Why iPhone 7 Dropped the 3.5mm Headphone Jack

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Why iPhone 7 Dropped the 3.5mm Headphone Jack

Highlights

  • The iPhone 7 will come without a 3.5mm headphone jack
  • It will ship with a lightning to 3.5mm adapter
  • Removing the jack allowed Apple to add a lot of additional features

It's official - Apple is killing the 3.5mm headphone jack. It's something that has been rumoured for a long time now, and in the run up to the iPhone 7 launch, pretty much everyone knew that the headphone jack was going to go.

(Also see: iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus Price in India and Launch Date Revealed)

 

At the launch, Apple marketing chief Philip W. Schiller said it comes down to "courage to move on to something new", and that removing the port frees up space in the phone for newer technologies. Courage is all well and good, but what were the various considerations behind moving on from what has been the de-facto audio standard for several decades now?

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Apple VP Greg Joswiak demonstrated the new adapter, and went into more detail about the decision.

(Also see: No, It Is Not Okay for Smartphones to Ditch the 3.5mm Headphone Socket)

Apple's new adapter is iPod white, and about the length of a matchstick. And in a move that's unusual for Apple, it will go in the box of every new iPhone, so that you don't have to buy yet another overpriced accessory just to use the gear you already own.

"This time, we're putting an adapter in every box," Joswiak tells BuzzFeed.

That said, Apple is clearly betting that the 3.5mm connector is going to go away - although the iPhone 7 is shipping with an adapter it's possible that the next one will not include it.

"The audio connector is more than 100 years old," Joswiak says. "It had its last big innovation about 50 years ago. You know what that was? They made it smaller. It hasn't been touched since then. It's a dinosaur. It's time to move on."

Although that's a valid point, the counter-argument would be - it's been a standard for more than 100 years because it works perfectly, reliably, and across a range of devices that dwarfs even Apple's humongous iPhone numbers.

Loyalists point to the floppy drive and how Apple was the first to drop it; a decision that caused similar debate in 1998; however, CDs had too many obvious and immediate advantages to ignore. Even if you don't agree on this debate, you have to recognise that there have been a number of times when Apple has been good at recognising what users actually need, as against what they think they want.

And according to Apple, that small connector had been holding the iPhone back. "We've got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it's just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space," Dan Riccio, Apple's senior vice president of hardware engineering, tells BuzzFeed. "In a world of mobile and cellular connectivity, the one wired vestige out there is this cable hanging from people's ears to their phones — why?"

With the 3.5mm port gone, he believes that Apple can now make some more drastic changes to the phone. "It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone," Riccio says. "It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there's a better, modern solution available, it's crazy to keep it around."

By removing the 3.5mm port, Apple was able to find the space for its two camera lens system, the taptic engine for the pressure sensitive home button, and a battery that's 14 percent bigger, along with bringing in water resistance. We'll know in an year or so whether the trade-offs were worth it.

"We do understand that this might be a difficult transition for some people who love their wired headphones," Schiller tells BuzzFeed. "But the transition is inevitable. You've got to do it at some point. Sooner or later the headphone jack is going away. There are just too many reasons aligned against it sticking around any longer. There's a little bit of pain in every transition, but we can't let that stop us from making it. If we did, we'd never make any progress at all. The question we ask ourselves when making transitions like these is, have we done all the right things to mitigate it and to explain it and to make what's on the other side so good that everyone is happy with the change? We think we've done that."

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