Apple isn't going to abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack

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Apple isn't going to abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack

iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C

There's been some wild speculation by a certain business journal lately that Apple might abandon the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and replace it with Lightning connector headphones that would allow for 48kHz digital sound for the first time. Before we get started lets make one thing abundantly clear; we'd love to own a pair of 48 kHz digital headphones that would allow for lossless audio quality from the comfort of our phones. That being said, anyone who thinks that Apple would completely abandon the standard headphone jack is completely out of his mind.

Here's a list of people who would be furious if Apple took away the ability to use standard headphones from all users:

  • Anyone who already bought $100 to $300 headphones which now don't work with their iPhone, including everyone who already owns a pair of BEATS
  • Anyone who now has to pay for a $29 3.5mm headphone jack adapter to use their existing headphones
  • Anyone who just spent $700 on a phone that requires them to have special headphones they can't easily replace
  • Anyone who listens to their iPhone while jogging and goes through multiple pairs of headphones because they sweat a lot
  • Anyone who uses their iPhone for music in the car, but has one of those tape deck to 3.5mm headphone jack solutions
  • Anyone who has an FM transmitter that uses a 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Anyone who forgot their headphones before going to the airport and now has to buy an expensive set of proprietary Apple headphones for their new phone instead of the already overpriced generic earbuds at the airport store
  • Anyone who wants to let someone listen to music on their iPhone but doesn't want to share earbuds
  • Anyone who connects to their home stereo using an 3.5mm auxiliary plugin who can now no longer listen to Spotify on their stereo without buying an adaptor

Apple just spent billions of dollars buying a headphone manufacturer. Their next logical step will be to set fire to that headphone manufacturer's customer base by rendering their already overpriced headphones obsolete, right?

Headphones aren't chargers. Chargers have one purpose for existing, so we put up with the fact that they are often annoying and proprietary. Your 3.5mm jack and headphones interface with far more objects. You use the standard headphone jack for listening to music while walking, in the car, and at home, all in slightly different ways. You use headphones with different products.

Everyone who travels with a portable gaming system or non-Apple laptop would suddenly have a reason not to buy an iPhone, because it would mean having to carry around an extra set of headphones in addition to the ones for your phone. For the casual user -- say your uncle who shrugs at Thanksgiving dinner and says "who cares what kind of phone you have? -- this would be the sort of thing that would drive them towards Android.

The Forbes article that inspired this rant lays out what it calls a "very simple and effective roll out trajectory." Here it is:

1. Announce the technology with Beats and headphone partners

2. Unveil clever third party app integration

3. Make this integration inaccessible in any other way

4. Make Lightning port to 3.5mm headphone jack adaptors expensive and bulky

5. In a few years remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from Apple devices citing legacy, greater design flexibility and extra space for a bigger battery

This would be effective with the most diehard Apple fans in the world. Everyone else would say "yeah, I'm not paying $29.99 for a headphone jack adaptor I'm probably going to lose while traveling," and then just buy the newest Android smartphone instead. I fail to see where Apple gains ground by making a move that's sure to turn so many existing customers away from their most popular product.

If Apple can make Lightning port headphones that provide users with crystal clear digital sound they should. There's certainly a group of customers out there who would want to buy them and would probably pay a premium to do so. Those customers are an outlier. People buy Apple products because, and pardon the cliché, they just work.

To force people to buy new headphones for a feature that isn't that important to the general public is removing one of the basic functionalities of every smartphone in the world. If you aren't already an Apple loyalist, what possible reason would you have for sticking with iOS when cheaper, similarly powered, alternatives already exist that work with the headphones you already have?

Building better headphones and letting people discover that they want them is a perfectly smart move for Apple to make, but abandoning the headphone jack completely? No way. Apple is in the business of selling hardware. It's a lot harder to sell a phone when one of the most universal features of every other device on the market has been stripped out in a transparent move to force users into a more expensive product. That would be stupid, and Apple isn't stupid, folks.

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