The fact that Apple decided to eliminate the time-honored 3.5 millimeter headphone jack from the design of the iPhone 7 wasn’t a surprise, if only because for months rumors had been saying this would happen.
But the advance warning didn’t make the reality of the decision any less controversial, nor did it help make dubious iPhone owners any more comfortable with the idea of upgrading to the next-generation model. The reason for the weak reception is simple: few saw any likely benefit.
For some time, the argument for the anticipated elimination of the headphone jack was it would allow the phone to be thinner than its predecessor, the iPhone 6S. But a look at the specs reveals that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are exactly the same thickness as the previous models. Clearly, eliminating the headphone jack wasn’t essential for the iPhone 7’s design.
So what gives? Well, there are changes with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus that help explain the vanishing headphone jack. The most notable reason is to allow the phones to have better speakers that also are louder. The improved speakers take up the space that normally would be occupied by the headphone jack.
Other changes include a better battery, which adds two hours of much-needed life to the iPhone 7 in average use. The fact that the new iPhone is also water resistant almost certainly played a role in the headphone jack’s demise.
While the water-resistant nature of the speakers that replaced the headphone jack wasn’t discussed during the announcement of the new phone, a related presentation on the new Apple Watch showed how the speaker was used to eject water from the openings on that device. Perhaps the iPhone’s new speakers have a similar function, although so far Apple hasn’t confirmed that.
But whatever the rationale for the elimination of the headphone jack, it hasn’t gone over well with current owners and prospective buyers, who are expressing their consternation on social media.
This concern was no doubt helped along by a remarkable level of misinformation about the iPhone 7 in (to coin a phrase) the mainstream media. Over the course of a single day I saw several stories reporting that, with the iPhone 7, Apple had eliminated wired headphones.
The local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., even ran a poll asking viewers whether they favored wireless headphones or whether they wanted the old headphone jack back. The station apparently missed the fact that the iPhone 7 comes with both wired headphones and an adapter for legacy headphones in the box.
Elimination of Headphone Jack From iPhone 7 Irks Potential Buyers
As you might imagine, the resulting poll results displayed an equally limited understanding of what Apple actually was offering.
What’s surprising is that none of those news outlets picked up on the real issues relating to Apple’s elimination of the headphone jack—the fact that it creates a revenue bonus for Apple. The reason Apple stands to make some bucks with the new design is because the company owns the rights to the Lightning connector.
This means every time a company sells a set of headphones with a Lightning connector, Apple gets a cut. The only way around giving Apple a piece of your headphone purchase is to either use Bluetooth or hope you don’t lose the adapter.
Apple, meanwhile, has announced its own set of wireless headphones, the AirPods, which were unveiled at the iPhone event and will cost $159 when they’re released in late October.
Apple’s Beats brand also will be releasing a new series of wireless headphones that will work with the iPhone 7. The problem is that both the AirPods and the new Beats headphones use what apparently is a proprietary wireless technology.
It has some advantages in that users only have to set it up once and the settings propagate to other Apple devices. But there’s so little information available that it’s not clear whether the new wireless technology can be used with other products from other companies. If so, you can assume there will be a licensing fee involved.
The change to Lightning headphones extends beyond just Apple. For example, Apple’s current EarPods can be plugged into other devices, such as laptop computers. But with the new design, you can’t do this; laptop computers with Lightning connectors currently don’t exist. And so far, there’s no adapter that would allow users to plug those Lightning headphones into a 3.5mm headphone jack.
This is not to suggest that the change to eliminate the headphone jack is devoid of any owner benefit, because there are good points. Chief among them is the ability to make the phone water resistant.
But I think it’s disingenuous of Apple to pretend that the change is solely for the benefit of customers, because it’s pretty clear that the biggest benefits are to Apple.
Remember that the next time you try to connect your expensive noise-cancelling headphones to your iPhone, only to discover you don’t have that analog-to-lightning adapter. Maybe you can listen to the cool new speakers built into the iPhone 7 instead.