Rumors that Apple plans to ditch the headphone jack have been doing the rounds for a number of years. The tech giant’s endless quest for a thinner device, and a propensity for getting rid of functions previously thought untouchable, like the floppy disc and the CD drive, meant that losing something so antiquated was really just a matter of time. Earlier this month, it seems the inevitable finally happened. A pair of sources from within Apple’s Chinese supply chain - Anzhou and WeiFeng - both independently confirmed that Apple will ditch the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, to replace it with the Lightning port.
The 3.5mm headphone jack has been the standard since 1878. It was originally designed for telephone switchboards. Its removal makes sense. It is outdated, built for a different technological age, and given new wireless technologies, it no longer feels relevant. Its loss will undoubtedly cause grumblings, as the first iMac did when it was unveiled without a floppy-disk drive back in 1998, but will it be these be enough to harm iPhone 7 sales?
In the past, Apple’s tactic has always been to add in a benefit when it takes something away. In this case, they’re hoping that high res audio will be enough to compensate consumers. Lightning is a superior connector compared to the existing 3.5 mm audio jack in the iPhone because it's digital, which allows iPhone’s software designers to tweak how the headphones sound, in the same way that an equalizer works. It will also mean that Apple can bring in both the bigger battery they dearly need, and the thinner design they crave. It is also highly likely that not having the 3.5mm jack will mean the iPhone 7 will be completely waterproof.
Lightning also has the greater power delivery, as well as a digital connection that can be programmed to give specific functionality based on the time, location, etc whenever they are connected.
The advantages for Apple are also great. It enables them to take greater control over how audio is consumed on all its devices. Lightning is a proprietary standard, which means that Apple is able to charge all headphone makers licensing fees. But will people be willing to accept the trade off? It is a huge gamble. Lightning headphones are highly expensive bits of kit, with few, if any, coming in below $100 at present. Furthermore, whenever Apple make a change, there is a degree of suspicion among consumers that comes from being forced deeper into Apple’s ecosystem. However, given its past success in getting rid of anything it deems surplus to requirements on its devices, they will be confident that history will repeat itself.