Apple would be stupid to drop the iPhone headphone jack

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iPhone 6 headphone jack
Gone and almost forgotten.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

If Apple is really planning to kill the iPhone headphone jack in the model it reveals next year, it’s ditching 60 years of history.

Rumors that the next iPhone could do away with the industry-standard 3.5mm port in Apple’s relentless pursuit of thinness have been around for a while, but they’re seeing a resurgence thanks to a post on a Japanese blog. The article cites “a reliable source” that claims the Cupertino company will shave 1mm off the phone’s thickness by dropping the just-way-too-fat jack in favor of proprietary Lightning connectors.

But if Apple actually does this, it’s kind of a huge deal.

The original post, which is in Japanese with an English translation below it, says the headphones included with the thinner model will use a Lightning connector to transfer audio data. If it’s true, we aren’t sure if this means the phone will only have one Lightning connector, like the new MacBook’s single USB-C port, or if it will have one for charging and one for inputs. Either way, it’s putting third-party accessory makers in a tough spot.

Dropping the 3.5mm jack — which has been around almost as long as the transistor radio, which started development in the mid-1950s — is far different from when Apple dropped its 30-pin connector in favor of the Lightning plug in 2012. That shift just meant that starting with the iPhone 5 and the fifth-generation iPod touch, your old charging cables wouldn’t work. But those were only for charging and syncing; the headphone stayed the same, which meant that every pair of headphones you could use with the iPhone 4s and earlier would still work.

Running audio through Lightning, however, means you’ll have to buy all-new headphones like the ones Philips has come out with since Apple expanded its Made for iOS program a year ago. We’re sure that Apple-owned Beats will also be getting in on this, but we probably wouldn’t see that happen until the company officially announced the move.

For other headphone makers, however, this shift would mean splitting production between 3.5mm models and Lightning ones, bundling swappable cords with every product they ship, or, most likely, all-new lines of analog-to-digital converters to let customers use whichever ‘phones they like.

Meanwhile, Apple can sit back and talk up how a thinner iPhone and slightly better audio quality is worth sacrificing one of the few global standards remaining. But none of that will matter when people want to listen to music while charging their phone and can’t without busting out some Bluetooth headphones.

We expect that if this rumor proves to be true, Apple will end up alienating customers and manufacturers alike, and it won’t be a transitory thing like the charging cable change-up. Dropping the iPhone headphone jack would represent a serious drop in functionality in favor of claiming even more control over what people can and can’t plug into their phones.

Obviously, we should wait and see if it actually happens before we head up to Castle Apple with the pitchforks and torches, but the company can expect a whole lot of fallout if it goes through with this plan.