Should the MacBook Pro be next in line to lose its headphone jack? [Friday Night Fights] | Cult of Mac

Should the MacBook Pro be next in line to lose its headphone jack? [Friday Night Fights]

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Could you live without it?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

If you’re an early iPhone 7 adopter, you’re already getting accustomed to life without a headphone jack. But what if it started to disappear from other devices you use everyday, such as your iPad or MacBook?

Friday Night Fights bugWith a MacBook Pro refresh on the horizon, fans fear it will be the next device in Apple’s lineup to see its headphone jack disappear. The move could allow Apple to make its most powerful portable even slimmer, but would it be worth it?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we discuss whether the MacBook Pro should lose its headphone jack this year, or whether Apple should give consumers and the industry time to adapt to other standards.

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: So, Apple did kill the headphone jack with iPhone 7, and it didn’t really create the kind of backlash some people were anticipating. By the time its new smartphones were made official, it seems most fans had already accepted its fate and the idea that they had to move on. But I’m not sure this should be the start of a trend just yet.

It makes sense for Apple to take the headphone jack out of smaller devices like the iPhone, because it has limited space to work with. That jack is pretty big, and it was taking up a lot of room that could be better used by other things — like great stereo speakers, bigger batteries, and a larger Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7.

That’s not quite the case with devices like the MacBook Pro, which recent rumors have claimed will be next in line to see its headphone jack disappear. This is a much bigger device, so Apple has much more space to work with. Plus the headphone jack on a Mac is often used for more than just headphones, making it even more necessary.

If Apple takes a similar approach with the new MacBook Pro as it did with the 12-inch MacBook, traditional USB ports will disappear this year, and they’ll be replaced by USB-C. Fans will already have to buy a bunch of dongles to make their existing peripherals compatible with the new notebook; they won’t want to buy yet another one just to plug in headphones or a mic.

What do you think?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: You’re right in saying that the reasons, or the ostensible reasons, for getting rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack change on a Mac versus an iPhone. Thinness is part of it, but space is obviously at more of a premium when you’re dealing with a device the size of an iPhone versus one the size of a MacBook. But I don’t think it’s a matter of if Apple gets rid of the headphone jack on the MacBook, so much as when it makes this move.

The company made a big song and dance about its vision for a “wireless future” and I think that’s going to extend to Macs in the same way it has to mobile devices. The big extra challenge is the fact that Apple’s Lightning EarPods aren’t going to work unless Apple adds a Lightning port to the new Mac as well. I guess we’ll be stocking up on Lighting-to-USB-C dongles.

It may shock you, but I’m going to agree with you that removing it from the next generation of MacBooks isn’t a good idea. A lot of the technology — particularly Bluetooth headphones with what, in my experience, includes latency issues — just isn’t ready for primetime just yet in some cases… at least not at the expense of the headphone jack.

But I think that Apple certainly will remove it, unless there’s an overwhelming negative response to the survey it sent out to users. It’s tearing off the band aid of 3.5mm headphone jacks, and this is being viewed as an extension of the same kind of forward thinking that got rid of the floppy disk.

So let me turn this around a bit, since I think we’re in broad agreement, and ask this: If Apple did set a precedent by ditching the headphone jack, would there be a plus-side in terms of forcing the industry to adapt to this idea of the wireless future sooner? Or would we just wind up with a lot more dongles in our dongle drawer?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Yes, I agree it’s a matter of when, not if. But I think Apple needs to give the ecosystem of Lightning and USB-C peripherals time to grow before ditching the headphone jack on Macs. The catalog of Lightning-compatible headphones and microphones is still so small, and much the same can be said about those that use USB-C.

As you point out, latency is an issue with Bluetooth. If you’re watching movies on your Mac, it’s not uncommon to see the picture out of sync with the audio when you’re using Bluetooth speakers. No one wants to have to put up with that. Of course, Apple’s new W1 chip that’s in iPhone 7 might change that, but then there’s still the issue of interference.

Macs are used for so much more than iPhones. If you use yours to make music or podcasts, you need the best audio products available. Losing the headphone jack and ditching traditional USB ports at the same time makes that difficult. The professional creatives Apple is so proud of supporting with its computers aren’t going to like that one bit.

I certainly think that by killing off the headphone jack, Apple is pushing the industry to adopt other standards, like Lightning. I’m sure headphone makers are already rushing to create Lightning-compatible options now that iPhone 7’s here, when they probably weren’t a priority before.

But again, I think the industry needs more time to catch up, otherwise it’s users that suffer.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Agreed. To be fair to Apple, all they’ve done so far is to ask the question: which is exactly what any forward-moving tech company should be doing. Prompted, I think, by the legacy of Steve Jobs and his tastes, Apple seems to love the idea of getting to some platonic ideal of the purest possible tech device: the fewest buttons, the least interface elements, a lack of instruction manuals and so forth. Sometimes these impulses to tear up the past are great, but they rely on the technology being at a point where this can be done safely. No-one missed the floppy drive when it was gone because we had rewritable CDs and, shortly thereafter, USB sticks became ubiquitous. CD/DVD drives were no great loss, because cloud computing and other technologies were at a point where we didn’t need them. I’m not convinced that’s the case with the wireless future just yet.

As you know, I write a daily “Today in Apple history” post, which dredges up some piece of Apple’s past and reevaluates it. Today I was writing about iSync and, more specifically, Steve Jobs addressing developers in 2002 about the way devices would talk to each other in the future. That’s exactly what iPhones and Macs and iPads do today with features like Handoff. Apple’s brilliance is about picking the right moment to do this. And I don’t think that moment is now.

As another question, then, what needs to change? If we’re saying we don’t want this to happen on the 2016-era MacBooks, when do you think we’ll be ready for this transition? What kind of timeline are we talking about?

Killian Bell FNFKillian: I think Apple needs to give the industry another year. If it’s going to refresh the MacBook Pro this fall, I think we’ll be ready by the time next year’s refresh is due. By then the market will be flooded with headphones that use Lightning, and more accessories that use USB-C. There will be more dongles, too — and they’ll be more affordable.

Let’s hand this one over to the readers now. Do you think Apple should drop the headphone jack from the MacBook Pro this year, or should it give fans more time to adjust to life without it? Is the move even necessary in the foreseeable future given the space it has to play with in larger devices? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?