As with most technology innovations, “Apple did it first” is what Apple fans will tell you. Apple surprised everyone when it announced that the (then) brand new iPhone 7 didn’t have a headphone jack. The company was betting everything on wireless. They said that this freed them enough space to put more sensors and still keeping the thin form factor.
The thing is, Apple was not the first nor the second nor even the third to remove the headphone jack in its smartphone. In 2012, four years before the release of the iPhone 7, OPPO released the Finder, which did not have a headphone jack. Even months before the iPhone 7’s release, phone makers such as HTC and Motorola had smartphones without a headphone jack.
These phones were seen as oddities at the time until the release of the iPhone 7. At first, the move was mocked by other phone makers such as Samsung and Google which announced the headphone jack as a feature in their flagship smartphones. But this isn’t to last. Only a year has passed and Apple still continues to introduce headphone jack-less smartphones with the latest iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Other phone makers such as the Essential with the flagship-spec’d Essential Phone and even Google with their Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have opted to remove the jack. And there are rumors that even Samsung is planning on ditch the headphone jack in its next Galaxy flagship smartphone.
It seems—much to the chagrin of audiophiles everywhere—that the audio apocalypse has arrived! The headphone jack is gone! Long live the Wireless Revolution!
Or is it?
Fortunately there are a few holdouts for the headphone jack. Chinese phone maker OnePlus stated that their latest smartphone, the OnePlus 5T have the jack because their customers want it. LG is also not likely to ditch the audio port; as one the biggest feature of the company’s V20 and its successor, the V30, is the Quad-DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), which delivers superior audio quality via the headphone jack.
But why are we losing the headphone jack in the first place?
Wireless: convenience over quality
The main wireless technology used by wireless headsets to mobile phones is Bluetooth. The technology is intended to create a short-link connection between two devices wirelessly. It allowed mobile phone to synchronize data to computer without having to use a data cable. It also allowed a wireless headset to connect a mobile phone so that a user can have a phone conversation without having to pull out the mobile phone. Oh! And the wireless headset can also be used to listen to music stored on the mobile phone.
Simple and easy! But it isn’t always as simple or easy as it may seem. Even though Bluetooth has come a long way since its introduction, it still has a number of drawbacks. The main drawback of the technology is that Bluetooth compresses audio using lossy compression which diminishes the quality of the audio. This is especially evident when listening to music over a Bluetooth connection.
Other drawbacks include pairing to devices is still a tedious process. Bluetooth inexplicably loses connection between paired devices. Wireless headphones needs power unlike wired headphones. This means that when the battery doesn’t have a charge, you won’t be able to use the headset.
Audiophiles: the last bastions of the headphone jack
Personally, I use both wired and wireless in my daily life. I use Bluetooth to connect my smartphone to my car’s audio system to listen to podcasts and music. It also allows me to control my listening using the controls on the steering wheel. But when I want to just relax and listen to music on my smartphone, I still prefer the higher audio quality that a wired headphone provides.
I can and do appreciate listening to high quality music but I can’t call myself an audiophile. That is why I had a chat with one. Frank de Castro has been a drummer with a number of bands and a current member of the band Overtone. He is also a former technology editor for C! Magazine. He too isn’t too keen on the trend of removing the headphone jack in new smartphones. While he sees the convenience of Bluetooth, he still wants the option that the headphone jack provides.
As an audiophile, he can hear the difference in audio quality between a wired and a wireless headset. But he says, what’s more important is that he is able to plug his smartphone via the AUX port on his car stereo since it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Another problem that he mentions is the battery life of the wireless headset. He gives an example that during a running event that he joined, he brought with him a pair of wired earphones because he wasn’t sure if the batteries in is aging wireless headphones would last the distance. (To be fair to his wireless headset, it did last the whole event.)
Moving technology forward
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen technology being replaced. Around 10 years ago, Apple decided to remove the physical keyboard in its mobile phone. Majority of the people cringed at the thought of removing their main interface to their phone but we easily got past that. Before that, the same company removed optical drives from their computers but by then we were already using USB flash drives and external hard drives to move data. And even before that, they swapped the floppy drive for optical drives since the later technology stored more data and was more reliable.
The difference between all that and the removal of the heaphone jack is that wireless technology as it currently stands is not as reliable.
In the meantime, as audiophiles bemoan the removal of their precious headphone jack, the average person really doesn’t care. “Good riddance to another hole that blemishes the pristine lines of his or her precious device. Another hole that liquid might enter and ruin his or her precious.”
Although, it is notable that while Apple and Apple fans are singing the praises of wireless earphones with the AirPods and the headphone jack-less iPhone 8 and iPhone X, the company is still selling the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and the SE which have headphone jacks.
Frank and I agree that the wireless revolution is inevitable. Improvements in wireless and battery technology will eventually make this debate between wired and wireless moot. Yes, the headphone jack will disappear eventually but wireless technology still isn’t good enough to replace the audio quality from even a decent wired headset. Before that happens, I’ll stick to my wired headphones for listening to tunes on my smartphone.