry going to do about it?


Mobile isn’t the only game in town, after all. There is other audio equipment that relies on the 3.5 mm jack. To name a few – stereos, other mobile phones, computers – and those are just the ones that we’re likely to run into. The headphone is everywhere, and it has been for a long time. It’s still very capable of producing high-quality audio output. But it’s not capable of doing much else, which is where we run into the problem.

Lightning connectors and USB Type-C connectors are capable of so much more, including potentially higher quality audio. Having one jack that rules them all makes a lot of sense in some ways. The downsides are there, this is true, but the reasons why OEMs want to ditch the 3.5 mm jack are valid, and the question we’re here to answer is how those non-mobile industries will react to this. Are you, as a consumer, screwed?


Put simply, yeah. Kinda. There are a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, Apple’s lightning connector is not a standard for anyone except Apple. It’s likely that some audio equipment manufacturers will probably build in a lightning port to their devices – iHome for example. But for the most part, your stereos, TV’s, radios, etc will all still have 3.5 mm jacks.

Apple is a major manufacture of phones, this is true, but it’s certainly not the only game in town. Apple’s market share is somewhere around 12-15% of smartphone users. 12% does not a convincing argument make. Even add in Lenovorola and you’re at, what 18%? Maybe? Less than one quarter of part time media devices getting rid of a headphone jack isn’t going to turn any industry heads. It’s not like Sony is going to start building USB Type-C connectors or lightning connectors into their stereo receivers. So that is an entire market that is being left out.

That's right, the 3.5mm headphones jack is back!
That’s right, the 3.5mm headphones jack is back!

Duplication of effort

Basically, if you as a consumer want a high-quality audio experience regardless of the device you’re playing your tunes on, you are going to potentially need three sets of headphones, or two different adapters you won’t be allowed to lose. This is a bad user experience, especially when a good set of headphones will set you back $50 – $100. And we’re not even talking about great headphones yet. $100 is just for the good ones.

This isn’t the USB Type-C versus Micro USB argument. While there was certainly some justifiable hand wringing over that concept, it really has made a remarkably smooth transition, at least in my life. But, let’s face it, power and data cables don’t average $100 a pop. If they did, we’d all still be using Micro USB.

But all hope is not lost. As USB Type-C connectors replace the headphone jack, in the future, you’ll still be able to use those same headphones on your computers with USB Type-C. So there is that. Heck, the next MacBook will probably have a Lighting jack for audio, if Apple is smart. So, as long as you’re only listening to computing devices, you may be ok. But if your audio options are varied, your audio listening option will soon need to be equally varied. The jackless revolution is here now. It’s a reality. Now we need to deal with it.

Good night and good luck.


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