The Real Reason Apple Wants to Kill the Audio Jack
"Do you want to know what else it comes with," a Samsung exec joked at the Galaxy Note 7 announcement. "An audio jack. Just saying."
The remark was clearly a knock at rumors Apple may ditch the audio jack on future iPhones. Apple has not made any announcements, but it begs the question: Is there some method to this (largely unpopular) madness?
As an Apple follower for three decades, I've come to understand that everything it does has some strategic goal in mind, and in some cases aims to drive broad industry innovation. My sense is that both of these impulses are in play when it comes to the headphone jack.
From a historical perspective, Apple has always had a contrarian streak. It started with the design of the Mac, an iconic device that introduced the mouse and GUI. But it was another hardware change that caused the biggest uproar: Switching from a 5.25-inch floppy disk to a 3.5-inch rotating storage medium in a hard shell. That change produced a venomous response from PC insiders at the time. Yet, this one move by Apple drove the entire PC industry to drop floppy drives and move to the 3.5-inch storage format.
In 1989, Apple shocked the industry again by creating a Mac with a built-in CD-ROM drive. Apple saw the value of mixed media, and needed a new medium for storage that went well beyond what it could get on a 3.5-inch disk. Again, industry vets mocked Cupertino, but the move ushered in the era of multimedia and changed the way we used PCs as a creation and communication tool. Apple took similar gambles when it swapped square, gray PCs for candy-colored iMacs.
These and other lessons from Apple's past indicate that Apple's big gambles often pay off and force the rest of the industry in a new direction.
I suspect this is the case with the audio jack. Dropping it could drive the industry closer to the overall vision of wireless headsets, charging and communications. I myself have not used a wired headset for two years. When I go for my walks, I use a Bose Bluetooth over-the-ears wireless headset. When taking calls on my iPhone, I use an in-ear Bluetooth headset. In my car, my iPhone connects to the wireless system in the car's audio system. I have dozens of wired headsets and earphones that still have a 3.5mm audio jack, but all are sitting idle in drawers around the house and office.
Also, the price of wireless headsets has come down rapidly. You can get a pretty good quality Bluetooth headset well under $100 now. And if Apple makes this move, it would most likely ship a Lightning adaptor for a 3.5mm audio option, or at the very least, sell one dirt cheap for a time as it did when it moved from the old iPhone connecter to the Lightning connector.
Ultimately, a hands-free wireless audio and charging world is the future, and I believe Apple wants to push the industry in that direction sooner than later. And despite its jabs earlier this month, Samsung is likely to quickly follow suit.