Much has been written about the imminent death of the 3.5mm headphone jack in the past months, and especially this week, now that it’s almost a given that the iPhone – cough – 7 will not have one. Apple is at the receiving end of plenty of criticism, much of it being rather obtuse and unwarranted. In the grand scheme of things, the standard 3.5mm jack has to die, and there will never be a right time to do it if you ask customers who happen to own plenty of wired headphones. Not to mention that other companies have already pulled similar tricks, with Motorola being the most notorious phone maker to do it – yet nobody scolded Moto for ditching it.
But killing the 3.5mm headphone jack isn’t a simple one-time murder. It has to be a serial-killing operation that would see Apple gradually removing the port from all its products, including iPads and MacBooks. In fact, there’s already speculation that this year’s MacBook Pros won’t have a 3.5mm headset jack either.
Analyzing the recent flak Apple received from looking to ditch the audio standard, Apple blogger John Gruber ended his Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives piece with an interesting thought. Apple may have intentionally delayed a 2016 MacBook Pro launch because of the iPhone 7’s new audio setup.
“Will MacBooks ship with a Lightning port in lieu of a headphone jack? If so, will they ship with headphones? (Probably not, I say. Cough up the extra $29 for a new pair of Apple EarPods.)” Gruber asked (and answered). “Is this why we haven’t seen new MacBook Pros yet — because they’re waiting for the new iPhone so that both can go Lightning-for-audio at the same time? Perhaps.”
The often well-informed Gruber doesn’t say that MacBooks with Lightning ports are coming. This is just speculation, at this time. But there’s no time like now to do it if Apple plans it. After all, this year’s MacBook Pros are rumored to receive a radical redesign, so adding a lightning port to them to handle audio headphones might make some sense.
That certainly sounds strange. Why add a port whose only purpose would be handling audio? Apple still needs to support wired headphones – that’s why adding a 3.5m-to-Lightning dongle in the iPhone box makes sense – for a few years. But if the iPhone is ditching the audio jack, then all Apple products should do it too. It would be significantly more annoying to have to deal with both to 3.5mm and Lightning audio across Apple’s hardware ecosystem. That’s something current MacBook users who will buy the iPhone 7 will have to get used to. But if you’re buying both new iPhones and MacBooks, they should all support the same wired standard for audio.
On the other hand, Apple’s 2016 Retina MacBook retains the headphone jack. One could argue that Apple could have postponed launching the new 12-inch laptop as well, if it’s looking to remove the headphone jack from MacBooks this year.
Apple could also relegate sound to USB-C. But that means buying one more dongle. And we all love dongles.
With all that in mind, the headphone wars are probably just starting. The imminent death of the standard 3.5mm jack will create a vacuum for a new standard – and we need a new standard. I don’t even want to conceive a future where I’ll have to buy a new pair of headphones and think about whether they’ll be compatible with Lightning, USB-C, or microUSB.