Tech Opinion: Should Apple Remove the Headphone Jack from the iPhone?

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Luke Cloherty, Editor

 

As reported in our News section last week, the rumour mill is turning wildly with whispers that Apple may remove the 3.5mm headphone jack component from its next mobile device, the iPhone 7.

In terms of shaking up the mobile hardware market, it would be an unprecedented move and ergo something typical of Apple. Personal audio playback through the device would surely be dramatically different and reliant on at least bluetooth technology, thus requiring a battery that could handle the increased requirements put on the device if, say, a user listened to three of four hours of music through wireless headphones per day.

However, these capabilities are rather simple and, of course, long life battery technology is readily and cheaply available in this day and age. The main area of discourse around the potential move has been of an environmental nature, with many voices on the green activist side bemoaning the fact that a wrath of 3.5mm jack headphones and earphones would be surplus to requirements.

Apple’s iPhone is one of the most ubiquitous products on the market, particularly in the West. Its impact on mobile design and functionality since it has been available is perhaps immeasurable and its impact on consumers and the way they use devices has been monumental. It is easy, herein, to sympathise with the environmentalists as no doubt, were Apple to do away with the 3.5mm jack, they would become quite surplus to requirements for those on the move eventually.

Electronic waste is a particularly large ecological and ethical problem and a disquieting side-effect of our rosy Western lives. The coasts of countries such as Ghana are awash with old devices and circuit boards, quite literally dumped there, ruining the landscape and environment. Adding millions of 3.5mm jack headphones to these piles is, understandably, a huge concern for environmentalists. Granted, the iPhone 7 and subsequent models will take time to saturate the market, but, as we’ve seen with other iPhone developments, eventually other manufacturers follow suit with Apple’s innovations.

Beyond any environmental reasons for doing away with the 3.5mm jack (while certainly agreeing with them), I’ve another, simpler reason the company should abandon any plans (if, indeed, there are any). The old rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” should apply. All headphones have this universal jack fitting or at least easy capability with an adapter from 6.35mm to 3.5mm. From recording studios to hi-fi sets to home computers, the jack system is a universal and key adapter for end users.

Of all the ludicrous ideas I’ve heard of over the years to “shake up the music playback market”, this would truly be the most ludicrous. Causing masses of elctronic dumping over the next ten years and boat loads of hassle for consumers and headphone manufacturers, if Apple were to decide to get rid of the jack, I can only think it would serve to cause enough annoyance to decrease sales on the iPhone 7 and make Apple even more unpopular with other electronics manufacturers.


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