The removal of the 3.5mm jack comes as no major surprise due to all of the advanced leaks, but it’s still a fact that will take a while for even the most die-hard Apple fans to digest. The ubiquity of the 3.5mm headphone jack has been something we’ve all come expect in electronic devices, but it’s also at odds with consumer expectations that devices should get thinner, lighter, and faster every year. Every once in a while something has to give to make space for major new features, and this time it was the headphone jack’s turn.
Wired headphones are simple. That means you plug them in and they just work. But the fact that you plug them in means that there are wires that can become tangled in your arms or in turnstiles, which can be a real impediment to how you move around. This is the biggest thing that wireless headphones solve for me, and it’s why I bought the Sony MDR-10RBT and the BlueBuds X. They are familiar form factors, but without the hassle of managing wires dangling off of my head and into a pocket.
I really like this freedom and it seems like this is a growing trend. According to NPD, 2016 was the first year in which wireless headphone sales outdid their wired counterparts in the US. That isn’t a global statistic, but it’s a huge market that’s very forward-leaning in terms of tech.
So while there’s no question that this change is an inconvenience for current users, I do believe it’s paving the way for a much better audio. In fact, I was really impressed with the thinking that went into Apple’s AirPods. The earphones can be used in mono mode, auto-pause when you remove them from your ears, and can pair with all devices on your iCloud account. This really shows that Apple was looking at all the little friction points, and not just stopping at the idea of making a wired solution into something wireless. The only thing about the AirPods that gives me pause is their lack of a silicone earbud for a tight seal. This makes them a lot less useful on public transit and in louder workplaces, both of which I frequent.
Overall I think Apple has handled this tech change very well. They’re keeping previous iPhone models around with headphone jacks intact. They’re including a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in the box with the iPhone 7 (although I think it’s silly that this doesn’t also come in black). Finally, they’ve introduced four new wireless headphones â€” AirPods, Solo3, BeatsX, and PowerBeats 3 â€” that show what kind of extra conveniences are made possible by a wireless ecosystem. They claim to pair quickly and easily, they all have enough battery life for long listening sessions, and they have quick-charge capabilities to enable higher up-time.
I don’t think that “courage” was the right word to use in regards to removing the jack. “Dedication” to offering faster, lighter, and smarter solutions would probably have been received better, but I think Apple has done a pretty good job of pulling the plug here.