With

With Or Without

It’s quite something to see all the armchair analysts out there share their opinions on one of the few universal audio jacks of the world. The venerable 3.5mm Phone Jack, the 1/8th” cable, the mini plug, the headphone port, the jack plug, the AUX chord, whatever you want to call it, it’s ambiguous and it’s everywhere.

The polarizing swath of opinions has felt louder than most big shifts in the technology world and for good reason. This isn’t a floppy drive or pc only data port to transmit data, it’s a universally accepted means of transmitting electric current to power speakers and there is one fact in the middle of this discussion that is easy to forget; audio reproduction is inherently analog. There is no such thing as digital audio only digital audio transmission and conversion.

This is where things get interesting to me in terms of the future. The 3.5mm phone jack was popularized in portable electronics long, long ago. These plugs could be listed in a dictionary as defining the term universal. An overwhelmingly large percentage of personal electronic devices manufactured in the past 30+ years that featured the transmission of audio has had a 3.5mm audio jack to fill this need.

This modest jack is an overlooked cultural icon, a globally recognized one at that. Even with the birth of better sounding bluetooth audio standards the port has hung in there in as being synonymous with music transmission known most recently in pop culture as the apparently venerable AUX cord. (Yet I remember not long ago it still was universally called simply an iPod cable by most.)

The sheer magnitude of the ports assimilation into modern society will be one they won’t be able to shake off over the course of a couple years but I can see the tide shifting eventually. Even with Apples marketing team flashing the death of “100 year old” tech. The core concepts of audio reproduction remain no matter how hard you try and shake it off.

When looking closer and really considering what Apple has done today, the only people that will be frustrated about the missing headphone jack in the long term will be music lovers like myself who want and sometimes need to have the flexibility and ubiquitous acceptability of a universal analog port for audio output.

Unlike the simplicity of analog audio, wireless audio transmission in its very nature is never going to be truly universal and will always require some variety of proprietary language, adaptor, receiver, etc. and for the general public that will be little more than another hoop they need to jump through to enjoy modern technology and by the looks of it, Apples AirPods are doing a great job of simplifying that process.

While many of the stop-gap dongle adaptors of apples past have since become more or less obsolete, I have a feeling this one will hang around a lot longer than many of their previous vendettas against old technology. As long as they keep putting headphone amps inside of the phones that is.

The idea of a cordless music experience for personal listening is a future many, including myself, have looked forward to for quite some time. I always figured that the point in time it would become ready for prime time would be when they managed to take the iconic apple earbuds and make them wireless but it always seemed impossible. Light enough to not burden your ears, simple enough to manage and keep track of, and with a battery life worth considering. On the surface it seems like they have hit the nail on the head but there are a couple of points I wonder about.

First and most obviously the cost. Could they not have hit a $100 price point at very least? At $160USD they are positioning it as a premium product thats for sure. A little strange considering its a flagship feature of their newest and future phones but I have no doubt that many will jump on board anyway.

As for keeping track of them? While it’s an easy target for the usual new Apple product jokes, I don’t think it will be that big of a deal honestly, unless you are prone to loosing things. The handy carrying case is a nice touch and makes perfect sense.

All in all the timing of ditching the dedicated audio jack feels pretty familiar as far as Apple is concerned. Just as wireless headphones are getting to the point where discerning ears are starting to accept them and a few competitors were able to show their own seemingly clumsy solutions for smaller wireless options Apple swoops in and lays the groundwork for the future. Business as usual.

Something else I wonder, if the audio port abandonment actually manages to stick as an industry trend for smartphones, I could easily see a future where standalone digital music players become trendy again among music lovers. Just a thought because I already know that will be the case for me down the line when I inevitably purchase an iPhone without an audio port.

So, the iPhone 7, a heavily refined iPhone 6, slick, powerful, and as beautiful as ever. Still though, like many others, I can’t help but wonder whats REALLY next up in the story of the iPhone. Cutting one of the oldest cords in the book is a bold move, sure, but it feels like a change they are just getting out of the way to make room for something even cooler coming down the pipeline.

Comments

  1. 100 year old - Island in the Net - September 8, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    […] When looking closer and really considering what Apple has done today, the only people that will be frustrated about the missing headphone jack in the long term will be music lovers like myself who want and sometimes need to have the flexibility and ubiquitous acceptability of a universal analog port for audio output. John Carey […]

  2. Dan Hawk - September 8, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Interesting thoughts John and Its great to see you writing! I’m fairly sure I’ll be using an adaptor for awhile as well as I don’t get a long well with the shape of Apple’s earbuds and have a fairly new set of Bose earbuds that I really like. I’m hoping there are some third party options soon and I wonder if perhaps the technology behind the Air Pods will be licensed to companies like Bose.

    Fingers Crossed!

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