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Headphones: To Jack Or Not To Jack

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If there’s a hot topic right now its the headphone jack, the innocuous little port on the top (or bottom) of most smartphones that serves several purposes but primarily is an input / output interface for music and speech.

The high visibility of this port comes about because rumours that Apple will ditch the headphone jack for its next iteration of the iPhone. Instead the new iPhone will rely on either Bluetooth or the Lightning port to pipe audio to headphones.

Almost inevitably HTC was here first, with its ExtUSB port on Windows Mobile devices which required the use of an adapter cable or Bluetooth for audio in/out.

HTC dropped the idea, but will Apple run with it? Inevitably the question will only get answered when the wraps come off the new devices in a few months time. There are good arguments for and against Apple’s removal of the headphone jack though.

Apple’s current upgrade progression is to make devices thinner with larger or higher resolution screens. Removing the headphone jack could allow Apple to reduce the thickness of the next iPhone. With the likely adoption of new OLED screen technology, which can allow for a thinner screen stack, shaving half a millimetre or so off the iPhone 6S dimensions is certainly on the cards.

Against that you have to stack the impact on battery life and the size of the camera hump. Despite Apple’s protestations, iPhone battery life continues to be an irksome aspect of ownership. Battery anxiety is something iPhone owners are all too aware of those. For those who also drive electric cars I wonder how cope with the daily tension of not knowing whether they’ll have enough juice in the car to get to the next charging stop or enough juice in the iPhone to call for help when they don’t.

The camera hump is another problem brought about by the need to be thin. Camera modules can’t be slimmed down without impacting the optical performance. If the iPhone gets thinner the camera hump becomes more prominent and the overall feel of the device is compromised.

Having to use a Lightning adapter for your headphones isn’t going to be a major problem – once it’s attached I’m sure you’ll forget about it. Bluetooth headphones are compromised by their battery life, but most decent headsets have batteries that will outlast the longest sensible period you’d want to be using them if you don’t want to damage your hearing.

No, Apple’s decision will rest entirely on whether removing the headphone jack makes the iPhone more profitable to produce and whether it allows the design to be improved.

I think the headphone jack will disappear from the iPhone and in the same way that Apple heralded the death of the floppy drive, serial ports and optical drives, we’ll see the rest of the industry follow suit.

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