The iPhone 7, 8 and X don’t have a headphone jack. Google’s a year late to the game, but they’ve cut it from the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Razer has done the same with their loudly trumpeted phone. Some Galaxy S9 leaks suggest Samsung is going to join the cool kids and drop the jack early next year. The writing is on the wall, and I couldn’t be happier.
The 3.5mm headphone jack as we know it was developed in the 1950s for use on transistor radios. You can take an old pair of headphones, plug them into your computer and listen to music through them. Amazing, right? A triumph of backwards compatibility?
More like a total innovation failure.
The 3.5mm plug has had its day, but now it’s time to move on. The odds are you’re reading this over a wireless internet connection. Wireless charging is finally looking promising. And wireless audio? Wireless audio is epic.
I went all in on bluetooth headphones after the release of the iPhone 7. I love not having a cable connecting me to my phone. I can walk through doors safely without fear that the handle will rip the bud from my ear, or worse, my phone from my pocket.
The biggest concern most people have about them seems to be battery life, but I really haven’t found it to be an issue. My BeatsX get around six hours on a single charge and my Momentum 2.0s over 20 hours. I’d sooner plug my headphones in for an hour in the evening (or once a week with the Momentums) than every time I want to use them.
I’m shocked at how much better Bluetooth audio is now than it was three years ago. Good cans like my Momentums sound as good as their wired sibling if you’re listening to Spotify or watching a movie. Sure, if you’ve got a full audiophile set up, Bluetooth won’t cut it; but that’s a seriously niche use case.
With battery life and audio quality already so good, I’m super excited to see how manufacturers start to innovate. Apple’s W1 chip makes pairing AirPods and some models of Beats simple. Although Google’s Pixel Buds are getting bad reviews on account of poor execution, the idea of smart earbuds translating everything you hear and linked to your AI assistant is really interesting. I want to see what generation 3.0 looks like.
Sure, the adjustment period can be a bit rough, but it was also rough when we moved on from floppy disks and serial ports. Now we have 4K content and advanced cables to pipe it through. You don’t get innovation like that if you cling to the past.
Last week, I dropped my iPhone 7 in my dog’s water bowl. I was trying to take a selfie at the time. I’m not even joking, here’s one of the shots I took before the incident.
As soon as I heard the splash, I reached in, and pulled out my phone. It was completely fine because it was waterproof. And why was it waterproof? Because it doesn’t have a headphone jack.
It doesn’t matter what they say, size matters—especially with portable electronics. In a modern phone, the headphone jack is, frankly huge, relative to everything else. The CPU in an iPhone 6S takes up about the same amount of space as the 3.5mm jack connector. That’s insane. One part is literally responsible for everything the phone does; the other is an out of date headphone port.
Smartphone manufacturers have realised this. By removing the headphone jack, Apple has been able to waterproof their phones (thus, saving my ass) and go bezel-less on the iPhone X. Razer has been able to add a bigger battery. The point is, inside a modern smartphone space is at a premium, and a headphone jack just isn’t a great use of space.
Change is hard. Any time you transition from one technology to another, it sucks. When my VCR packed it in, I had to re-buy Top Gun on DVD. I bought it again on Blu-ray. I’ll probably buy it again on whatever comes next. Sure, it’d be great if my old video tape still worked, but do you know what’s even better? Watching Maverick, Goose, Iceman, and Viper play volleyball in 4K.
Maybe Apple removed the headphone jack a little too soon. Maybe there was another generation or two of iPhone where it made sense to include it. But I don’t think so. It’s an old, outdated bit of kit, and technology has moved on. Bluetooth headphones are good enough (and Lightning or USB-C headphones are available) so that the space consuming 3.5mm jack really just doesn’t have a place in a modern, high-end smartphone. I’d much sooner a waterproof phone with more battery life, than one with a headphone jack.
But what about you? How do you feel about the move away from headphone jacks? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Laura Houser.