This is just the latest in a series of evolutions we have already soldiered through, and wireless could very well be the alternative we needed a push towards
Chances are, you would have heard the “rumour". The upcoming iPhone line-up (gently referred to as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, though neither of the names are confirmed), it is believed, will not have the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Whether this is being leaked in the media to give users enough time to prepare, or is just a fanciful rumour, isn’t known. All will be revealed on 7 September at the annual Apple Keynote.
One thing is sure, there can be no smoke without fire—whether Apple hangs up on the 3.5mm headphone jack this year, or waits till next year’s iPhone is the real question. The good old Lightning port, which you use to charge your iPhone (you’ll be familiar with it if you own an iPhone 5 or a newer variant), will double up and deliver audio output to headphones and speakers on upcoming iPhone variants. The idea is that this will allow the iPhone to become even slimmer.
If this indeed does happen with the iPhone 7, there will be the inevitable diatribe about how Apple doesn’t care for its users, along with perhaps the allegation of forced redundancy—so many headphones and earphones will be rendered useless, it will be claimed. Incidentally, this is not entirely true, because there will be original as well as third-party adapters that will allow backward compatibility for all your existing earphones and headphones to work with the new iPhone.
By the time the iPhone 7 comes around, Apple will simply be following the market trend set by Android phones. For example, Motorola’s Moto Z flagship does not have a headphone jack and Chinese smartphone maker LeEco has championed the cause of the multi-purpose USB Type-C port all along in phones such as the LeMax 2. The list will only get longer over the next few months, as companies launch new phones and also refresh their product line-up.
What are the real advantages of eliminating a 3.5mm headphone jack from a phone? For starters, the presence of the circular port means that phones can only become so thin, beyond which physical restrictions pretty much stall design innovations. Phone makers can play with the design a bit, but beyond a point, the crucial millimetres cannot be shaved off anymore. By eliminating the 3.5mm headphone jack from the field of play, designers can think about slimmer designs or bigger batteries, or a combination of both.
And this is the latest in the evolution cycle. Back at the time when the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S had the wider 30-pin connector, dock speakers were in vogue. But when Apple made the shift to the Lightning connector with the iPhone 5, not many of us upgraded to like-for-like newer docks. Instead, the shift was towards wireless speakers, which started to become popular.
According to a report by Futuresource Consulting in December 2015, Bluetooth speakers are one of the fastest growing product categories across the consumer electronics sector globally, and sales surged by as much as 68% in 2015 compared to 2014. And it is expected that the sale of these wireless speakers will continue to witness average growth around 36% through to the year 2019. The biggest reason, as in most cases when it comes to accessories, is affordability. A simple glance through the options on popular shopping website Amazon.in reveals Bluetooth speakers available for as little as Rs500, and there is something for every budget.
Even wireless headphones are becoming ever so popular. A July 2015 report by consulting firm NPD Group says that sales of wireless headphones had doubled. “Buyers of Bluetooth headphones looking for the convenience of wireless cannot replicate that experience with another pair of wired headphones," says Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst – technology, NPD Group. Almost all popular headphone brands, including Sennheiser and Bose, are focusing on adding more and more wireless headphones to their product portfolio.
This is a transition that is bound to happen, and it will remain a two-way street. Your next headphone could either be lightning port compatible (Audeze and Philips are already making such headphones), or you can simply buy a wireless headphone. In case you are looking for a speaker, wireless is surely the way to go. Wireless streaming tech is becoming even better and affordable. In the long run, not many tears will be shed for the demise of the headphone jack from smartphones.