Apple: Jacks Off iPhone 7

“Courage.”

That’s what Apple’s Phil Schiller said was behind Apple’s removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

We’ve been talking about this for more than a year, and I had pretty much resigned myself to accepting the company’s boneheaded decision, and living with yet another dongle (though I hadn’t planned to buy an iPhone 7, and I still don’t plan to do so).

But when Phil Schiller said “Courage,” that flipped my bits.

Courage is refusing to move to the back of the bus, not removing a connector so you can force companies to pay licensing fees to use yours.

What Apple did is remove a technology that works very well, and has for some time, and replace it with something they control. Saying the technology is old, therefore not good any more, is puerile. They haven’t replaced the AC power plug, most likely invented by Thomas Edison. They haven’t replaced pushbuttons on the side of the phone. They haven’t replaced the keyboards on their computers.

Now, you’ll probably say “but the floppy disk…” And I’m tired of that comparison. The floppy disk was a storage medium that was inadequate. At the time, I recall often having to split compressed archives to fit them on multiple floppy disks, and I was already using Zip disks for backups. Everyone wanted a replacement for the floppy disk. I don’t know many iPhone users or music listeners who want the headphone jack to go away.

Yes, with a digital output over the lightning port you can allow headphones to do signal processing and offer better sound. Currently, there are so headphones that do this, at price points that rival those of the iPhone itself. But you can do that with the lightning port anyway; you don’t need to remove the headphone jack. And only the 1% of music listeners care about that kind of headphone. Anyway, if you’re listening to music on an iPhone outdoors, you won’t hear the difference between audiophile headphones and average headphones.

The headphone jack has one advantage: it’s very good at what it does. It’s a simple technology, and an adaptation of Occam’s razor says that the simplest technology is often the best. It’s also ubiquitous. You know that you can connect a headphone to just about any audio device in the world. The only exception is hifi amplifiers and receivers which still use the larger 1/4″ headphone jack; you do need a convertor for that, but if you have large headphones, they generally come with the smaller jack plus a converter.

So now “courageous” Apple bundles a dongle with the iPhone. Another little gadget that people will lose and have to buy again. (To Apple’s credit, it only costs $9.) But if they use wired headphones, they’ll be using that inadequate technology called the lightning connector. Because lightning cables are anything but robust. They split at the cable-to-jack connector, and the metal nib breaks off. This happens far more often than headphone cables breaking.

And you can no longer charge your iPhone while using its headphones. But, hey, Apple has their new AirPods.

32 thoughts on “Apple: Jacks Off iPhone 7

  1. well said, and I learned a new word (“puerile”) that I think is going to see a lot of use between now and November. 🙂

  2. well said, and I learned a new word (“puerile”) that I think is going to see a lot of use between now and November. 🙂

  3. “Yes, with a digital output over the lightning port you can allow headphones to do signal processing and offer better sound.”

    Although that is audio homeopathy, more than anything.

    I completely agree with everything else written here. Their introduction of, not just one, but THREE inconvenient solutions to a problem that didn’t have to exist in the first place – lightning connection, wireless or adapters – made for one of the most awkward product presentations I have seen from Apple so far. Jimmy Iovine, your sins are forgiven.

    Solutions that themselves bring about all sorts of other headache-inducing problems, as Kirk has explained further in his Airpods article.

    The headphone jack, in all its different sizes, is one of the few pieces of technology that is a testament of good design. It’s low profile, unintrusive and it works out of the box without any need of installation, syncing and whatnot. You can be sure that any headphone you’ll buy will work perfectly fine.

    Dieter Rams couldn’t be more proud. “It just works”.

  4. “Yes, with a digital output over the lightning port you can allow headphones to do signal processing and offer better sound.”

    Although that is audio homeopathy, more than anything.

    I completely agree with everything else written here. Their introduction of, not just one, but THREE inconvenient solutions to a problem that didn’t have to exist in the first place – lightning connection, wireless or adapters – made for one of the most awkward product presentations I have seen from Apple so far. Jimmy Iovine, your sins are forgiven.

    Solutions that themselves bring about all sorts of other headache-inducing problems, as Kirk has explained further in his Airpods article.

    The headphone jack, in all its different sizes, is one of the few pieces of technology that is a testament of good design. It’s low profile, unintrusive and it works out of the box without any need of installation, syncing and whatnot. You can be sure that any headphone you’ll buy will work perfectly fine.

    Dieter Rams couldn’t be more proud. “It just works”.

  5. To call the change “Courage” was the only courageous thing about it. I totally agree.
    But I have never used the headphone jack on any of my iPhones, so – for once – I’m actually happy about that quite arrogant change, for aesthetic reasons, stability and space.

    • I think Bluetooth headphones are great, for some people. I use a set sometimes, and at other times I use wired headphones. I want that option.

  6. To call the change “Courage” was the only courageous thing about it. I totally agree.
    But I have never used the headphone jack on any of my iPhones, so – for once – I’m actually happy about that quite arrogant change, for aesthetic reasons, stability and space.

    • I think Bluetooth headphones are great, for some people. I use a set sometimes, and at other times I use wired headphones. I want that option.

  7. I’ve used the “Mute-Switch” once, because having the iPhone muted is my standard. So I’d totally be fine if it was just an option in the Settings. Which also means that I’m not using ringtones. Ever.

    Apple getting rid of either (or both) features wouldn’t make me “happy”, though. At best, I’d feel indifferent about this change.

    • I only turn my phone’s ringer on when I’m expecting an important call. Otherwise, it’s off 99.9% of the time. I agree that I wouldn’t be sad if that switch were removed and added to the Control Center.

  8. I’ve used the “Mute-Switch” once, because having the iPhone muted is my standard. So I’d totally be fine if it was just an option in the Settings. Which also means that I’m not using ringtones. Ever.

    Apple getting rid of either (or both) features wouldn’t make me “happy”, though. At best, I’d feel indifferent about this change.

    • I only turn my phone’s ringer on when I’m expecting an important call. Otherwise, it’s off 99.9% of the time. I agree that I wouldn’t be sad if that switch were removed and added to the Control Center.

  9. I’ll give Schiller this much. At least he didn’t make up fake audio benefits like most of the tech press has been doing. It really has been quite embarrassing how many supposedly tech specialist writers seem to know nothing about audio tech and then make s..t up about how much better the “digital” audio will be, “the future”, “legacy”, “outdated analog”, etc., including David Pogue, who I would expect would know better.

    I think Apple also forgets how personal these things are. As interesting as the Airpods may sound (even if only for the supposed ease of pairing, which is a huge bluetooth pitfall) I can never use them because Apple’s design won’t stay in my ears. I have always needed non-Apple ear phones.

    In reality Apple and the iPhone lost me with the 6. The SE was a bone. I expect that to drop eventually and I’ll be left using mine until I can’t and will have to look at other handsets. I sure wish Windows had better survived the Android onslaught.

    Joe

  10. I’ll give Schiller this much. At least he didn’t make up fake audio benefits like most of the tech press has been doing. It really has been quite embarrassing how many supposedly tech specialist writers seem to know nothing about audio tech and then make s..t up about how much better the “digital” audio will be, “the future”, “legacy”, “outdated analog”, etc., including David Pogue, who I would expect would know better.

    I think Apple also forgets how personal these things are. As interesting as the Airpods may sound (even if only for the supposed ease of pairing, which is a huge bluetooth pitfall) I can never use them because Apple’s design won’t stay in my ears. I have always needed non-Apple ear phones.

    In reality Apple and the iPhone lost me with the 6. The SE was a bone. I expect that to drop eventually and I’ll be left using mine until I can’t and will have to look at other handsets. I sure wish Windows had better survived the Android onslaught.

    Joe

  11. I still miss the 32 pin connector that allowed me to plug and charge my iPhone in almost any hotel room in the world, plus my Bose noise canceling headset that I use when flying won’t work anymore (with iPhone music anyway). Does Bluetooth even work when in airplane mode?

    Another drawer full of useless wires and chargers!

  12. I still miss the 32 pin connector that allowed me to plug and charge my iPhone in almost any hotel room in the world, plus my Bose noise canceling headset that I use when flying won’t work anymore (with iPhone music anyway). Does Bluetooth even work when in airplane mode?

    Another drawer full of useless wires and chargers!

  13. “The headphone jack has one advantage: it’s very good at what it does.”

    Respectfully: no it doesn’t.

    It’s old and large for what it needs to do, it eventually gives out when the spring or crimping mechanism gives up, it only does as much as it does because people have hacked rings onto it, and it’s temperamental.

    I know it’s not the same exact thing but I have a Henge Dock for my rMBP and the headphone jack is the biggest pain in the ass. The dock has a connector for it that you then connect things to. But the things to connect to the headphone jack from the dock have to be plugged in before you dock the rMBP. This is because of the ancient way the headphone jack works and the assumptions the OS and hardware had to make to use it. If you have something plugged in first it works. Except for when it doesn’t. Then you’re docking and undocking the thing over and over to get it to work. This is the technology people are trying to keep in the iPhone, the most popular consumer electronics product in history.

    So with all due respect I disagree. I have yet to hear an argument against removing the headphone jack that doesn’t boil down to not wanting to change anything. The simplest technology is often the best? If that were the case then we’d never have moved past flip phones to begin with. The PC world has already started moving to USB headphones, in a few weeks no one’s going to care about this anymore.

    Love the blog, keep up the good work!

    • Talk to people in the audio business – recording studios, radio, etc. – they have no complaints about the headphone jack. I wouldn’t worry about it giving out on an iPhone, which has a life of just a few years. I would worry on a device that lasts longer. Though I’ve never had one give out before ten years or so.

    • Removing the headphone jack is a marketing decision, forget tech arguments (although the analog jack trounces the digi all day – forever) for now because there’s little out there to take advantage of the jacks replacement.

      Any would-be Apple buyer lost because they’re not willing to bend their world to Apples eco system will be replaced by new blood.

      Apple should not be selling things that use more power than necessary.

      Before ‘courage’ is called upon, how about a spellchecker that works, itunes that syncs, and drop siri….

    • “in a few weeks no one’s going to care about this anymore.”

      Because of the genius of the analog jack, not because of Apple’s “courageous” decision.

      That analog connection has weathered better attempts at its displacement than Apple’s, it will weather this, too. Simply because that jack is the best solution to the problem of listening to music privately. Nothing else attempted has actually improved anything. That analog connection is capable of passing the highest quality audio, digital or analog, you can throw at it. That analog connection is only limited by the dsp, dac, and amp that precedes it.

      Lightning connectors will come and go. USB-C will come and go. Bluetooth will come and go. Every computer I/O type, physical or wireless, will come and go. They always do. But that mini-jack will outlast them all because it can. It hasn’t lasted this long because it is the lowest common denominator. It has lasted this long because it is the best at what it does.

      This is not to say that wireless audio isn’t the future of smartphones, or even computers in general, as much as I prefer a physical audio connection. But wireless will not displace an analog connection in audio. Until speakers can be directly driven by 1’s and 0’s, an analog connection is still required.

      Your problem with the Henge Dock is created by Henge and their dock design, not the mini-plug.

      Joe

      • I can hook my iPhone4 or my iPod to my 60’s era McIntosh (pre/not Apple) stereo equipment via a mini to RCA cable. Works fine!

  14. “The headphone jack has one advantage: it’s very good at what it does.”

    Respectfully: no it doesn’t.

    It’s old and large for what it needs to do, it eventually gives out when the spring or crimping mechanism gives up, it only does as much as it does because people have hacked rings onto it, and it’s temperamental.

    I know it’s not the same exact thing but I have a Henge Dock for my rMBP and the headphone jack is the biggest pain in the ass. The dock has a connector for it that you then connect things to. But the things to connect to the headphone jack from the dock have to be plugged in before you dock the rMBP. This is because of the ancient way the headphone jack works and the assumptions the OS and hardware had to make to use it. If you have something plugged in first it works. Except for when it doesn’t. Then you’re docking and undocking the thing over and over to get it to work. This is the technology people are trying to keep in the iPhone, the most popular consumer electronics product in history.

    So with all due respect I disagree. I have yet to hear an argument against removing the headphone jack that doesn’t boil down to not wanting to change anything. The simplest technology is often the best? If that were the case then we’d never have moved past flip phones to begin with. The PC world has already started moving to USB headphones, in a few weeks no one’s going to care about this anymore.

    Love the blog, keep up the good work!

    • Talk to people in the audio business – recording studios, radio, etc. – they have no complaints about the headphone jack. I wouldn’t worry about it giving out on an iPhone, which has a life of just a few years. I would worry on a device that lasts longer. Though I’ve never had one give out before ten years or so.

    • Removing the headphone jack is a marketing decision, forget tech arguments (although the analog jack trounces the digi all day – forever) for now because there’s little out there to take advantage of the jacks replacement.

      Any would-be Apple buyer lost because they’re not willing to bend their world to Apples eco system will be replaced by new blood.

      Apple should not be selling things that use more power than necessary.

      Before ‘courage’ is called upon, how about a spellchecker that works, itunes that syncs, and drop siri….

    • “in a few weeks no one’s going to care about this anymore.”

      Because of the genius of the analog jack, not because of Apple’s “courageous” decision.

      That analog connection has weathered better attempts at its displacement than Apple’s, it will weather this, too. Simply because that jack is the best solution to the problem of listening to music privately. Nothing else attempted has actually improved anything. That analog connection is capable of passing the highest quality audio, digital or analog, you can throw at it. That analog connection is only limited by the dsp, dac, and amp that precedes it.

      Lightning connectors will come and go. USB-C will come and go. Bluetooth will come and go. Every computer I/O type, physical or wireless, will come and go. They always do. But that mini-jack will outlast them all because it can. It hasn’t lasted this long because it is the lowest common denominator. It has lasted this long because it is the best at what it does.

      This is not to say that wireless audio isn’t the future of smartphones, or even computers in general, as much as I prefer a physical audio connection. But wireless will not displace an analog connection in audio. Until speakers can be directly driven by 1’s and 0’s, an analog connection is still required.

      Your problem with the Henge Dock is created by Henge and their dock design, not the mini-plug.

      Joe

      • I can hook my iPhone4 or my iPod to my 60’s era McIntosh (pre/not Apple) stereo equipment via a mini to RCA cable. Works fine!

  15. I admit I was bothered by headphone jacks quite a few times ago. But now, when it is about to be removed, I feel angry for this move. Yes, angry.
    As article says, I plug it in, and boom. I am able to listen to something. One step, and problem solved. Is there anything simpler than this one? No. Wireless stuff? Don’t tell me you can pair your wireless stuff most of the time in first try, plus it involves into multiple steps to complete pairing.
    Someone says wireless is the future. But I believe wireless is NOT the future. There is nothing wrong with wire and wireless is unable to replace wire regardless.

  16. I admit I was bothered by headphone jacks quite a few times ago. But now, when it is about to be removed, I feel angry for this move. Yes, angry.
    As article says, I plug it in, and boom. I am able to listen to something. One step, and problem solved. Is there anything simpler than this one? No. Wireless stuff? Don’t tell me you can pair your wireless stuff most of the time in first try, plus it involves into multiple steps to complete pairing.
    Someone says wireless is the future. But I believe wireless is NOT the future. There is nothing wrong with wire and wireless is unable to replace wire regardless.

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