On the Recurring Rumor that Apple Is Getting Rid of the iPhone Headphone Jack

The rumor is back again that Apple is getting rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone, to “make the iPhone thinner.” Based on a rumor on one Japanese site, every Mac and iPhone site is reporting that this is a done deal.

Remember last year, when Apple introduced specifications which allow headphones to use the lightning port? All the some websites ran articles saying how Apple was getting rid of the headphone jack. Turns out they didn’t. A couple of companies introduced headphones that can use the lightning port to grab digital music streams, and convert them using DACs in the headphones. But have you ever seen any of these? While it’s an interesting concept, it hasn’t taken off. (These are the only ones I’ve been able to find that are for sale currently.)

I doubt many people bought these headphones. Because, as I said last year:

Would you buy headphones that you can only use on Apple devices? I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy such headphones. Why spend money on good headphones — because these specs aren’t talking about earbuds — and not be able to use them on other devices?

But the rumor is back again. Because removing the headphone jack can make the iPhone thinner. No matter that the iPod touch, which has a headphone jack, is only 6.1 mm thick (the iPhone 6s is 7.1 mm.) Or the iPod nano – yes, that’s still being sold – is a mere 5.4 mm thick. (Lets also remember that the iPhone’s camera lens sticks out from the case.)

This rumor makes no sense. Apple certainly isn’t planning to make the iPhone thinner than the iPod touch, if only because the iPhone needs room for a bigger battery. So if they can make an iOS device that’s 6.1 mm thick with a standard headphone jack, they won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. Because the inconvenience of requiring that people use an adapter, or buy new headphones, is just huge.

Also, I don’t think the lightning connector puts out analog audio. In other words, an adapter would be needed with a DAC (digital-analog converter). Perhaps Apple can create a way to use certain of the pins on the lightning connector to carry the analog audio, but I don’t know the specs of the lightning connector well enough.

Anyway, if Apple wanted a slimmer headphone jack, they already own this patent.

However, it’s not crazy to think that Apple is planning to replace the lightning connector with a USB-C connector. That won’t happen in the immediate future – lots of people already got burned buying docks using the 30-pin dock connector, and it’s not a good idea to shake up the accessory market again so soon – but it’s certainly in the cards, now that USB-C can handle Thunderbolt 3.

Note: a few people have suggested that this is no different from the removal of the floppy drive or the optical drive from Macs. That’s not correct; it’s very different. The floppy and optical drives were for reading and writing data. They involved using relatively inexpensive media for that purpose. Switching to a different form of media certainly had an effect, but it’s far different from telling people that their listening hardware, which could cost several hundred dollars (such as if it’s a Beats headphone) would no longer work without an adapter. And that if you did buy an accessory that works with the connector, then you wouldn’t be able to use it with other devices, such as amplifiers, mixers, etc.