Apple could be looking at dropping the long-established 3.5mm headphone jack on its next iPhones and replacing it with a thinner Lightning connector or Bluetooth to help make the phones even thinner.
The latest rumors about the deletion of the headphone jack, which surfaced in 2014 as well, come from the Japanese technology Website Macotakara, according to a Nov. 30 story by the (London) Daily Mail.
The desire to make the next-generation iPhones even thinner is the motivation for the possible change, the story reported. Instead of the headphone jack, the next iPhones could be equipped with a thinner, single, multipurpose Lightning slot that will double up as a headphone port as well as charger, the report continued. Bluetooth connectivity could also be used in place of the headphone jack. The next devices are expected to be called iPhone 7 models.
The latest iPhone 6s is 0.27 inches thick, but could be reduced by another 0.04 inches by removing the headphone jack.
Such a move could potentially be troublesome with the company’s customers, two mobile IT analysts told eWEEK.
“I am pretty certain that Apple is considering whether or not to remove the headphone jack but actually taking this drastic step is far more dangerous than one would think,” Richard Windsor, an analyst with Edison Investment Research, wrote in an email. The existing 3.5mm connector “has been an industry standard for over 20 years and removing it runs the risk of annoying a great number of Apple users.”
The idea of making the iPhone even thinner than it already is a bit ridiculous, Windsor continued. “The iPhone is already thin enough and making it thinner is unlikely to generate the kind of returns that would justify the investment to make it so,” he wrote. “Second, a thinner device would also have less structural rigidity meaning that it would be even more susceptible to being bent than its predecessors.”
In September 2014, just after the original iPhone 6 devices went on sale, reports began coming in from some consumers about phones that were bending when they were kept in their pants pockets. The original “Bendgate” reports of bending iPhones came from around the world, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The bending issues were widely circulated online at the time along with graphic photographs that purport to show iPhone 6 phones with mild or more severe bending.
Windsor said consumers would most likely be able to get adaptors to continue to use their existing headsets with a new iPhone that didn’t have the headphone jack, but such workarounds would be inconvenient.
“The real danger in removing the headphone jack is that it could have a negative impact on the upgrade cycle where users are inclined to keep their older Apple devices for longer because of a feature that they love and investments they have made in accessories,” he wrote.
The only way Apple could pull off such a major change, he wrote, is by also including “an upgrade to the device so compelling that users would be less concerned about the loss of the headphone jack in order to get access to this new must-have feature. This opportunity occurred with the launch of the iPhone 6 in 2014 where Apple addressed the desire of almost every iPhone user for a larger screen device.”
Windsor said he doubts that such a compelling new feature is on the horizon and that the risks of such a change would be too great for Apple to follow.
Avi Greengart, a mobile devices analyst with Current Analysis, called the possibility a “bad idea [that] would break compatibility with literally billions of existing headphones, including headphones specifically designed for the iPhone, and Apple’s own Beats [headphone] line.”
Greengart said he sees the rumor as plausible since Apple has consistently prioritized slimming its products down and moving to wireless capabilities for certain functions. “The 3.5mm headphone jack is ancient, and Apple could reasonably claim that using the Lightning port improves audio fidelity. The fact that Apple owns Beats means it could offer a new line of premium headphones designed for the new iPhone on day one.”
Apple’s Next iPhone Could Come Without a Headphone Jack
Because Apple sells so many iPhones, it can effectively make the market for peripherals and connection standards with more control than any competitor, including Samsung, wrote Greengart. “As such, they cannot—and should not—try to replace the headphone jack on their own products in response, even if the rumor turns out to be true. They should, however, build higher quality audio connectors into their phones in addition to the 3.5mm jack (perhaps by augmenting it with an embedded digital connector) and then bundling high quality headphones at retail.”
Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, sees it all a bit differently. Dawson told eWEEK that while headphone jacks have evolved a bit over the years, they are “nowhere near as smart as they could be.” Worse, he wrote, “they take up quite a bit of space both inside and on the outside of the phone. Collapsing that functionality into the Lightning port should save space and allow headphones to do more as well.”
On the other hand, customer angst from Apple buyers who own headphones that potentially wouldn’t work on later iPhone models is likely to be loud, he added.
“I’d expect there to be an outcry about all the headphones that will no longer work directly with new iPhones, but Apple will almost certainly release an adapter and will obviously supply new ear pods with the new phones, such that for most people it’ll blow over pretty quickly.”
Apple’s new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus smartphones went on sale on Sept. 25. The iPhone 6s includes a 4.7-inch display, while the 6s Plus has a 5.5-inch display, both of which are wrapped in a new stronger cover glass. Both new phones are built around Apple’s fastest smartphone chip, the A9, which is a third-generation 64-bit chip. The cameras on the latest devices received a major upgrade with the addition of an all-new 12MP iSight camera that has 50 percent more pixels than earlier devices. Both phones also are now capable of 4K video, run on iOS 9 and include new 5MP FaceTime HD front cameras.