So about that headphone jack getting yoinked off the iPhone 7

There’s a lot of buzz going around about the iPhone 7 losing the headphone jack, as we’ve finally learned will indeed be happening. And, since I’m a long-running user of Apple devices and computers and software, this is naturally of interest to me. As I’ve described on Facebook and elsewhere, I’m finding myself of two minds about the whole thing. So here are some thoughts bouncing around through my head about this.

One: I made the jump to a set of Bluetooth-based headphones some time ago. I did this partly due to recurring irritation problems in my ear (which, I have since learned, may well be influenced by my deviated septum; more on this in another post), but it’s also had the benefit of improved audio quality when I listen to things on my commutes. I’ve also become a fan of not having to worry about cords, even though the headphones I’m using aren’t entirely properly fitted to my ginormous head, even when I’ve got them extended out as far as the headband will let them go. It’s still overall a win for me, and future headphones I purchase are indeed likely to be wireless in some way or another.

That said, I’m eying the price on the new airbuds askance. They’re significantly more expensive than what I paid for the Jabra headphones I’m using now, so I would have to be convinced that the audio quality would be worth the step up in price. And I’m also not convinced that I wouldn’t lose the buds on a regular basis, or that they’d stay securely in my ears. I’ve had a history of the wired earbuds regularly falling out of my ears, and at least with the wired kind, they’re still attached to my phone. One of those wireless airbuds falls out somewhere on my commute, that’s got “likelihood of my stepping on the damn thing as I’m trying to look for where it fell” written all over it. Or, if I’ve got ’em tucked in my backpack’s side pocket along with the phone, the fact that they’re wireless means that if one or both of them fell out while I wasn’t listening to music–as is possible given that on a bus commute, I often wind up turning my backpack sideways in my lap–means the chances of me losing one or both is non-zero. I’m not willing to risk that for something that’d ding me over $150 per purchase.

And while I do have some level of appreciation for audio quality, I’m not quite enough of an audiophile to really care about it, certainly not to the extent of having “risk of losing airbuds” outweighing price.

Two: Other than my commutes, the times I’m most likely to listen to things on my phone are when Dara and I take road trips. We’re very, very fond of listening to Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures when we go to Canada, or down to Portland for Orycon. Before we upgraded to our current car (the 2015 Honda Fit), we had to plug my phone into the car’s dashboard via an adapter that talked to the cigarette lighter.

Now that we’re driving the Raptor, though, we have several USB jacks at our disposal. So the usual Apple lightning-to-USB cord works just dandy for having the phone talking to the car’s sound system. And I don’t even really need the cord, either, since the car’s systems also talk Bluetooth.

So lack of a headphone jack won’t hurt me there, either.

Three: Since I do use my phone on a regular basis to process Square sales at conventions, the ability for my older swipe-based reader to talk to the headphone jack is kinda not optional. I do have one of the shiny newer readers that read chip-based cards and which talk to the phone via Bluetooth–but those do not actually deal with older, non-chip-based cards. And not everybody has chip-based cards yet, so it’s not like I can get rid of the magstripe reader.

That said, word has it that the magstripe readers will work with the new adapter for the iPhone 7. Which is nice, I suppose. But given that I’ve had experience having swipes not take with the reader plugged directly into the headphone jack, I’m a bit dubious about how reliable trying to do it via an adapter and the lightning port will be. I’ll be interested in further reports on this.

Four: Dara shared with me some things she saw covered in Buzzfeed’s article about this, and I have to admit I’m of two minds about this. From my tech-inclined geek perspective, “freeing up the jack space allows for improvements in battery life, camera functionality, and water resistance” makes sense.

On the other hand, I’m also a fan of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. And I always have to be a little suspicious of “we’re changing this thing you’ve been using for years because PROGRESS!” In no small part because I can’t help but feel like a lot of tech “innovations” ultimately don’t improve things much for my day to day experience. Like, say, all the browsers deciding we don’t actually need a menu. Or, all the major tech companies deciding we don’t need RSS. (Why yes, I AM still cranky about the axing of Google Reader, why do you ask?)

Now, apparently, traditional headphone jacks are the latest thing that the Tech Powers That Be have decided are outdated. But so far, the arguments provided as to why the future of audio is wireless just aren’t quite cutting it yet with me. And there are a couple of reasons for this.

  1. While I’m certainly not immune to the lure of shiny new technology (as of this writing, I AM currently on my third iPhone in my history of smartphone owning), I also am not a fan of how often I’ve had to replace my headphones. I have gone through a whole hell of a lot of earbuds, because the damn things inevitably wear out. One side or the other dies, and oh hey look I gotta go buy a new pair of earbuds now! And I have no real choice but to throw away the old, now useless pair.

    That was another contributing factor to my switching to the Bluetooth headphones–at least with those, I can hopefully get a lot longer lifespan out of them. And therefore hopefully contribute less to the ongoing electronic waste we’re all building up. I’m going to use this pair of headphones for as long as they’ll last. Because…

  2. …while I am very grateful to have a well-paying day job that lets me afford buying shiny new technology when I want it, I do come out of a background where that wasn’t the case. In my family history, plunking down several hundred dollars for a phone in general would have been absolutely out of the question, without months and possibly years of saving. And when you throw in another $150+ just to buy headphones to listen to music on the phone in question, that’s just a whole extra pile of “yeah no I gotta spend this money on food and rent and gas, thanks”.

I get that Apple’s target demographic is people like me who can afford to buy shiny new toys every so often. But we aren’t everybody. And I’m not convinced that the future of audio is truly wireless, not when there are still a lot of people for whom buying a smartphone at all is a significant hit to the budget. If you’re in that income bracket, you will be way more likely to buy a pair of wired earbuds than you will a fancy wireless pair of pods that you’ll be at risk of losing. The Buzzfeed article mentions cost-benefit analysis; that’s exactly what happens when you’ve only got so much income to spare, and you have to decide what you can afford.

So Apple, if you really want to convince me that wireless is the future of audio, how about making some wireless headphones that aren’t so freggin’ expensive? Because otherwise, your wireless audio future will be shutting out a whole helluva lot of people.

Five: As Dara has pointed out over on her post today, the iPad apparently has no immediate future of losing its headphone jack. Which means we’ll have an potentially interesting split of functionality. Particularly for users like me who have both an iPhone and an iPad, for whom it’ll make little sense to have one pair of headphones to talk to one thing, and a different pair to talk to another.

In short, yeah, I’m of two minds about all of this. For me, it’s all pretty theoretical regardless; my iPhone 6 is still pretty new and perfectly functional, so I will not be justifying a phone upgrade for at least a few more years. (This being my balance between ‘how much I like shiny new tech’ and ‘general practicality and frugality thanks to my history’.) By the time I am ready to upgrade to a newer phone, we’ll probably be on the iPhone 8 or even 9.

But I’ll be keeping an eye on how all this shakes out. It will influence my decision, ultimately, as to what kind of phone I’ll want by the time I’m ready to upgrade phones again. I’ve seen reports that some Android phones are losing their headphone jacks too, so by then, I may not even be able to have that be a dealbreaker. We’ll just have to see whether Apple’s gamble will pay off.

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