I don’t actually miss the headphone jack

It’s been somewhat over a year since the iPhone 7 went on sale. It was introduced in the summer of 2016 and the biggest thing about it, at the time, was Apple’s audacity to remove the headphone jack from this new iPhone model. How dare they!

Of course, Apple had their reasons, both technical and practical, and we were moving towards a future without that little plug anyway. Apple was just ahead of everyone, and now, over a year later, they’re no longer the only phone manufacturer forcing their customers to go dongle-or-wireless. They must have been on to something. ;)

When starting my blog at Medium, I looked at English-language posts I had written for my old blog, and decided to import the most recent ones into Medium to get things started. The most recent one was a post about that headphone jack, and in it I was wondering whether bluetooth technology was far enough to be able to comfortably replace the wired option.

At the time, I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t own an iPhone 7; I was still perfectly happy with the previous model. But I did own wireless earphones, so I was already somewhat familiar and experienced with the concept. My wireless earphones, by Apple-subsidiary Beats, at the time were great, but not too great; audio quality and all that were fine (to me), but I noticed too many signal interruptions while using them on the go. I worried that many consumers now had to deal with bad connection quality and other discomforts, like short battery life. Maybe Apple should have waited some more before making this move?

Reading that post, I realized time had moved on and so had technology. Between then and now, I have switched to new earphones, again by Beats, that work much better than the previous ones and also solve another annoyance; the constant re-pairing between different devices. I have a pair of BeatsX earphones, and I simply love them. The audio quality is good, the connection with my phone is good, and the pairing with devices has become a non-issue. The BeatsX, like Apple’s AirPods and some other Beats models, have a W1 chip, which not only helps with the initial pairing with my phone, but also propagates the pairing to any other Apple devices I might have (it’s using my iCloud account — I’m very much a prisoner of this ecosystem, but I don’t mind). After pairing with my phone, my other devices recognized the earbuds and choosing them for playback them became just a one click operation. I now listen to music on my BeatsX when at work (connected to my Mac) or on the go (connected to my iPhone), and switching devices is a breeze. And I no longer have problems with audio dropping out when I turn my head or when I walk a few feet from my Mac while wearing them.

And although I’m not an expert in this field, I assume Apple is far from the only one advancing wireless technology in a way that it simply becomes a much better option. I now have an iPhone 8 and I have yet to use the jack-to-lightning connector for the first time. (When I do, it will probably be to connect my Bose headphones, which are still ‘old school’, but I simply don’t use them that often.) When looking at how these user experience annoyances have been mitigated, I think wireless technology might actually be advanced (or at least advancing) enough to be a viable alternative to wired solutions.

Of course, there’s still the battery life. My previous pair lasted only six hours and charging took some time. My new ones last eight hours and when out of juice, take only five minutes to charge for two more hours. That’s good enough to last for most of a day; I have no problem pausing listening for five minutes if I’m really on a listening streak. And there are better alternatives for when eight hours is not enough; headphones with more physical space for the battery easily last longer. This can all certainly be improved, but like smartphones, it’s never going to be enough, I assume.

So, looking back on the initial reactions to Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack and the quality problems I experienced with bluetooth earphones at the time, I think it’s all fine now: wireless is, at least for me, ‘good enough’ and I expect the advancement of this technology to be far from done. Perhaps, in a year from now, reactions like “wow, you’re still using wired headphones?” are going to be the new “wow, you still don’t have a smartphone?”