Why The Headphone Jack Matters

c. scott brown headphone jack

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I am a longtime Apple hater. My friends are probably sick to death by now of me Apple-bashing, whether the bashing is towards their products, their marketing, their cult-like supporters, or even the late Steve Jobs. What can I say? I really don’t like Apple.

That’s why when Apple announced a year ago that the latest iterations of the iPhone (the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus) would not have headphone jacks, my friends just kind of shrugged when I flipped out about it. “Here’s Scott going off the rails about Apple again, whatever.”

But seriously, people: Apple taking away the headphone jack from the iPhone was a big deal a year ago, and is still a big deal now, especially since they are clearly sticking to their guns; the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, do not come with the ubiquitous port.

But why does the headphone jack matter?

First off, let’s get into a little history. The phone connector plug (the “big” headphone plug that also is used for instrument cables) was invented in the late 1800’s specifically for telephone switchboards. Later on, a mini version was established for smaller devices, and then later an even smaller “sub-mini” connector came along. All of the plugs are based on the same concept: a plug that is shaped in a certain way is inserted into a jack that makes electrical contact with the plug while simultaneously “locking” the plug in place.

This technology has quite literally remained unchanged for over 100 years.

Let’s think about that for a minute. 100 years. What other technology do we use on a daily basis that has remained unchanged for 100 years? Light bulb electrical connections have remained pretty much unchanged for that long, but not much else. When a piece of tech lasts that long, there’s a reason: it’s because it is incredible.

Plugging in a set of headphones is amazingly simple (and so is screwing in a light bulb, naturally). You could teach an infant to do it. And once they are plugged in they just work. They don’t need batteries, they don’t need to be configured in any way at all. You plug them in and you’re done.

That, combined with the fact that the headphone plug and jack technology has no patents connected to it, has made headphone technology one of the most universally utilized inventions of modern history. I challenge you to find someone anywhere in the world who hasn’t plugged in a set of headphones at some point in their lives. It is a technology that is a part of the very fabric of our society.

And Apple, in their egotistical hubris, just decided that it had to go.

Why? That’s what we all were asking on September 7, 2016 when Tim Cook held up the iPhone 7 on stage and pointed out that the headphone jack wasn’t there. What were they thinking?

Cook and the Apple cult were quick to point out that you could still use headphones on the iPhone 7 via a proprietary Lightning connector. You plug the dongle into the charging port of the iPhone, and then plug your wired headphones into the dongle. Of course, this means you can’t charge the phone and listen to music at the same time, not to mention it adds yet another cable into your life (and to our refuse dumps around the world) for absolutely no reason.

It was a monumentally stupid idea, but Cook stood strong. In fact, he called the move “courageous”, as if the headphone jack technology is secretly harming us in some way and Apple was the first company to notice and make a stand.

But what do I care? I’m obviously not buying an iPhone so it shouldn’t bother me at all that Apple is trying to kill this technology, right?

The problem is that Apple sets the bar. As much as I hate them they are one of the most profitable and influential brands in the world, so when they do something other people follow them (even though all Apple does is follow everyone else and then put it into a shinier package, but that’s a whole other article). New phones and devices are announced seemingly every week, and more and more of them are starting to not have headphone jacks, simply because that design choice in an indirect way associates the device with Apple devices.

Even Google, who notoriously mocked Apple for removing the headphone jack, has hinted that the Google Pixel 2 won’t have the port. Why? Do they know something we don’t? Why are two of the biggest companies in the world trying to wean us off 100-year-old technology that is practically the textbook definition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

The only answer we have right now is because Apple did it and emulating Apple is a good business move.

That’s why Apple taking the headphone jack away was such a big deal. They are starting a disturbing trend.

You, dear reader, may not care about any of this. You have a Bluetooth headset you love and are all set. But I urge you to not think about your own usage habits, but of the broader implications of Apple attempting to purge a technology that is free, simple, and ubiquitous. What would you do if a company released a lamp that you could not screw normal light bulbs into? “You can buy an adapter that will make the lamp work with your legacy bulbs,” they’d say. Or what about a guitar that uses a proprietary instrument cable? A car with the gas and brake pedals in different places? A “smart” stove with no burner controls? (Just download the app!). Hopefully, you’d scoff at these ludicrous ideas not only because they are stupid, but because it’s all a ploy to get you to buy more adapters, download more apps, or make something needlessly more complicated.

So why aren’t you scoffing at Apple?

C. Scott Brown

I'm a freelance writer specializing in technology, politics, and social commentary. Visit me at https://cscottbrown.net/

  • reply Bhargav D ,

    Yes, Taking off a 100-year bold headphone jack technology might look weird for us but that’s the best choice Apple had. It’s true that headphone jacks kept their functionality simple, just plugin and they work, but you couldn’t move away from your device with them. They feel way different from the wireless headphones which truly punks the new way into users. Apple believes in the term “Innovation” and stands for it, So it’s not weird anymore when they pull-off headphone jack or most recently the Power Brick.

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