Audio Jack Removal: Reasons why it “may” be a good thing

Posted on Posted in Tech & Gadgets

Okay, so the iPhone 7 was just announced last week, and as many of us expected, it ditched the 3.5mm audio jack port entirely.

Many would argue that its another dick move by Apple Inc. into forcing people to buy their overpriced converters and enticing users to buy their new “AirPods”. Yet I can’t help to feel that there’s a sense of reason for their actions.

For the record, Apple is not alone in ditching the 3.5mm audio jack; Motorola too has removed them entirely in their newest flagship devices Moto Z and Moto Z Force (their budget offering Moto Z Play however retains the jack, in case you get confused with the company’s offerings).

And even before these two, Oppo, with their attempt to claim the thinnest phone back in 2014 – showcased the Oppo R5, which was the thinnest phone at that time spanning just over 4.85mm thick (and also missing our precious audio jack).

Moto Z Force and Oppo R5 – both devices are also missing the 3.5mm headphone jacks. Image source from GSMArena

So if removing the audio jack such a bad thing, then why did some manufacturers also opted to have it removed into their devices. Even better yet, why is Apple alone in receiving the heat for its removal? (considering how other OEM’s have done it earlier).

I won’t divulge into details on why this is so. What I will do, however, is point out key reasons unto why the removal of the audio jack may actually be beneficial and a good thing (and how its not all about negatives and forcing you to buy a new headphone, etc.)

1. The audio jack is old – 19th century old. We need a new “digital” standard

First introduced as 6.35mm back in the 19th century (1878), the currently popular 3.5mm standard is a miniaturization of the original product and quickly became popular back in the mid-90’s (source here).

I know that the audio jack is old – but even I, before writing this piece, did not know that the audio jack, if we include its older 6.35mm variant, is more than a century year old.

To be fair, the technology has indeed aged remarkably, but the use of the 3.5mm audio jack means that we are limited to analog audio output as opposed to a digital one.

Currently, we are limited to the use of a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) to convert digital audio to analog audio signals, which is what then allows us to play music using our 3.5mm analog audio jack headsets (source here).

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Oppo HA-1 is an example of a high-performance headphone amplifier and DAC. Image source here

All smartphones, mp3 players or whatnot, that uses the 3.5mm standard have a built-in DAC installed. The quality of these DAC’s however, differs depending on the size and the price. Some professional-grade quality DAC’s available in the market today costs more than a thousand dollars (some even more).

The use of a digital medium as opposed to an analog one (whether lightning cable or USB) could change this as processing of the audio shall now be done through software alone instead.

This would mean that the use of DAC’s would no longer be needed on your smartphones/laptops and as such, should theoretically translate into a better sounding audio quality.

2. Better “alternatives” already exists in the market today

I remember back in the days when I owned a Sony Ericsson phone (I think it was the W395). It was a good phone at that time, but it too didn’t have an audio jack – which sucked.

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Sony Ericsson W395 – a phone under the popular “Walkman” series back then, did not include the 3.5mm audio jack. Image source at GSMArena

Back then I was forced to look and find a rare adapter so that I could use my 3.5mm headphones. Using one was a great hassle, regardless. Such antics however,  was pretty common back then.

Before, every manufacturer seems to have their own standard and “proprietary” port in order to properly use their devices. Not only for audio jacks, but also for power adapters, data cables, and even memory cards.

So the question is, how does removing the audio jack makes things any better, as opposed to how it was before?

The answer lies with the current market’s options or “alternatives“. Nowadays, you aren’t really forced in finding any rare proprietary adapters. Micro-USB (soon to be USB Type-C ) ports has been a standard for a couple of years already, and adapters are fairly cheap and easy to find – more so after the 3.5mm jack phases out.

Even Apple’s provides its own “free” audio jack to lightning adapter in case you really don’t want to part with your old earphones or headset.

And if you’re worried about market availability, Audio OEM’s have already announced their support in making lightning-compatible headsets and earphones as opposed to using the 3.5mm audio jack. We can expect the same support for Android devices in the near future (in this case, they will support either Micro USB or USB Type-C port).

Wireless headset and earphones are also alternatives that has long been available in the market for a couple of years already. In conclusion, there are already alternatives present in the market to offset the removal of the audio jack – some of them even providing a better “solution” that how it currently is (in terms of either convenience or audio quality).

And yes, these “alternatives” are more expensive than our beloved 3.5mm jack, but this will soon change as explained further below.

3. New standard entices competition amongst audio manufacturers; Expect better (and cheaper) audio-related products in the near future

To say that the audio industry has been stagnant in its product development may be an understatement.

To prove this point, we’ll take a look at the Audio Technica ATH-M50.

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Audio Technica ATH-M50. A very popular high-performance headset with stellar reviews, was first introduced back in 2007 (Image source here)

 

A great headset in its own right, yet somehow it still remains as one of the industry standard over the years – 9 years after its release back in 2007, only to be discontinued and replaced by the ATH-M50x, whose only addition being a detachable cable.

While a few new headsets and earphones came over the years – including wireless ones, the stagnation of the market meant little to no price change in aging audio flagship devices like the M50’s, and the lack of a real need to go “wireless” meant that demand for the product was more out of convenience than necessity – which also meant that prices aren’t coming down for wireless products.

With Apple’s removal of the audio jack – this WILL change.

Demand for the latest and wireless audio products are expected to increase – tremendously. OEM’s will now be forced to adjust to this change, else they risk being left behind in the industry.

What this will translate into is competition between manufacturers, which in turn will result in the introduction of new devices, and inevitable decrease in prices – both of which good for the consumer market.

Give the audio manufacturers some time. Soon one of them will be bound to introduce an audio device so revolutionary you’d wish Apple killed the audio jack even earlier than what they did in the iPhone 7.

4. Removal of the 3.5mm port allows more room (or less) of smartphone real-estate

Some of you may not notice this as much, but manufacturers (not only Apple) removes features from your devices from time-to-time to give room for other more necessary components, or just reduce the device footprint altogether.

Think back when did your last flagship device had an FM Radio, or an IR blaster. Even in newer laptops its rare to encounter one still with a CD-drive present rather than one without it (done to save space and weight).

So removal of a “feature”, while it may make you believe that you are getting less than what you did previously, are often done by manufacturers for the betterment of the product itself, rather than serving as a limitation compared other previous devices.

Think of how the absence of the audio jack led the Oppo R5 to achieve the title of the “thinnest” smartphone back in 2014. A useless compromise for many, yet the same title and feature also led to the recognition of the brand – one at which both OEM and user can brag about at that time.

Who knows, maybe the removal of the audio jack is the very reason that Apple finally managed to achieve water resistance, stereo speakers and better performance – all on that tiny footprint. We could argue that other OEM’s has done the same without removing the audio jack – but that’s outside the point of the story.

5. Encourages users to go “wireless”

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Wireless earphones such as the Mpow Coach Wireless Sport Headphones are quickly becoming affordable alternatives to wired ones. This one costs appox. 20 USD at amazon. Link here

Just think about it, when was the last time you have to use a LAN cable to connect to the internet? That’s not to say that cables are dead, since they are not (still used to connect to stationary devices such as desktops, routers and servers), but the convenience of wired and wireless are almost day and night.

The technology for wireless audio has long been present already, so why hasn’t everyone jumped ships already and switched? Plenty of reasons has been stated above (not practiced as standard technology, expensive, etc.)

But the truth is once these wireless headsets becomes more readily available in the market and is competitively priced, users will make the switch. And this will not happen if the 3.5mm audio jack did not disappear – as there will never be an impetus for the audio industry and market to change.

The reality is that we already live in a world that operates wirelessly. Our phones operates wirelessly, our data lies in the cloud wireless, even access to our music nowadays happens wirelessly – so what’s stopping us from doing the same for our audio hardware devices?

All things evolve through time; technology is no different. If it didn’t, we’d probably still be using bows and arrows to hunt our foods – like our ancestors did a time ago.

And yet technology made the once invaluable bow-and-arrow obsolete; We adapted better tools in achieving the same purpose more efficiently. A far-off analogy, but my point remains the same.

The 3.5mm audio jack, as we know it by now, may seem indispensable, and irreplaceable just because it works. Yet if we do not instill change, then who’s to know if there could’ve been a better alternative.

Apple, Motorola, Oppo, and all other manufacturers who did the same by removing the 3.5mm audio jack did it not to pose inconvenience to its users, but to instill a mentality of change, and to see whether the aged technology has to go – for other alternatives to arise, or will it stay, and remain as a de-facto standard for years to come.