Before we go any further, it’s really, really likely that the answer to ‘does it matter if we lose the 3.5 mm headphone port’ is going to be a highly subjective one. If you use wired headphones every day, it’s going to be tough to convince you that you don’t need that socket anymore.
As already mentioned, and is often the case, Apple may have popularized this trend, but it doesn’t own the jack-less smartphone space alone. It wasn’t even the first; Lenovo dropped it from the Moto Z and LeEco also has a number of phones that don’t offer the once-standard headphone port. There are rumors that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8 won’t have one either, so it’s not a move that I’d expect to see reversed in the long-run either.
Ultimately, I’d expect all phones to ditch the port in favor of USB Type-C (or Lightning, in Apple’s case), though it could take a while for the cheaper brands and models to make the jump. They will though, because using USB-C as a unified port for all your needs makes sense for the companies making the handsets, and it makes even less sense for Apple to keep it, as its previous use of a proprietary connector means it’ll make millions from people buying connectors and adaptors, which they’ll then lose and need to replace.
It’s a slightly unfriendly way to treat your customers, but while Apple devotees might think the company is there to solve the world’s problems, it’s actually just a company that’s really good at making money, and removing the headphone jack is going to make Apple a bunch more money. It’s the same deal with the nearly $200 Bluetooth AirPods too, when you lose one (or both), you’ll be replacing it.
For Android, the situation is a little different – can you think of a smartphone maker that also makes wireless Bluetooth headphones? – because the potential for direct profit isn’t as clear. Android phones have previously used standard connections (mostly), so there’s no single company that’s going to see a huge uptick in the sale of adaptors. There’s no direct profit from removing it (aside of the potential – and likely minuscule – cost savings from not including one) from Android phones.
The ultimate (in)convenience
That, however, doesn’t answer whether we still need the humble headphone jack, and while the phone in your pocket probably says yes, I’m going to say you don’t.
Bluetooth headphones were my favorite tech item in 2014 and I recommended the TracksAir as my ideal Christmas Gift at The Next Web. I still wear the pair I reviewed over two years ago every day for the same reason I did then – they’re the ultimate in convenience. You don’t need to mess around with wires, you don’t need to thread that cable down through your jacket or shirt to stop it getting caught in things. You just need to switch them on and hit play.
If you’re a die-hard devotee to wired headphones, you’re not going to agree or understand unless you’ve used a good set of Bluetooth headphones for a while but there’s something that’s just so much more convenient that it becomes indispensable. It’s also pretty handy to be able to switch across to pairing with your TV for late-night gaming sessions without trailing a 10-foot cable across the room.
Arguably, there are downsides to Bluetooth headphones – and therefore to losing the headphone jack. You need to charge them, for a start. Your trusty old wired cans never need you to remember to charge them before you want to use them, and it’s true, you will need to charge your Bluetooth pair fairly regularly if you use them a lot. Your experience will vary depending on which headphones you have, but in my experience a 20-minute charge on the TracksAir will give a solid six hours or so of listening, and they’ll charge to a maximum of 15 hours of use.
And if you don’t want to charge them, many can still be used as a normal pair of headphones. Yes that requires a 3.5 mm to USB-C (or Lightning, for Apple) adaptor, but you probably got one in the box with your new phone.
The change to wireless headphones won’t be entirely smooth though. The 3.5 mm headphone port is an industry standard that’s existed for 50 years and works interoperably across any device. Losing that is going to take some adjustment – and it’s far, far more inconvenient for Apple users, as it still uses proprietary ports on other devices. That’s not the technology’s fault though, it’s Apple’s.
There’s only one situation I can think of right now that I don’t know how to fix with Bluetooth headphones, and that’s sharing a device while listening or watching something with someone else. But again, reverting to the fallback of plugging them in with an adaptor and then a splitter would get the job done.
It’d look stupid as hell and be the least ‘futuristic’ feeling experience you’ve had in a while, but really, how often do you use your phone like that? I’ve done it precisely once in the last two years, but the option still exists for the moments you need it.
The future is wireless in every way, and holding on to an incredibly useful but inarguably old technology when Bluetooth is now cheap enough and performs well enough to replace it for the sake of a few rare moments just doesn’t make sense to me.
You might feel differently though.
Hate the demise of the headphone jack? Not sure what all the fuss is about? Let us know in the comments below!
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