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Apple May Ditch the iPhone's Headphone Jack to Little Benefit


By connecting headphones to iOS devices via the Lightning port, Apple may consider the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack obsolete.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is nothing if not hardware efficient.
Through the years, Cupertino has ditched hardware components it's deemed unnecessary or obsolete -- oftentimes long before any competitor chose to do so. It was among the first to drop 3.25-inch floppy drives, optical drives, and ethernet ports from some of its products, and by doing so, actually hastened the death knell for a few waning technologies.
But occasionally, the refusal-to-add comes prematurely and Apple users are left wanting while Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) users take a component's default inclusion for granted. (See: NFC, larger smartphone screens, and -- for better or worse -- support for Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) Flash.) And although this steadfast march toward efficiency is sometimes beneficial for the industry as a whole, it often locks an Apple user into its ecosystem with a proprietary technology that's incompatible to competing systems for arbitrary reasons. (See: Apple as the sole holdout for universal micro-USB compatibility.)
Such could be the case once again if Apple decides to ditch the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack from iOS devices.
According to 9to5Mac's Jordan Kahn, Apple is allegedly expanding its Made for iPhone program to include headphones that link to iPhones and iPads via the Lightning port. The program expansion isn't surprising given the $3 billion purchase of audio manufacturer Beats Electronics as well as the recent unveiling of HomeKit, which would ostensibly rely on many Made for iPhone components. (See: WWDC 2014: Apple Becomes More Like Google, and That's Great News.)
But if Apple should opt for Lightning port connections for headphones rather than a 3.5-millimeter jack and remove the universal port from future iOS device builds, the benefits would be minimal.
As Kahn indicates in his article, the Lightning port could power accessories that would otherwise require its own battery, such as noise-canceling headphones or portable speakers. But as anyone who owns an iPhone already knows, the device doesn't exactly come with the long-lasting battery and any extra power requirement could send even more users around the office in search of a spare charger.
Support for lossless 48 kHz audio is another bonus for the Lightning port, but high-fidelity playback is possible through the existing headphone port if Apple were to optimize iOS hardware and software. And only a fraction of daily users have both an ear attuned to the difference in quality and a desire to see the headphone port go.
There's also the matter of increased data transfer, allowing owners to control more while tethered to the Lightning port. But considering that the headphone port can already control media playback and voice calls with an attached controller, there isn't much left in the way of useful functionality that couldn't be handled with the 3.5-millimeter port. (Though we may see some HealthKit functionality down the line.)
But above all, ditching the headphone port in favor of the Lightning port would, yet again, force Apple users to forgo any compatibility with competing systems. A set of Lightning port noise-canceling headphones may be fantastic for an iPhone, but they become a $300 paperweight with a switch to Android. And, like all your charging accessories with 30-pin connectors, your existing top-of-the-line headphones will be obsolete.
Eliminating the 3.5-millimeter port from iOS devices would be one of the most drastic changes Apple could make to its products, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility for the efficiency-minded company. Sure, there's something to be said for simpler design and the removal of outdated technology, but users won't see much payoff after the switch.

Also see:

Amazon Enters the Smartphone Death Match, and Data Could Give It an Edge  

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