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Hit the road, jack: Why Apple may say goodbye to the headphone plug

Marco Tabini | June 23, 2014
Replacing the jack with lightning might result in a thinner iPhone that is not quite susceptible to water and dust as the current models.

Besides, considering how tightly iOS devices continue to be built, the jack is becoming a gaping hole that remains fully exposed to the elements at all times. This can result in dust settling inside of it, causing the internal mechanism to get jammed and leave the handset stuck in headphone mode; plus, if water or excessive moisture make their way into it, your entire device could suffer permanent damage that Apple may refuse to cover under its warranty.

iphone5s bottom
Apple would surely like to unburden itself from the necessity of designing around the headphone jack.

On top of this, wireless headphones are becoming more and more common alongside Bluetooth's increased ability to carry high-definition audio over reliable connections. While a wired headset is still an invaluable tool when you're low on battery, technology is decidedly pushing us in a direction where wires pay a less prominent role all the time.

Thinner, lighter, smarter
In addition to getting rid of a few common problems, removing the jack from iOS devices could translate into a number of direct benefits to consumers. First of all, Apple could reclaim the space that it currently needs to reserve on its devices for the jack and use it for other purposes, such as making its devices thinner--or, perhaps, reorganizing the iPhone's internals so that there's more room inside for a bigger battery. If you recall, this was the same motivation that led the company to remove optical disc drives from its current crop of desktop and laptop computers--precisely because designing around that clunky apparatus was beginning to hinder Apple's ability to slim them down any further.

Switching to Lightning-powered headphones could also mean richer controls for volume and playback. Until now, these have, to a certain extent, been made possible by the clever use of analog signals over multi-segmented connectors, but there's a limit to what can be accomplished with this approach. With a fully digital interface and the ability to provide power, on the other hand, it might be possible to create headphones that offer advanced displays or better sound reproduction than is now possible. (Though that, in turn, might be a wash with any extra battery power Apple could get from freeing up the space currently occupied by the jack.)

Of course, none of this is good news for those of us who have jack-wired headphones—which is, well, just about anybody who's ever owned a portable device in the last thirty years. Presumably, though, Apple would bundle newer devices with Lightning-connector earbuds, or—even better—a headphone jack-to-Lightning converter, making the transition a little less traumatic.


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