Apple made waves back in 2016 when it completely ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack on its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models; the company had decided that the time for wired connections had finally passed and that a tangle-free future was to be enjoyed by all. Predictably, there were cries of dissent from within the industry, and companies like Samsung and OnePlus proudly retained the jack in their flagship devices, using it as yet another stick with which to beat Apple. “We won’t abandon your beloved wired connection,” was the message – and for a while, it worked.
However, the stay of execution for the 3.5mm audio socket has finally ended. Last week, Apple lifted the lid on its latest iPhones, none of which come with a headphone jack. That was totally expected of course – Apple has been socket-free since the aforementioned iPhone 7 – but the fact that it has now culled the iPhone SE and iPhone 6S, the last two phones it had in production which featured an audio socket, means that the company’s smartphones are now totally focused on a wireless audio world..
Back in 2016, many doubted that the mobile sector would follow Apple’s lead on this matter, and while that was true to a degree, the tide has turned since then. Google’s Pixel 2 ditched the 3.5mm socket last year, and manufacturers like Xiaomi and Huawei have also removed it from their most recent top-tier devices. It was recently confirmed that the upcoming OnePlus 6 successor will also lose the socket, although it will offer USB Type-C headphones to make this omission a little easier to stomach. OnePlus’ co-founder Carl Pei no doubt speaks for many in the smartphone sector when justifying this change – removing the jack, he claims, means more space inside the handset for other components, such as a larger battery.
Out of the Android arena’s leading lights, only Samsung and LG remain committed to the 3.5mm socket cause, and the former has even gone as far as to highlight the fact that its phones continue to use the wired connection in its promotional material. The thing is, once Apple starts pushing the industry in a certain direction, everyone else tends to follow suit. Sales of Bluetooth headphones are rising all the time, and consumers clearly see the benefit of having a cable-free audio option, even if that means sacrificing some of the quality; as any seasoned audiophile will tell you, a wired connection is still the best way to listen to your music – but for most, Bluetooth is perfectly fine.
I probably joined the wireless revolution later than most, and it was all because of the iPhone 7. I found the bundled USB Type-C adapter too fiddly to use, so I invested in a pair of relatively cheap in-ear Bluetooth headphones. I’ve since upgraded to a larger pair, and I have to admit, it’s hard to even conceive going back to the old wired connection. I never realised how much of a pain it was being tethered to your phone – which is usually tucked away in a pocket – until I went wireless. Now, I don’t have to worry about getting tangled up every time I want to check an email or send a text, although I do have to make sure my cans are fully charged every time I leave the house, which is perhaps the only genuine headache Bluetooth headphones bring with them.
I have to admit I felt a little bit of resentment about having to switch from wired to wireless headphones when the iPhone 7 came out, but I’ve since upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S9+ – which has a 3.5mm socket, lest we forget – and yet the mere notion of using an old-fashioned pair of cable-based cans fills me with a feeling very close to disgust. I may not have been a willing convert, but I’m a convert all the same – and that may well be the strongest indication yet that Apple’s way is the industry’s way. I love the fact that my Samsung phone has the ability to accept a wired connection, but I’ve not used it once in the entire time I’ve owned the device, which speaks volumes. The 3.5mm socket is now reduced to a convenience we never use; a spec on a sheet which might tempt you to buy a phone, but serves little purpose in the grand scheme of things.
As much as Apple is criticised for forcing consumers down a set path (and let’s be honest, part of the reason for removing the headphone socket on the iPhone 7 was to sell Apple AirPods and Beats wireless headphones) but there are so many elements which Apple has popularised that have been taken up by the mobile sector en masse; big-screen phone design, the smartphone app store, fingerprint scanning for security, even the accursed screen notch – all of these things we have Apple to thank for, and now you can add ‘wireless audio’ to the list, too.
It makes you wonder what other non-Apple elements of modern phone design will fall by the wayside; while the uptake has been slower, more and more Android phone-makers are adopting advanced face-scanning 3D camera technology on their phones, which could hint that the fingerprint scanner’s days are also numbered. At the moment, the lack of fingerprint ID on the iPhone is perhaps the single biggest differentiator between Apple’s products and those of Samsung, LG, Xiaomi and Huawei; I’d personally hate to see this element vanish from our phones, but then again, that’s exactly how I felt about the headphone jack – until I was forced to live in a world without it.