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Hit the road, jack: Why Apple may say goodbye to the headphone plug

Marco Tabini | June 23, 2014
Replacing the jack with lightning might result in a thinner iPhone that is not quite susceptible to water and dust as the current models.

lightningheadphones primary

With fall just a few months away, it doesn't take much of a crystal ball to predict that new iPhone and iPad hardware is waiting in the wings. Of course, being able to predict what form said hardware will take is another matter entirely, and one that leaves room for a lot more speculation.

It's with that in mind that we consider the word on the street that the folks from Cupertino have added headphones to the list of Made for iPhone devices that can plug in to an iOS device using the Lightning connector. Such a development could mean that the headphone jack—a staple of mobile devices since the pre-smartphone era—is finally on its way out the door.

The 1800s are calling
I know, I know—I'm not making any friends here. The jack's presence on everything from the venerable Walkman to the latest iPhone means that its sudden disappearance would immediately render many of our accessories obsolete. As the owner of many headphones—some of which I acquired for a pretty penny—I assure you that, once I turn this article in, I shall give myself a stern talking-to for even considering such a possibility.

Before we all reach for the nearest pitchfork and torch, however, it's worth exploring whether the removal of the jack from our devices would, in the long run, be a change for the better—after all, many similar technologies have, in the past, suffered a similar fate at the hands of Apple's design team (remember the floppy disk drive?) in order to pave the way for even better replacements. 

From this point of view, the most obvious reason for getting rid of the phone jack may simply be its age. Originally introduced in the 19th century to allow operators to quickly patch calls across the switchboards of the time, this ubiquitous connector is, as far as still-in-use technology goes, positively ancient.

That's not to say, however, that change should come just for its own sake. After all, Nintendo tried a similar move in 2005 with the release of the Game Boy Advance SP, and its attempt to use a single port for power and audio output—not unlike what Apple would do by going all-in with Lightning—was widely panned. 

There's a hole in my phone
While its existence may still make sense in an analog world, the jack adds little to the listening experience on today's mobile devices, where all audio is generated digitally anyway. In fact, its presence is often the cause of many rather significant problems, and has gotten in the way of Apple's design goals in the past. (The original iPhone, for example, sported a recessed jack that was incompatible with some plugs).

 

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