The So-Called Death of the Headphone Jack

Its slow demise has sparked a Bluetooth revolution.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Until fairly recently, the 3.5 mm headphone jack was ubiquitous, a nearly-universal standard in portable audio equipment. It had been that way for decades, until September 2016, when Apple announced that none of its phones going forward — starting with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — would include an audio headphone port.

With space in new iPhone models at a premium, and additional components being added with each iteration, it no longer made sense for Apple to include a dedicated audio port when its lightning port could do double duty, while producing arguably higher quality sound at the same time.

Cynics were quick to note that removal of the headphone jack would bolster sales of Apple’s AirPods headset, a wireless Bluetooth device, thus benefiting the Cupertino-based company more than any of its consumers.

Two years later, and most mobile phone manufacturers have followed Apple’s lead, removing the outdated analog audio port from their phones, although there are still a handful of good phones that include a headphone jack.

It turns out the cynics were correct about the windfall to Apple. The consumer products company helmed by CEO Tim Cook doesn’t release sales figures for individual products, but an analyst familiar with the company has confirmed the overwhelming success of AirPods. Furthermore, this analyst projects that sales of AirPods will increase exponentially over the next several years.

Anecdotally, as well, AirPods appear to be a smash, the distinctive white dondgles protruding from the ear canals of what feels like a preponderance of pedestrians in Washington, D.C., the city from which this is written.

Apple isn’t the only one that’s benefitted from removal of the headphone jack from its iPhones, however. Increased competition amongst Bluetooth headset manufacturers has produced a glut of low-cost AirPod alternatives on shopping sites like Amazon. These inexpensive but cable headsets, such as the QQcute earbuds, shown below, decidedly benefit consumers.

QQCute earbuds. (Photo by the author.)

Audiophiles may complain about the quality of Bluetooth audio versus that of audio produced by the 3.5 mm headphone port, but this is the same argument against technological progress that has always been made: when CDs began to overtake record sales, when DVDs threatened the Laserdisk market, and recently when digital video began to surpass traditional film in the production of motion pictures.

Wired headphones and the headphone jack aren’t dead yet, by any means. To my own chagrin, I can’t manage to hold onto a pair of Bluetooth ear buds for very long before one or both goes missing. Wireless ear buds, more so than their wired brethren, seem exceedingly easy to misplace.

Legacy devices, and non-phone audio devices, still overwhelmingly utilize the analog audio port, so wired headphones aren’t disappearing anytime soon. Which means we’ll all be stuck with at least one set of tangled wired headphones, for a while anyway.