What do the iPhone 8 and the Google Pixel 2 have in common?
The answer is the fact that they have no easy way to connect any set of headphones you want. That’s because the manufacturers of those phones have decided to remove the headphone jack from those phones.
Some people have complained about this, some people don’t care and they are just fine with this. Needless to say this issue has caused a lot of heated debate. With that said, I wanted to ask the following question: Was removing the headphone jack from most of the mainline smartphones a bad idea?
First of all, here’s why the answer might be no.
Removing the headphone jack makes more space for other things. For example, it means you can have a larger battery, or put better speakers inside a phone. I don’t know how much I buy this argument but I can see how it makes sense.
So why does this matter? Well, you have to consider the fact that there is not a lot of space on the inside of a smartphone (especially when it’s a 5″ screen). When space is at a premium you have to think about what’s going to make the most sense to keep in there.
A larger battery, better speakers and of course the circuitry which all make up the internals of the phone (not to mention that awesome camera). When you remove the headphone jack, you get a little bit more room to play with. Whilst this reason makes sense on the surface of it, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the Note 8 both have a headphone jack so I am not sure if this reason to remove the headphone jack makes sense.
Well, according to Apple it also means that we can move onto newer technologies. In fact Phil Schiller (senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple) went on stage in September 2016 and said that they had “courage” to move on and try different things. This was during the launch event for the iPhone 7.
Sure there will be a lot of backlash at first but some people will get over the initial shock and think that having a phone without a headphone jack is not an issue. It means that we can deliver better audio through those headphones. Whilst I cannot say this for certain, I am sure that there’s a lot of functionality that could be added with USB-C or lightning (if you have an iPhone).
Lastly, there is also a good business case. Apple has a certification program called MFI (or Made for iPhone). This allows manufacturers to make headphones which are made with Apple’s lightning connector(the connector you see at the bottom of all iPads and iPhones since the iPhone 5). It also allows them to display a logo on the box of their headphones saying “Made for iPhone”.
However, headphone manufacturers would have to pay a license fee to do that. If they wanted to Apple could increase this fee and (in turn) that would generate more revenue for them. The way it works is that for every pair of headphones that you sell, you would have pay the license fee. This means that manufacturers would have to pass on this cost to the consumer.
In fact, any smartphone manufacturer could also take a cue from Apple, create similar programs and generate revenue that way through a similar licensing system to MFI.
With that let’s move on and look at the reasons why the answer to the question is yes.
It causes inconvenience – One of my readers got in touch to tell me that he recently got an iPhone 7 (which started this whole “trend” of phones having no headphone jack). He wanted to use his headphones at home, but he forgot to take the lightning (the connector at the bottom of most iPhones) to headphone jack adapter/dongle which he left at his workplace.
Basically, if you forget your adapter, you are stuck without a pair of headphones. Sure, you have the earpods(Apple’s own headphones) which come with the phone but not everyone wants to use them. Just for the record, I am not against using them, I am just saying that not everyone wants to use Apple’s earpods.
Another point that I would like to make is that having no headphone jack creates unnecessary vendor lock-in as far as headphones go. Basically, if you want to buy headphones for your phone, you are basically forced to buy headphones just for that particular phone. Let’s say you switch over from the iPhone 8 to Samsung Galaxy S8 and you bought headphones that were made for the iPhone 8. You cannot use those headphones with the Galaxy S8.
In fact, you could look at the headphone jack as a universal standard that has been in most other smartphones (and other devices) for a while now. In fact, until the iPhone 7 came out, pretty much most smartphones out there had a headphone jack. Other than creating more space inside the phone I honestly think that there is nothing wrong with keeping a headphone jack in a phone.
What I am trying to say here is that if you are buying a new phone, you would want an easy transition to it. Having a headphone jack in your new phone will also make that transition a little bit smoother.
Additionally, Manufacturers like Samsung have proven that you can make a flagship/mainline phone (like the Samsung Galaxy S8) and still keep the headphone jack in there.
On top of that, unless you have another dongle to do so, you cannot charge your phone and use your headphones as the same time. I know that this is quite an extreme use case, but I am sure that many of you out there might want to plug in your headphones whilst you charge your phone.
Lastly there’s another use case. On some headphones out there, you get an inline remote which gives you volume control, play/pause and previous/next track buttons(like the Sennheiser MM30G pictured above).
You can also get a microphone. You can get the same set of functionality on a pair of headphones with a headphone jack as you could with a pair of headphones that use the lightning connector or a USB-C connector.
What I am trying to say here is that using lightning or USB-C for headphones does not really solve any problems, as far as connectivity goes.
Yes, there are still other phones out there that are not as fancy as a Google Pixel 2 or an iPhone 8 and they still have a headphone jack. For example, the Wileyfox Swift 2X has a headphone jack in it. Motorola’s Moto G5 has a headphone jack and even Samsung’s Galaxy S7 has a headphone jack in it. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has a headphone jack.
There is another solution to this and that is to carry around a dongle. Let’s say you go out tomorrow and buy a Google Pixel 2. When you get it out the box, there is a dongle which allows you to plug in any headphones you want. Some people out there actually keep that dongle attached to their headphones. Yes it’s not an ideal solution, but it seems like we’ll have to get used to carrying dongles around.
I saw someone who had iPhone with no headphone jack (I am not sure but it was either the iPhone 7, 8 or iPhone X). He simply had the dongle connected to his headphones so he can connect his headphones to the phone. Moreover, it’s essentially the same as a pair of headphones that were made for the iPhone.
Another solution is to invest in a pair of wireless headphones for your smartphone of choice. Indeed this keeps the lightning or USB-C port at the bottom of a smartphone free so you can charge your phone whilst listening. However, there are a few drawbacks to this: first of all, if your wireless headphones run out of battery power, then you have to re-charge the headphones again. On top of that, as far as sound quality goes I believe that wired headphones are better than wireless headphones.
So, let’s answer the question that I asked at the top of the article: Was removing the headphone jack from smartphones a bad idea?
If you are the person who doesn’t mind carrying around a dongle to plug in all types of headphones, then the answer is no. If you are fine with buying headphones that you can only use with the iPhone then the answer is no. Otherwise, if you don’t like the inconvenience it creates of having to remember to carry an adapter around or having to buy a specific pair of headphones, then the answer is yes.
Personally, I think that the answer to this question is yes. It forces people to buy proprietary headphones, it causes more inconvenience. It really doesn’t solve any real problems in my opinion. Now I know what many of you are thinking at this point: “Adi, just don’t buy a mainline smartphone then!”. If I were to buy a new phone, then I would have to think twice before buying a mainline/flagship smartphone with no headphone jack.
Unfortunately, phones with no headphone jack is the way things seem to be going.
What do you think? Was removing the headphone jack from mainline smartphones a bad idea? Let me know!