The Rise And Fall Of The Headphone Jack


It was in 2016 that
Apple announced it would be ditching the
headphone jack. It really comes down
to one word. Courage. And for the smartphone industry, it was
the shot heard ’round the world. There are several reasons
why Apple removed the headphone jack from the
iPhone 7, and surprisingly, courage is not
one of them. Samsung also just
removed the decades-old technology from its phones,
even though it took every opportunity to ridicule
Apple for the headphone jack’s removal
in the past. Do you want to know
what else it comes with? An audio Jack.
I’m just saying. With the launch of the
Galaxy Note 10 in August of 2019, Samsung ditched
the jack, too. Samsung, was definitely one
of those companies that criticized the rest of
the industry for not having headphone jacks and
conveniently forgot to mention that they got rid of
it in their newest Note 10. The headphone jack has been
around for more than a hundred years. So why are companies increasingly
removing them from our phones? It wasn’t a
pro-customer move. It was it was a way
for them to make more money. Let’s start with a
brief history of the components needed to make mobile
music what it is today, starting with the
beloved audio jack. The grandparent to
the standard 3.5mm jack, the quarter-inch jack was
used all the way back in the late
1800s by switchboard operators. The larger jack continued
its reign until the 1970s, when Sony released
the Walkman, the first widely available mobile
music device. The Walkman was also
the first successful commercial example of
the same 3.5mm jack we use today. An obvious next step was the
rise of the MP3 and the MP3 player, popularized
by Apple’s iPod. It was 2001 when Steve
Jobs took the stage to announce the iPod. This amazing little device holds 1000 songs,
and it goes right in my pocket. The Siemens SL 45 was
released in 2001 and was the first phone that was
also a mobile music device, and that set off
a trend in the mobile world. Music was
now a must. But the SL 45 was not the
first phone with the headphone jack. My first phone was a Nokia
3310 and that had a headphone jack. Back then,
there wasn’t really any wireless communication
standard that was acceptable enough to do
good headset phone calls. So it was kind of born
out of a necessity to deliver high quality, you
know, headset calls. By the mid 2000s, there
were many phones that could also play music, but
were still limited by storage and battery life. Bluetooth grew in popularity
around the same time, and that spelled the
beginning of the end for the headphone jack
now that wireless listening was possible. While wired headphones may
seem antiquated, most audiophiles prefer the sound quality
from this analog port. The reason why you want
to go wired over wireless is that compression that
you get over Bluetooth. All the Bluetooth standards
for the most part have some kind of
compression, which then affects the actual quality
of the audio. But that wire can
be really frustrating, especially when you’re working
out or need mobility. Most the time when I
use headphones, I’m at the gym and have
wireless phones. I mean, it’s not that
important to me, but the few times that I do
need wired headphones, like when I’m traveling or something
like that, it is super inconvenient not to
have a headphone jack. And while Bluetooth technology
has come a long way, it still
has its pitfalls. Bluetooth sucks right now, but
the optimist in me hopes that removing the
headphone jack will act as a springboard for companies
to work harder at integrating Bluetooth and
wireless audio technology. Most cars have Bluetooth audio,
but a lot of people, like, all new cars
within the last five years, cars before that have
the aux cord that you plug into, you know. So why did Apple decide
to remove the jack from the iPhone 7? Maintaining an ancient,
single-purpose, analog, big connector doesn’t make
sense because that space is at a premium. It’s the mental shift
that, you know, flagships have had for the
last couple of years. It’s like, it’s not
a flagship unless the headphone jack is gone. And
that’s kind of, you know, Apple’s fault. Premium
phones are now associated with no
headphone jacks. See, there’s not a whole lot
of space inside of a smartphone. Tech companies have
crammed more and more into that incredibly
limited space, and when something becomes antiquated, it’s
got to go, making the phones thinner and
allowing for other components. The thickest part of the
phone is that headphone jack. I think it was a decision
of, OK, we have to use this space for other
components because we’ve used so much of the
phone’s overall size as screen that we just don’t
have room for other components in other places and we have
to get rid of the headphone jack. The removal of the headphone
jack also helped the iPhone 7 receive its
IP 67 water-resistant rating. So there were some
good reasons behind its removal. As much as I do appreciate
being able to plug in a pair of headphones and
just have them work out of the box, I also
appreciate engineering in the technological space. Most companies have been
moving away from the headphone jack, partially because
a lot of the wireless capabilities of
earbuds today have gotten much better. The quality is
not perfect yet. There’s still lots of room
for improvement, but I think for most people it’s
pretty good and it satisfies their needs. But some folks don’t
agree that the headphone jack had to go at all. When you’re designing the
circuit boards and stuff like that, you can make
as much room as you want. I mean, I’ve taken
apart phones that have, like, projectors inside of
them, and there’s room for a projector, there’s room for an S Pen,
you know, there’s room for a headphone jack. You could look at any
tear down that doesn’t have a headphone jack and
say, oh, yeah. There’s no way that there
could be room in there. But then you look at a
tear down of a phone with a headphone jack
and it’s there. This choice to leave off
the audio jack came simultaneously with the
announcement of Apple’s $159 Air Pods, which
called into question Apple’s real motives behind
the exclusion. Personally, I do think
that it was monetarily motivated, at least
in some way. It wasn’t a coincidence
that they released the AirPods at the same time
they took away the headphone jack. It was
something that wasn’t making them money, so they
got rid of it so people would buy
the AirPods. Not to mention the fact
that the Lightning port is a proprietary
connector, meaning companies have to pay Apple just
to make a compatible device. Apple charges a fee
to license their Lightning port. They can get more money
if you have to make a Lightning accessory,
whereas the 3.5mm jack, just anybody
can make. I think there are going
to be people scrambling to license it, and if
they can’t afford that Apple license, essentially
there’s gonna be headsets that work well
with iPhones and there’s gonna be headsets that
don’t work well. And when Apple kills
something, it usually creates a domino effect
in the tech world. They removed the floppy
drive, they removed the CD-ROM drive from
their Macs. And people went crazy. Right? But people kept
buying the devices and their competitors, quite
frankly, followed their direction only two or
three years later. So, slowly other larger companies
started to follow suit. But Samsung kept its grip
on the audio jack. Whether you’re listening to
the S9’s amazing new speakers, or on your own
pair of headphones by simply connecting them
to the convenient headphone socket at the
bottom of the device. Can I still use these
headphones with the X? Yeah, but you’ll need an
adapter, or as most people like to call it,
a dongle. A what? But, with its most
recent phone release, Samsung finally left out the
headphone jack without mentioning anything during the
keynote about why it left it out and
even took down some content that challenged
Apple’s decision. If you are going to
take such a solid stance against Apple for not putting
a headband jack in the phone, at least own up to it,
I feel like, in the moment, you know? There could have been a
story where, “This is the best, most compact device
we can make. There’s some compromises. If you don’t like it,
we have a bigger version for you. If you don’t
like either, you can still get an S10.” But the
fact that they didn’t even address it was a
little bit not great. Samsung did tell CNBC
it removed the headphone jack to make more room
for its powerful battery. There are still some brands,
like LG, that find the space for a headphone
jack, whether it be for its audio phile customers
or its customers who don’t want to, or
can’t afford, the switch. In, you know, other markets
like China and India, the headphone jack and
actually micro USB are still important because people
can’t get rid of their old chargers or
can’t afford them. Luckily for those who
want to keep their headphones, many of the
big phone makers are coming out with lower-cost
models of their flagship phones like the Google
3a and 3a XL, which include a
headphone jack. There’s still a considerable
amount of people that want the headphone
jack because they can’t afford, you know, wireless
earbuds that are good. There are so many awesome
phones at the $500 level that still have
the headphone jack because people who are buying
cheaper phones probably don’t have an extra $100,
$200 bucks to throw down on some
wireless headphones. But those $500 phones are, they
do 95% of what a $1000 phone does. Like it or not, it
looks like the headphone jack is gone for good when
it comes to the top-end flagship phones. I think they are going
for the portless phone and they won’t stop until
they get there. In fact, some speculate we
might not even get buttons in a few years. There is no fingerprint
sensor, no buttons and, you know,
charges wirelessly. So it might even be, you
know, no more USB port. So what can you do? You can go spend $1000
every year if you really want to, but you’re not
getting a return on that $1000. A $500 phone is
more than enough for the average person. And whether
it has the headphone jack or not, I would just
say, you know, use your phone as long as
possible because there’s no reason to upgrade. Which
is kind of strange coming from a tech reviewer
who makes a living off of
reviewing cellphones.

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