Earbuds have been a staple for personal audio for a very long time, and that’s not a weird thing. They are simple, relatively small and straight to the point. Plug the cable in the hole and you have sound. And you could find these auxiliary ports and plugs everywhere. From your computer to your tv. In cars and in airplanes. They’ve been the universal audio connection standard for consumer electronics since consumer electronics became a thing. But sadly, the headphone jack seems to be a dying race.
It all started in the beginning of 2016. The rumour mill was in overdrive on the idea that Apple was going to ditch the headphone port in their upcoming iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. During this time, a few other companies ‘dared to be different’ and also decided to ditch the universal connector. LeEco, a relatively unknown company in the western world, presented its LeEco Le 2 lineup of phones in april 2016, all without a headphone jack. Soon after that Motorola released the Moto Z, which included a USB-C to 3,5 adapter in the box. Later that year the rumours became reality with the release of the Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Eventually more and more companies followed in the daring footsteps of Apple and the rest is history.
In this day and age, there are only a handful of options to choose from if you want a phone with a headphone jack. Samsung seems to be hesitant to remove the extra port, as well as LG and OnePlus. These are your best bets for now if you’re still in denial, but the inevitable death of the headphone jack is soon to come. And I’m experiencing the 7 stages of grief already.
Shock and denial
From the beginning of 2016 to the release of the iPhone 7, a big part of the internet was straight-up denying this would be the case. They wouldn’t just remove the aux port, right? I mean, everybody is still using it. They can’t just remove a useful feature?
Eventually Apple did, but the denial was still strong. Other companies wouldn’t just blindly follow Apple in this one, would they? But sadly they did.
Pain and Guilt
Guilt is not a feeling that was felt as much as it was given during the months after the iPhone 7 release. I mean, Apple was seen as one of the biggest in consumer electronics, and by straight-up removing the headphone jack evidently showed they cared more about money than usability. And the problem didn’t end at Apple. Companies like HTC, Sony and Huawei started dropping the port of their new flagships, and we’re left to find a solution for what seems to be our problem now.
In the beginning a lot of websites reported on this, and it seems nobody found it a good idea. By removing a universal feature these companies were hurting the average consumer. Sadly, this public outcry lead to nothing and the headphone jack was vanishing faster and faster.
Anger and Bargaining
But whatever way you put it, the removal of the headphone jack was (and is) a very shitty move! Apple claims that there was no room inside the phone anymore, but numerous tear downs proof a different point. Google claims to be able to deliver a better audio experience over USB-C so they ditched the headphone jack, but the audio quality on the Pixel 2 was reviewed to be comparable to the first Pixels, who still rock the traditional audio-hole. Sony hides behind the excuse that is was purely a design decision, but when we examine these companies a bit closer something becomes apparent.
At the same event where Apple presented the iPhone 7, they also showed us their new Bluetooth earbuds; the Airpods. Sony has been selling a great selection of Bluetooth headphones and earbuds over the past few years, so there’s an interest in them removing the headphone jack for them. And Huawei released their Airpods competitors alongside their P20 and P20 Pro, who coincidentally don’t have a headphone jack.
And do you know what makes me angry? The fact that all these companies just put a simple pair of headphones with Lightning/USB-C connection in the box. And a dongle you will probably lose within the first month or so. They know we will lose or break these accessories. They know we will be looking at something new within the next year, and these are opportunities to up-sell to their new products.
And bargaining for better in-the-box-accessories won’t help. Apple will never give you a free pair of Airpods with your new iPhone, no matter how hard we will beg them. It seems we’re fighting a losing battle here.
Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
And thus, we’ve arrived in the present. We lost the headphone jack. There are still a few companies rocking the old school port on their products, but within the next 2 years I believe there will be no noteworthy flagship phone with the aux port on the device.
And the question is, do we need to accept this? Should we just give up and move by buying Bluetooth headphones? Maybe. Maybe not. It seems that the mid-range segment is still including the headphone jack most of the time, so there is an opportunity there. But do you really want to compromise your phone-experience just for a simple headphone jack?The Bluetooth earbuds market is soaring at the moment, so good earbuds are getting cheap. That could be an option for the people that are moving forward.
To be honest, I thought it would be hard to convince me to settle. And I still hate the fact that I can’t just plug a pair of earbuds in my phone when I need to. There are still a few kinks in the road, that’s true, but for now we have only to reflect on what happened and hope for a better future.
The Upward Turn
And I think that there indeed is hope for a better future. As I said cheap Bluetooth headphones are getting better, and good Bluetooth headphones are getting cheaper. Higher demand can mean a higher price, but also a lower production cost and we see this in the great selection of Chinese Bluetooth earbuds. At the moment battery life is still so-so, but it’s getting better. Within a year or two I think you can buy decent Bluetooth earbuds for the price of a pair of normal earbuds today. This doesn’t fix the problems we have now, but it softens the blow a tiny bit.
Reconstruction and Working Through
So for now the solution seems to be one of two options. You could stick to the past and buy a mid-range device that still has a headphone jack, so you can keep using your existing earbuds. Or you could search the Interwebs for a decent Bluetooth headset that doesn’t break the bank. No it is not the ideal solution, but it seems to be the best we have right now.
In the meantime there needs to be a shift in consumer electronics. That car with an aux-port? That’s old news. Your next car is going to need a Bluetooth radio. Traveling in the near future? Better make sure you bring your dongles and power bank. Only with this mindset can we overcome the hurdle that is the death of the headphone jack.
Acceptance and Hope
I wish I could end on a lighter note than this. But this piece is called ‘The death of the headphone jack’ for a reason. Death is never fun, and neither is the death of the auxiliary port on our phones. We need to find a way to make use of the situation right now. We’re in the middle of a transition from tethered to cordless times. One day we’ll look back at today and know that it all started here. The wireless future is upon us, and it’s only a matter of time before the charging port bites the dust. And to be honest, how many of you still connect your phone to a PC for something other than charging?
One day a company will display the ‘courage’ to remove the charging port in favor of a wireless solution, and when that day comes, remember this blog post; people are gonna lose i when Apple does it. But 4 years after Apple there will hardly be anyone complaining anymore about their portless Samsung Galaxy device.