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Apple shows continued interest in shrinking audio jacks to create thinner devices

post #1 of 46
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Apple's quest to make electronic devices even smaller and thinner continues to be challenged by the size of a standard 3.5mm audio jack, prompting the device maker to explore new methods to shrink the input's footprint, including collapsible ports.

A new patent application from Apple was made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entitled "Low Profile Plug Receptacle." Discovered by AppleInsider, the proposed invention details ways in which devices could accommodate standard-sized headphone plugs while shrinking even further in size.

Apple notes that a standard port for a 3.5mm audio plug must have a thickness that is greater than that, in order to accommodate a plug for an external set of speakers or headphones. In addition to the port, the thickness of the device's housing, like an iPod or iPhone, must be taken into account, and appropriate clearance must be made available for the plug to slide into the device.

"As electronic devices get thinner, the diameter of the audio plug, and corresponding receptacle, have been found to be limiting factors in the reduction of device thickness," the application reads. "While it is possible to develop plugs that are thinner than either the 3.5mm miniature or 2.5mm subminiature audio plugs that could be used with a correspondingly thinner receptacle, smaller connectors are not backward compatible and need to use an adapter for larger jacks."

To resolve this issue, Apple has proposed a number of methods for making audio jacks smaller while still accommodating standard size plugs. One method would use a "flexible housing" that would expand when a 3.5mm plug is inserted into the device. Using a plastic housing, the side of the device would bulge outward to allow a plug to fit.



Other methods could rely on hinges that would extend outward when a set of headphones are plugged in. While the side of the device would be flat when nothing is plugged in, they would pop outward slightly to contain an audio plug when it is inserted.

In another example, the hinges could be ditched entirely, leaving an exposed slit along the side of the device. An audio plug would slightly protrude outward from the device when inserted, as its 3.5mm cylindrical diameter would be thicker than the iPhone, iPad, iPod or other super-thin device.

Disclosed this week by the USPTO, the application was first filed on Nov. 10, 2010. The proposed invention is credited to Stephen Brian Lynch and Anthony Sagala Montevirgen.



Last September, AppleInsider discovered a separate patent application that would use different methods to shrink audio jacks on portable devices like an iPod. That proposed invention would rely on Pogo pins with conductive contacts, replacing cantilever beams that can take up a large amount of space in current audio jacks.

Apple continually strives to make its devices thinner, smaller and lighter, as evidenced by Friday's release of the new iPad 2, with the tablet a third thinner than its predecessor, and thinner than the iPhone 4. Last September, the company also released a redesigned iPod nano that isn't much thicker than its built-in 3.5mm audio jack.
post #2 of 46
I'd love to have an Apple external device for jack plugs ... a gizmo with a standard jack that plugged into my guitars etc. and wirelessly communicated with iPads and Macs. I know these things get lost but add in a 'Find My iJack' to MobileMe and I'd be in heaven

iJack (as in ... I just iJacked my guitar) ... LOL
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post #3 of 46
I don't really see the point. If a device gets thinner than 4mm, then it becomes difficult for humans to handle it because it's too thin/small to grip and use comfortably. Instead of being obsessed with thin, maybe they should focus on other improvements like edge-to-edge displays, or say, including long requested features such as integrated FM tuners, better cameras, SD card slots, you know, useful stuff...
post #4 of 46
The smaller the jack is, the more fragile. I think Apple is better off exploring wireless solutions such as Bluetooth.
post #5 of 46
I wonder if they could just use magnets to hold a new form of jack to the outside of the unit, just like how magsafe works? Or just push wireless headphones.
post #6 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Apple's quest to make electronic devices even smaller and thinner continues to be challenged by the size of a standard 3.5mm audio jack, prompting the device maker to explore new methods to shrink the input's footprint, including collapsible ports.....

This article would be a whole lot more readable if the author would decide on one term and not just use "jack," "plug," "socket," "audio jack," etc. randomly and interchangeably.

I know the Americans have dropped the original way of referring to them as "jack plug" and "jack socket," and now just use "jack" to refer to both the plug and the socket or either in isolation, but even that confusing state of affairs would be preferred to this mix and match mess of conflicting terms.

Pick a term and go with it already.
post #7 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asst. Prof. View Post

Apple really needs to do this. As of now, any crap company can make headphones and other audio devices that plug into Apple's stuff, with the result that the sound is lousy. So people blame Apple.

If they had their own special plug, only good headphones would get licensed, and Steve could be sure that the sound quality is up to snuff.

The patents here and the pogo ones would seem to cover off a whole lot of possibilities for small jacks too. Since hardware patents are clear and easily defensible, it would seem that Apple kind of "owns" the "thinner than a headphone jack" space in mobile devices for the future.
post #8 of 46
Alle should do the same as they did with FaceTime.
Skype had been around for a while, but it was not up to Apple's standards.

They should do the same regarding a new better Bluetooth type device that will work better and stronger.
post #9 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asst. Prof. View Post

Apple really needs to do this. As of now, any crap company can make headphones and other audio devices that plug into Apple's stuff, with the result that the sound is lousy. So people blame Apple.

If they had their own special plug, only good headphones would get licensed, and Steve could be sure that the sound quality is up to snuff.

I love Apple stuff, but to be honest, I think that the white headphones that came with the iPods are kind of crappy, from a sound quality viewpoint. I have high standards when it comes to sound, as that is my gig.
post #10 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by mytdave View Post

I don't really see the point. If a device gets thinner than 4mm, then it becomes difficult for humans to handle it because it's too thin/small to grip and use comfortably. Instead of being obsessed with thin, maybe they should focus on other improvements like edge-to-edge displays, or say, including long requested features such as integrated FM tuners, better cameras, SD card slots, you know, useful stuff...

Ah, clearly you've done lots of usability testing in this area, you must have spent a lot of money on it. Are your results published anywhere? Link?
post #11 of 46
At this stage of the game I'd love to see Apple redo the entire audio line out system to their own standards. Develop a higher fidelity port, and cable, and headphones. Develop their own HD audio solution for automobiles.

I hope Apple has some "hires" that are working on this very issue.
post #12 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

I love Apple stuff, but to be honest, I think that the white headphones that came with the iPods are kind of crappy, from a sound quality viewpoint. I have high standards when it comes to sound, as that is my gig.

Right, and the last thing I want is to be locked to their headphones that keep falling out of my ears. This is a real pain in the gym or mountain biking. I want to choose my own headphones to application thanks, not what apple thinks are great.

The sound quality is not awful but hardly competes with similarly priced products so no thanks to the custom connector!
post #13 of 46
This does not make sense. I think it will result in users damage to the device. How think can it get. The newest iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad are all already thinner than the competition. How thin can they get? Fragility must be taken into account.

Collapsible plastic that bulges out is a bad idea, in my opinion.
post #14 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by diamondgeeza View Post

Right, and the last thing I want is to be locked to their headphones that keep falling out of my ears. This is a real pain in the gym or mountain biking. I want to choose my own headphones to application thanks, not what apple thinks are great.

The sound quality is not awful but hardly competes with similarly priced products so no thanks to the custom connector!

Have you tried the Griffin rubber clip on attachments for Apple Buds? They make the Apple buds very comfy and they don't drop out. Without them I find the standard buds unusable.

http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/earjams
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post #15 of 46
I don't like this trend to ever thinner devices. There's a point where I want something substantial to hold, not a paper thin thinggy that gets blown away by the wind. Exaggeration aside, if Apple is so intent on killing the 3.5mm audio jack, at least INCLUDE a high quality adapter so the rest of us can continue to use our own high(er) quality headphones.
post #16 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asst. Prof. View Post

Apple really needs to do this. As of now, any crap company can make headphones and other audio devices that plug into Apple's stuff, with the result that the sound is lousy. So people blame Apple.

If they had their own special plug, only good headphones would get licensed, and Steve could be sure that the sound quality is up to snuff.

Are you for real? Have you listened to music with the headphones bundled with the iPod range? Like most bundled headphones, they're awful. Their lack of bass response has had a terrible effect on modern pop music.

Apple is in no position to dictate over headphone quality.
post #17 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichL View Post

Are you for real? Have you listened to music with the headphones bundled with the iPod range? Like most bundled headphones, they're awful. Their lack of bass response has had a terrible effect on modern pop music.

Apple is in no position to dictate over headphone quality.

What are you talking about?

The stock apple headphones blow so-called "professional" earphones from Shure out of the water. It's the duty of Apple to protect its customers from such shams.

Plus, if Apple comes out with a proprietary plug, then it can charge its customary 30%, ensuring that freeloaders aren't riding on their coattails.

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post #18 of 46
Come on people READ the article. Apple is NOT talking about a new jack, they are talking about ports that take up less space so people can user standard 3.5mm jacks.

Also stop worrying about devices being too thin. For the most part (iPhone 4 being the exception) devices are thicker in the middle but thin on the edge. The edges are where the 3.5 mm jacks need to go. On the other hand it would be a neat feet of magic to plug standard headphone into a credit card.
post #19 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichL View Post

Are you for real? Have you listened to music with the headphones bundled with the iPod range? Like most bundled headphones, they're awful. Their lack of bass response has had a terrible effect on modern pop music.

Apple is in no position to dictate over headphone quality.

I think you miss the point of Apple's headphones. Not everyone listens to rap and not everyone listens to classical music. Sure, a lot of kids and a lot of audiophiles don't like them because they don't have a subwoofer or because you can't hear the conductor coughing on that recording from the 20's, but most people don't care.

That's who they are made for, "most people."

The whole point of the inventions described here is to find a way for Apple to make their devices smaller precisely so that they don't have to go with a non-standard jack which would leave all the marginal cases (audiophiles and rap lovers), out in the cold.
post #20 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by freddych View Post

What are you talking about?

The stock apple headphones blow so-called "professional" earphones from Shure out of the water. It's the duty of Apple to protect its customers from such shams.

Plus, if Apple comes out with a proprietary plug, then it can charge its customary 30%, ensuring that freeloaders aren't riding on their coattails.

After the fiasco surrounding the original iphone and its recessed headphone jack, Apple know better than to try to create a proprietary audio jack.

Plus, the pogo-plug thing was an idea about how to shrink the 3.5mm jack's pins so that it could be contained in a smaller package; the proposed plug would have still accepted regular headphone plugs.
post #21 of 46
Apple of all companies should know to make something smaller and better they need to get rid of it. For ex. The MacBook air doesn't uave a cd rom drive why ? Because you can download everything fro the app store now on ur laptop. While this move is brave it's also genius ! My suggestion would be to create Bluetooth headphones so you don't really have to worry about an audio port anymore !
post #22 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

I think you miss the point of Apple's headphones. Not everyone listens to rap and not everyone listens to classical music. Sure, a lot of kids and a lot of audiophiles don't like them because they don't have a subwoofer or because you can't hear the conductor coughing on that recording from the 20's, but most people don't care.

That's who they are made for, "most people."

The whole point of the inventions described here is to find a way for Apple to make their devices smaller precisely so that they don't have to go with a non-standard jack which would leave all the marginal cases (audiophiles and rap lovers), out in the cold.

Audio quality aside, Apples earbuds hurt my ears if I have them in more than 5 minutes. I always throw the s#!tty Apple earbuds away as soon as I open a new iPod/Phone. I went with Etymotic and love 'em.
post #23 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by diorfl21 View Post

Apple of all companies should know to make something smaller and better they need to get rid of it. For ex. The MacBook air doesn't uave a cd rom drive why ? Because you can download everything fro the app store now on ur laptop. While this move is brave it's also genius ! My suggestion would be to create Bluetooth headphones so you don't really have to worry about an audio port anymore !

Interesting idea but the reliability is just not there. Also, how would you deal with FAA rules on a plane?

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post #24 of 46
Why don't Apple do away with the built in 3.5mm headphone port alltogether and just supply an adaptor to plug into the dock connector?

That way they could also generate some much-needed extra revenue by charging everybody outside the US a 30% premium for replacement / additional units.
post #25 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by diamondgeeza View Post

Right, and the last thing I want is to be locked to their headphones that keep falling out of my ears. This is a real pain in the gym or mountain biking. I want to choose my own headphones to application thanks, not what apple thinks are great.

The sound quality is not awful but hardly competes with similarly priced products so no thanks to the custom connector!

I agree. I do not want to get locked into Apple licensed products just because Apple doesn't like the standard mini jack. And does the iPhone and other such devices really need to be even thinner than they already are? I really don't need to keep my phone in my wallet.

While this article states that Apple would continue to use a standard jack and it would fold away somehow (huh?), if Apple did want to change the jack, I suppose that would be okay if they made the new jack an open standard with free licensing, so that mini-jack to Apple jack adapters would be readily and inexpensively available, just as I have a bunch of mini to 1/4" phone jack adapters, so I can use my headphones with my stereo system as well.

I don't only use my headphones on Apple devices and I don't want to be limited in that regard (although I couldn't care less about the the white earplugs Apple supplies, because I never use them - they don't even stay in my ears when I'm standing still).

But there's another issue: the smaller you make the device and jack, the more fragile it is likely to be. If Apple were to reduce the size of the jack and/or make it fold in some way that made it more fragile, is it going to be able to support the mini phone jack + adapter + cable of decent headphones?

Furthermore, the jacks and wires used are already too small. It used to be when a plug went bad, you could go to a store like Radio Shack, buy a new plug and solder it on yourself. But in my Sennheiser headphones, the wires are so fragile and small, I could not solder them to a new jack without shorting the jack. Unfortunately, these didn't have a swappable plug-in cable like older models used to have.

I'm also getting a little tired of Apple's obsession with thinness. Thinness is nice and maybe this is unfair, but I picture Apple executives spending tons of meeting time talking about how to make the products thinner and discussing "how cool' the industrial design must be and spending a lot less time discussing how to make the products better, more functional and more productive.
post #26 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by mytdave View Post

I don't really see the point. If a device gets thinner than 4mm, then it becomes difficult for humans to handle it because it's too thin/small to grip and use comfortably. Instead of being obsessed with thin, maybe they should focus on other improvements like edge-to-edge displays, or say, including long requested features such as integrated FM tuners, better cameras, SD card slots, you know, useful stuff...

Edge to edge displays . . . for the iPad? You do know the bezel is there so you can grip the iPad and not start an input. Any iPad user/owner knows that if you inadvertently touch the screen, you are inputting. FM Tuner? Get an App. Better camera? Get a camera. SD Card slot? Get an interface. In fact, get an also-ran table for all of that.

Sheesh, one would think you could do better being a troll.
post #27 of 46
I don't think Apple needs to go much thinner on their mobile iDevices; thick enough to accommodate a 3.5mm plug is thin enough already. If, on the other hand, Apple wanted to reclaim some internal real estate currently occupied by the 3.5mm plug, I'd prefer they cut the cord entirely and use a BT option rather than any of the patented designs featured in this article.

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post #28 of 46
I think apple is heading in the wrong direction with this. What apple should do is do what they did with the mini-display port and build off that like they did thunderbolt. I think they should ditch the 30 pin connection dock and make like the ipod shuffle that uses the mini headphone jack to usb cable. 3.5mm headphone's are so standard theres no reason to shrink them. I would like to see a mini headphone jack support digital 5.1 audio just like the headphone jacks on the MBP and also the fiber optics link would double as data transfer. think about how nice it would be if the next gen ipods used the high bandwidth thunderbolt jacks. keep 3.5mm just make it better.
post #29 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

I think you miss the point of Apple's headphones. Not everyone listens to rap and not everyone listens to classical music. Sure, a lot of kids and a lot of audiophiles don't like them because they don't have a subwoofer or because you can't hear the conductor coughing on that recording from the 20's, but most people don't care.

That's who they are made for, "most people."

Listen to The Beatles with the stock Apple headphones and you miss out on half the record. Mainstream music from the 60s & 70s sounds terrible on them. This isn't about bass junkies and audiophiles, it's about "most people". It's about music producers having to change their music to suit headphones that sound metallic and tinny.

A $20 pair of Sennheiser headphones largely solves the problem. If Apple were to use a proprietary adaptor* then decent headphones would become more expensive and it wouldn't solve the problem that Apple's stock headphones are as bad as any other stock headphones.

* very unlikely but Asst. Prof. suggests they do in order to stop bad headphones being used.
post #30 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanaCameron View Post

I don't think Apple needs to go much thinner on their mobile iDevices; thick enough to accommodate a 3.5mm plug is thin enough already. If, on the other hand, Apple wanted to reclaim some internal real estate currently occupied by the 3.5mm plug, I'd prefer they cut the cord entirely and use a BT option rather than any of the patented designs featured in this article.

You and I were thinking the exact same thing. Why not just cut off the cord?! Why should I be tethered to a cord?
post #31 of 46
You know you are good when a 3.5 millimeter hole is the limiting factor of your device. Don't think I want any flexible housing or having the cable exposed, because flexible will rip and exposed will be water damaged.

Then again we might just move to Bluetooth based headsets that are really easy to pair with any device or something of that nature.
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post #32 of 46
never mind
post #33 of 46
Why not make the jump to wireless headphones using Airplay then you don't need a socket.

They could always make an adapter to accommodate wired headphones.
post #34 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichL View Post

Listen to The Beatles with the stock Apple headphones and you miss out on half the record. Mainstream music from the 60s & 70s sounds terrible on them. This isn't about bass junkies and audiophiles, it's about "most people". It's about music producers having to change their music to suit headphones that sound metallic and tinny. ...

I agree with your facts but disagree with your conclusion here.

First off, as someone that grew up listening to the Beatles on the original vinyl records (bought as they came out!), I can tell you that the audio quality on them is absolutely terrible. The originals were mono, and even going back to the master (mono) tapes doesn't get back quality of sound that isn't there to begin with. Even the stereo recordings made in the 70's were just awful because the equipment just didn't exist to make them any better. All the remastering and digital trickery used in the intervening years for the CD's and the many many re-releases and re-masterings doesn't change that fact. Indeed, they often sound a great deal worse than the sound from the original vinyl records.

These recordings sound terrible because they are terrible recordings.

It most definitely is about "most people" because Apple isn't in the business of making high end audiophile quality gear. My point was that Apple makes a cheap throw in the box headset that works for the vast majority of people buying their stuff. They also use as close to a standard audio jack as they can so as to allow those that want unnaturally overdone bass or ridiculously high quality sound reproduction, to purchase their own headsets that work with the device.

This is, (IMO of course), a very logical "best practice" kind of way to approach things. It gives by far the majority of the consumers exactly what they want, while allowing those that don't like it to use third party alternatives. It also keeps the cost of the product down by not including headsets that cost far more to make and that the majority of their market won't be able to appreciate anyway. Seems like a win-win to me.

My only real problem with their gear is the Apple "in-ear" headphones they sell as a sort of semi-high end alternative are very poorly constructed. They have a much better sound than the ones in the box, and if not for the price would arguably be a better model to include. Unfortunately they literally fall apart after about 6 months and cost approximately a hundred dollars in most markets. so even if you buy a new iPhone or iPod once a year, you have to buy a new headset between 1.5 and twice a year, which I don't feel is very fair. Replacement covers for the drivers also cost about 40 dollars so if you lose one of those little rubber thingies, your screwed for half the price of a new headset. I've also bought two of these sets now that were broken right out of the box (torn drivers, cracked parts etc.)

If there was a single manufacturer out there that made replacement in-ear phones, that didn't look like a dog's breakfast I would switch to them, but for me the design and the aesthetic appeal of the Apple in-ear headset trumps the (slightly) better quality sound from the alternatives. I refuse to walk around with jazzy black and silver earbuds with chrome do-dads and logos all over them just to enjoy slightly better sound when i'm on the subway anyway.
post #35 of 46
Think ahead, people. Someone else was spot on when he talked about plugging headphones into a credit card sized device. As it becomes more and more feasible to make tiny devices, the 3.5mm plug will be an issue. Apple is just locking away some solutions to that problem. I didn't see Steven P. Jobs listed as an inventor, so I don't think "executives" are waiting time on this to the detriment of other initiatives. And I'm sure they will give a hard look at "blue tooth only" as an alternative before they release a product using a funky 3.5mm socket.
post #36 of 46
The next Nano will be a little sleevekind of like the one on the end of your shoelacesthat slips over any headphones plug.

The one after that will be a ring the size of a stunted lentil.
post #37 of 46
I said the 3.5" stereo jack would be to big and a problem for Apple the day I bought my 2nd Gen iPod Shuffle.
post #38 of 46
It makes a nice change to see Apple respecting the standard devices that people already own.

Let's see more of this !

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post #39 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asst. Prof.

Apple really needs to do this. As of now, any crap company can make headphones and other audio devices that plug into Apple's stuff, with the result that the sound is lousy. So people blame Apple.

You've got it completely backwards. Apple is to blame for lousy audio quality. They use the cheapest D/A converters available and they ship those white ear buds that provide sound akin to holding a sea shell to your ear.

The fact that they use standard audio plugs allows people who care to buy better headphones without having to pay an Apple licensing fee on top of that.

Apple's obsession with thin makes the modelling industry look healthy. I don't want my portable devices to be as thin as a credit card. My iPod touch has a much better feel in my hand since I added a case that increases the thickness and width.
post #40 of 46
The iPod Shuffle should eventually just be a set of headphones anyway. Forget having a device to plug in at all.

The iPhones and other iPods should eventually be bracelet like devices with flexible screens. Not using it then slap it around your wrist and it turns into a watch or whatever. There would be no place for a jack so some sort of wireless tech (i.e. Bluetooth) would need to be employed.

Neither of those possibilities are that far fetched. Not sure of the need for this patent other than slapping a suit on a competitor.
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