Column: Why Apple killed the headphone jack

Q: Why is Apple getting rid of the headphone jack in the new iPhone?

With the unveiling of the iPhone 7, the usual chatter about the latest features seems to be dominated by this seemingly odd design decision.

It seems that Apple will eliminate the traditional 3.5 mm analog headphone jack on all of its new devices in favor of the Lightning connector, or their new proprietary wireless technology.

They actually aren’t the first smartphone maker to make this decision: Chinese manufacturer LeEco and the Moto Z line from Lenovo (formerly Motorola) have already eliminated the headphone jack.

The iPhone 7 will ship with Lightning earbuds and a special “dongle” that converts the Lighting connector at the bottom to a standard headphone jack so you can still use older headphones.

Better audio

Apple wants to get away from analog technology that was created in the ’60s and use a more advanced digital audio output.

The Lightning connector at the bottom of the phone is capable of providing more than just a way to charge the iPhone — and digital audio is just one option.

While the new Lightning headphones are certainly capable of delivering higher fidelity audio, I’m not sure the average listener will hear the difference, especially if the quality of the audio file isn’t all that great.

Many companies, including Apple, are trying to roll out higher fidelity music services, so having higher fidelity headphones is a natural part of their strategy.

More room inside

Another benefit of getting rid of the headphone jack is that it frees up space inside the phone itself. Space is extremely tight in all smartphones, so every millimeter counts, especially when it comes to something as large as a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

That extra space can be devoted to larger screens, bigger batteries, better antennas or a slimmer form factor.

The wireless future

We must remember that Apple was the first computer company to get rid of floppy disk drives and CD/DVD drives in their computers, so in the name of innovation, the headphone jack had to go.

Unveiled along with the iPhone 7 were the new AirPod wireless earbuds, which uses proprietary wireless technology and will sell for $159.

Apple knew that relying on the current Bluetooth standard for wireless audio would be too problematic, so it chose to create its own wireless connectivity technology to make things easier and more reliable.

3 billion more reasons

Many analysts scratched their heads when Apple agreed to pay $3 billion to acquire headphone maker Beats, but it’s now a little clearer how they plan to leverage that acquisition.

Whether you end up using Lightning headphones or the wireless earbuds, they’re both going to be more expensive than traditional headphones, which plays right into Apple’s “premium products” strategy.

Initial concerns

Some of the initial concerns being voiced over this radical change include the inability to listen to music while charging the phone, owning headphones that only work on Apple devices, losing the special dongle or — if you opt for the expensive wireless earbuds — losing those earbuds since they aren’t much bigger than traditional hearing aids. Those earbuds are also another component that users have to remember to recharge.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on his Facebook page or on Twitter.

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