Why ditching the headphone jack might be a good idea

first_imgLast week Apple took the stage to announce the new iPhone 7. It’s water-resistant, faster, a bit more power efficient, and of course… sans headphone jack. Over the past few days just about everyone has given their hot takes on the issue.“How am I supposed to listen to music and charge my phone?,” “How will we pass our phones up to DJs to play our favorite tracks?,” and of course “Why does Apple keep making so many anti-consumer decisions?”I might not have an answer for all of those, but I can say that dropping the 3.5 mm jack isn’t without merits.First, let’s get one thing clear: I’m no Apple apologist, and I always think it’s better to give customers options. That said, consumers are slow to pick up on new tech. It’s one of the reasons that Apple uses Lightning connectors in the first place.While many wanted the tech giant to get on the micro-USB bandwagon, Apple opted for its own proprietary cable. With that move, it could guarantee the ethical standards used in the cables’ production, offer better power management for phones and peripherals, allow users to plug the cable in side-up or down, and do all that with a connector that was far more sturdy than the notoriously flimsy micro-USB. With USB Type C, more recent Android phones are catching up… to tech that Apple has had for years. The lesson? Sometimes it really is necessary to force an update to aging or substandard tech.With that in mind, Apple could be looking to do the same audio. The headphone jack that we know and love, while universal, has some pretty big flaws.The first of which is that headphones jacks require a bit of extra hardware inside the phone. This array of chips and signal amplifiers help convert the digital music stored on the phone into an analogue signal that runs to the headphones. Apple’s marketing BS claims that by cutting this out you’ll be able to get a truly digital listening experience, but until we have computers implanted in our brains, that’s not possible. At the very least, sound waves are analogue, so as long as you’re listening to your music and not beaming it into your skull, you won’t ever hear “fully digital” music.What it does mean, is that consumers will have an easier time getting our hands on DACs or digital-to-analogue converters for audio. These chips are embedded in the cables for Lightning-compatible headphones available today. Moving the DAC outside the phone has a few big advantages. First — it means that if you’re a bona fide audiophile (like yours truly), then you have more control over the final listening experience. You can now easily upgrade your DAC just by switching out cables or headphones instead of sticking to the one that Apple gives you with the phone.Plus, by moving the DAC and amplifier outside of the phone, you’re reducing or eliminating a lot of electromagnetic interference. A phone’s internals are busy, sending signals to and fro, broadcasting all kinds of data, and rendering your adorable little critters in Pokemon Go (that joke’s still topical, right?). The problem is that all of that electricity moving about can distort audio signals and mess with the quality you hear in your buds or cans.Those interested in louder music or big, over-ear headphones might want to perk up too. While the headphone jack only has a little bit of juice to play with, the lightning connector can provide power as well as receive it. That’s good news, because many advanced headphones like noise-canceling headsets, need a battery to work. By pushing audio through Lightning, the cable can run some of those extra, power-hungry features on its own.The cynic in me is sure that this part of the company’s bigger plan to squeeze more money out of customers via their Beats brand, but for many people, it’s still a fantastic idea. Or at least, it could be. Apple’s current plan seems to be to use the tens of millions of people who will buy any new iPhone no matter what to make some of these bigger changed more ubiquitous, that will, in turn, make everything cheaper and help cement the standard.It’s even possible, that if most people find the bump in audio quality significant enough, other phone companies will follow suit. The difference being that because the Android market is so fragmented, and because getting customers to adopt new tech is hard, Apple is likely the only company that has a large enough market share to start pushing that change on its own. Despite that, it’s still really hard to take the company seriously when it says that it’s dropping a nearly universal standard because of “courage.”last_img