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Lightning headphones could allow Apple to make slimmer iPhones by ditching 3.5mm headphone jack

post #1 of 203
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A new program designed to allow third-party manufacturers to build headphones that would connect to an iOS device via the Lightning port, rather than the legacy 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, could mean that the latter's days in Apple's supply chain are numbered.

The headphone jack is the thickest component of the iPhone 5s. | Image courtesy iFixit
The headphone jack is the thickest component of the iPhone 5s. | Image courtesy iFixit


Apple executives have never been afraid to pull the trigger on controversial choices to break from legacy technologies. The original iMac kickstarted the adoption of USB at the expense of ADB and the floppy drive; the MacBook Air made it acceptable to drop optical drives and, later, spinning hard disks.

Each of those decisions was made under the rubric of simplicity and svelteness. Fewer, smaller, faster ports give Jony Ive and company more room to experiment with radical designs and users gain a more tightly-integrated ecosystem.

Following their announcement of a new headphone module for the all-digital Lightning connector at WWDC, Apple could now be on the verge of killing perhaps the most legacy of legacy technologies: the analog audio jack.


Slide from Apple's WWDC session on accessories.


Lightning already has blood on its contacts. When Apple ditched the old 30-pin dock connector -- itself made ubiquitous by the blockbuster success of the iPod and iPhone -- in favor of its digital successor, the company orphaned millions of dock connector-equipped accessories almost overnight.

An oil tanker's worth of virtual ink was spilled debating the wisdom of that move, and any encroachment on the 3.5-millimeter audio jack is sure to bring an even more massive backlash. Why, then, would Apple even consider it?

For one, it could make headphones smarter. A bidirectional digital link with Apple's uber-powerful handheld computers could make for better noise cancellation, improved audio quality, and even turn them into biometric sensors.

Headphones could also be lighter, drawing power from an iPhone instead of an internal battery. Or, if they do pack their own battery, they could be configured as auxiliary power units and eliminate the need for bulky battery cases.

The headphone jack, outlined in red, takes up significant internal volume. | Source: iFixit
The headphone jack, outlined in red, takes up significant internal volume. | Source: iFixit


The real victory, though, would come in hardware design. Because of the manner in which connectors are made, designers must account for a seating area around the jack, not just the jack itself.

In the case of the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, Apple put this seating area at around 6 millimeters. Even the controversially minimalistic connector on Apple's own EarPods comes in at around 5 millimeters, a full millimeter thicker than the first-generation Lightning connector -- and the company promised yet smaller Lightning form factors at WWDC.

The entire iPhone 5s, in comparison, is just 7.1 millimeters thick.

The headphone jack also consumes significant internal volume. As devices grow larger, so too do their power requirements, which means companies must fit larger batteries to maintain runtime. Apple is already said to have run into trouble making batteries thin enough for its next-generation iPhone, and the precious cubic millimeters saved by removing the headphone jack could be put to use housing other components to make way for the battery.

A comparison of the relative thickness of the headphone and Lightning jacks | Source: iFixit
A comparison of the relative thickness of the headphone and Lightning jacks | Source: iFixit


"Best of all, for the engineering team to make a product like this, it's 80 percent smaller," Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said when introducing the Lightning connector alongside the iPhone 5. "It's a huge difference in the world's thinnest smartphone."

With the exception of the iPhone 3G, Apple has traditionally unveiled an all-new iPhone design every two years. The handset is widely expected to receive its latest makeover -- with 3.5 millimeter jack in tow -- this fall, with the next refresh due in 2016 if the schedule holds. That would give developers and accessory makers as long as two full years to prepare for a transition.

If Apple does choose to lose the headphone jack in favor of the Lightning connector, it's likely to be the most contentious decision they've ever made. Competitors will surely excoriate Apple in the press, though Apple might be able to deflect some of the hostility in the marketplace by strategically deploying Lightning headphones through its new $3 billion Beats subsidiary.

In the end, it's still all about simplicity and svelteness.
post #2 of 203
Uhhh ohh heads are going to explode.
post #3 of 203
Oh god. Before long I'm going to have to repurpose a drawer specifically for Apple adapters.
post #4 of 203
Bad idea and not feasible. Lightening is still too expensive, many people have incompatible headphones they paid a lot of money for, Lightening has gained virtually no traction in the marketplace, the plugs fall out at the slightest jarring...I could go on and on. This is one of those "upgrades" Apple should not try to cram down our throats.
post #5 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


The headphone jack, outlined in orange, takes up significant internal volume. | Source: iFixit
The headphone jack, outlined in orange, takes up significant internal volume. | Source: iFixit
.

Outlined in orange? Darn, the jack is already so small we can't even see it¡

Kidding aside, I think this is great news. The possibilities are vast, and Apple gets to keep on making the iPhone even thinner. And with the current Broadcom chip which has an FM radio on board they may just add an antenna to their headphones and 3rd party can follow that lead. Good news.
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post #6 of 203

Apple needs to focus some attention on eliminating headphone wires altogether, although the lightning headphone jack is a step in the right direction.

post #7 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by launfall View Post

?..the plugs fall out at the slightest jarring...

Wait, what?
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post #8 of 203
I hope the charging cable will provide a passthrough because many times I like to charge the phone while listening to music at my desk.
post #9 of 203
No this is cool, hate the plug. But how will they differentiate the ports? Or does this mean no simultaneous charging and headphone use? I would prefer a mini MagSafe type port.
post #10 of 203
bluetooth?
post #11 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by jmgregory1 View Post
 

Apple needs to focus some attention on eliminating headphone wires altogether, although the lightning headphone jack is a step in the right direction.

Bluetooth works, yes?

post #12 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


If Apple does choose to lose the headphone jack in favor of the Lightning connector, it's likely to be the most contentious decision ever made by the company. 

Hmm, I dunno about that. I think ousting Jobs in 1985 might be a contender for that title.

post #13 of 203

Oh, I just have to reply....  Get rid of it, but two things to consider before doing so.

 

1. I almost always have my phone plugged in with headphones on.  If I have wireless charging, then I support this.  If I have headphones that aren't bulky and sounds great, again I support this.

2. I'm certain there would be an adapter that would be offered for legacy headphones.

 

I say go for it.

post #14 of 203

Every time I see 'slimmer' for the iPhone, I also think "more difficult to put great optics into the camera'. 

post #15 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by launfall View Post

Bad idea and not feasible. Lightening is still too expensive, many people have incompatible headphones they paid a lot of money for, Lightening has gained virtually no traction in the marketplace, the plugs fall out at the slightest jarring...I could go on and on. This is one of those "upgrades" Apple should not try to cram down our throats.

I only agree with you because of the headphones we already have. I Grado phones which cost several hundred bucks, and wouldn't want to have to stop using them. But I would like to see this as an addition. And, by the way, Lightning plugs don't fall out all that easily. Often, a pull that will remove it, will break the small headphone plug in the socket.
post #16 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by jmgregory1 View Post
 

Apple needs to focus some attention on eliminating headphone wires altogether, although the lightning headphone jack is a step in the right direction.

Aren't there Bluetooth headphones presently?

 

The problem I see with anything wireless is the potential for further deminishing of the fidelity of the sound.... though it would be tempting to get rid of that tether.

post #17 of 203
@jmgregory1: bluetooth headphones?
post #18 of 203

Could this be part of the reason why Apple purchased Beats? And could this already be in the works for iPhone 6? hmmmm

post #19 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by g4towerman View Post

No this is cool, hate the plug. But how will they differentiate the ports? Or does this mean no simultaneous charging and headphone use? I would prefer a mini MagSafe type port.

It would use the same port, requiring pass-through adapters if you want to listen a charge at the same time. There would be no 2nd Lightning port.

post #20 of 203
The acquisition of beats headphones is beginning to make perfect sense. If they're moving to the lightning connector exclusively, then they'll need a line of headphones that's immediately compatible with the lightning connector.
post #21 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by launfall View Post

Bad idea and not feasible. Lightening is still too expensive, many people have incompatible headphones they paid a lot of money for, Lightening has gained virtually no traction in the marketplace, the plugs fall out at the slightest jarring...I could go on and on. This is one of those "upgrades" Apple should not try to cram down our throats.

1) There is nothing preventing a simple adapter being used for 3.5mm headphones to work.

2) In what way is the Lightning connector expensive? In what way has it not gained traction in the marketplace? It sounds like you're confusing Thunderbolt with Lightning.

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post #22 of 203
The best sounding headphones I ever owned was a gaming/voip type headset that included a mic. It connected to my Mac by USB. The sound was simply amazing. The headset itself was only around $50 but the sound it gave easily rivaled those $300 headsets to my ears. They were very large and heavy but also very comfortable for very extended use. Impractical to use outside of a home though. No reason why lightning would not also deliver that crisp and clean sound as well. I really don't use headphones very much anymore. I bought a stereo bluetooth set for the beach and they performed very well but I just don't like to wear any headphones for very long. I recently bought a bluetooth speaker that is very loud and gives a really good sound and now prefer to use this instead at the beach or pool. I think lightning headphones are a great option as long as they continue to also offer the traditional port at least for a few more years to give people time to transition. I doubt people that paid several hundred dollars for headphones would be too happy if they suddenly became obsolete. Unless Apple could also make a 3.5>lightning adapter and if that is possible they could remove the 3.5mm port immediately.

Maybe I am in the minority but I don't see the need to continually go thinner. If Apple made the next iPhone 1mm thicker and explained that extra thickness allowed for a larger battery and an extra 2 or 3 hours of battery life I would be very pleased.
Edited by gwmac - 6/6/14 at 9:07am

 

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post #23 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by GQB View Post
 

It would use the same port, requiring pass-through adapters if you want to listen a charge at the same time. There would be no 2nd Lightning port.

Correct, it would be similar to the existing Lightning Digital AV Adapter with a pass-through Lightning port for charging.

post #24 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by launfall View Post

Bad idea and not feasible. Lightening is still too expensive, many people have incompatible headphones they paid a lot of money for, Lightening has gained virtually no traction in the marketplace, the plugs fall out at the slightest jarring...I could go on and on. This is one of those "upgrades" Apple should not try to cram down our throats.

I don't believe for a second Apple has any intention of implementing this. This article is speculative fiction.

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post #25 of 203

Allowing the lightning connector to serve as a headphone jack is a neat trick for a tiny device that may not have room for 2 connectors.  It doesn't necessarily follow that larger devices like phones and tablets and laptops that do have room would dump the standard phone jack.

 

Apple sometimes takes bold leaps that other companies would dream of.  They often turn out to be excellent moves (such as dropping floppy disks, dropping optical drives, and changing to the lightning connector).  So I'm inclined to say "There is no way that Apple would do this, ... so they just might."  I, for one, think the lightning connector is great and a huge improvement over the original (and way, way better than any of those little USB options).

post #26 of 203

I'd rather have mag-loc headphone cables.

post #27 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by gwmac View Post

...Unless Apple could also make a 3.5>lightning adaptor....

 

If they do this, I have no doubt they would include an adaptor (and probably charge $19 or even $29 for the thing).

post #28 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

1) There is nothing preventing a simple adapter being used for 3.5mm headphones to work.

But first it needs to exist. Please point us to one. :)

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

2) In what way is the Lightning connector expensive? In what way has it not gained traction in the marketplace? It sounds like you're confusing Thunderbolt with Lightning.

There are licensing fees for third-party accessory manufacturers, some of whom do not wish to pay to get access to the approved Lightning chip. So they create knockoff adapters without the Apple approved chip which leads to a pile of Lightning adapters that do not have full functionality (often in direct contrast to advertised capabilities) and thus low scores in product reviews (like Amazon.com).

 

I've purchased four inexpensive Lightning adapters from a nearby bricks-and-mortar store, all of which claimed both charging and data syncing compatibility. Only one worked, and it still throws an annoying "This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably with this iPhone" notification every time I plug it in, even though it actually does work. The other three I returned.

 

Note that one cannot disable this alert message.

post #29 of 203

Walk into the store and look at how many clock radios and sound docks don't have a lightning connector. At one point everything had a iPod dock connector. The licensing of the dock connector was a good source of revenue for Apple. Going to the lighting connector for audio would make every headphone manufacturer license the connector or knock it off and get sued. I think Apple is just exploring revenue options. If it provides better sound in the long run I'm for it. And I'm sure third party manufacturers would be for it too. I would need to re-buy or adapt most connectors I have. There's a good revenue stream there for third parties too. Plus just like the dock connector you go back to Apple compatible only products. 

post #30 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post
 

 

If they do this, I have no doubt they would include an adaptor (and probably charge $19 or even $29 for the thing).

 

I think they would likely include an adapter for free with an iPhone or iPod. This would be a really major change and including a free adapter would help mitigate the criticism. I doubt an adapter would cost very much since you are only carrying audio which is a lot less complicated than a video or data signal. Perhaps one other reason for this move is that Apple eventually wants to make a waterproof iPhone and the headphone jack is a hard one to protect from water. Since Apple controls lightning, maybe they already have a plan to protect that port from water. Could this be the real reason why they want to transition to lightning? 

 

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post #31 of 203
Just make a lightning to headphone jack adapter and u can use all ur current headphones. It won't be THAT bad.
post #32 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by gwmac View Post
 

 

I think they would likely include an adapter for free with an iPhone or iPod. This would be a really major change and including a free adapter would help mitigate the criticism. I doubt an adapter would cost very much since you are only carrying audio which is a lot less complicated than a video or data signal. Perhaps one other reason for this move is that Apple eventually wants to make a waterproof iPhone and the headphone jack is a hard one to protect from water. Since Apple controls lightning, maybe they already have a plan to protect that port from water. Could this be the real reason why they want to transition to lightning? 

They didn't, that I recall, include a free 30 pin to lightning adapter when they made that change so I'm doubtful.

post #33 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post


Outlined in orange? Darn, the jack is already so small we can't even see it¡

Kidding aside, I think this is great news. The possibilities are vast, and Apple gets to keep on making the iPhone even thinner. And with the current Broadcom chip which has an FM radio on board they may just add an antenna to their headphones and 3rd party can follow that lead. Good news.

I think the first picture

shows the millimeter or so that can be 'recovered' If you remove the 3.5mm receptacle.  on an 7.6 mm device... that's serious (15% thinner) space.   

 

I'm not certain that slimmer is better (thinking of the iPhone's number 2 use... camera and number 3 concern... battery life), but it definitely allows that option to be pursued.  And given how people orgasmed over the size/weight changes between the 4s and the 5 (20% thinner),  making an iPhone 6 that is both thinner and lighter than the 5s, with a larger screen and better battery life...  yet another major differentiator.   Samsung is still thicker than the 5s, and this would be even more...

 

I'm not that keen on losing the adaptor... I could see apple 'giving away' a dongle adaptor on the iPhone 6 line,  to help smooth the transition (It's interesting to note they moved the 3.5mm 2 years ago ... to get us used to the location?)

post #34 of 203
Quote:
Originally Posted by daveinpublic View Post

Just make a lightning to headphone jack adapter and u can use all ur current headphones. It won't be THAT bad.

And Apple have already done something similar to this with the FM radio remote, which connected to iPods via the Dock connector, and had a 3.5mm pass-through to headphones.

 

 

 

If Apple made a similar dongle with Lightning connector on one end, and headphone clicker/microphone and a 3.5mm port on the other, then you get the best of all (wired) worlds.  They'd definitely need to package one with every iPhone though, not sell it as an extra dongle.

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post #35 of 203

Yeah, this. Do it. BT and or lightning are way more than sufficient. It's time. And I hate those damn fool earbuds, I only use in emergencies.

 

Imagine the new 1984 commercial with hammer girl wearing wireless earphones and an iPod to replace the reimagined one with the iconic earbud wires. "{Ditching the 3.5" connector will make o]ur enemies ... talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We. Shall. Prevail."

post #36 of 203
I'm not too worried as there will certainly be vendors who provide alternative ways to accomplish what you want. For example, there are bluetooth headphone adapters available now where you can plug your 3.5" headphones and listen to your [BT device]. Or, someone will bring to market a lightning to 3.5" adapter for those who prefer it. Hopefully this would force Apple to be a bit more amenable to working with 3rd party portable DAC/Amp producers as well as they haven't been since the lightning connector was initially announced.

The market will eventually provide everything people are clamoring about with regards to this switch.
post #37 of 203
I would say this and/or Bluetooth-only earbuds might well be under long-term consideration as an unlikely option they are keeping in mind for some possible future, but nothing more, and I don't think it will happen until Bluetooth (more likely than Lightning) is far more entrenched, available from many sources, reliable, and quality-sounding than it is now.

Remember that this company "takes up space" with a physical mute switch that most other companies fail to provide. They ARE willing to take up space with things people want!

And people want a lot of choice in headphones. And Apple knows it: they have a whole table of precious footage devoted to them in their stores.

Plus, the old wired connection saves Apple money on bundling their earbuds.

Plus, people wire their devices to car stereos and home entertainment systems using the headphone jack.

Plus, some people integrate their devices into basic music production and DJ-type uses via that jack.

CONCLUSION:

We will see high-end Lightning headphone options, and they may be great, but they will NOT be forced on us!

No need to panic.
post #38 of 203

How can you enjoy the full internet experience without a 3.5 mm plug? 

 

/s

post #39 of 203

lol - time to buy stock in some company that will make Lightning-to-3.5 standard jack adapters.

 

Although for Apple, makes total sense as far as their quest to simplify and slim down on weight and cost, and free up internal real estate.

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post #40 of 203

If Apple goes ahead with this, without have an adapter of some sort, it would be a terrible mistake.

It would alienate most Audiophiles, The best headphone out their need an Amp to power them, (right now) a iPhone its self cant power the best headphones, you can get mini amps that use 3.5mm headphone jack (Standard) Personally id have to give the lightning ones a try, its still seems like a terrible idea.
This would be a quick & easy way to kill iPod sales :p
The tech world still bitchs about how apple don't use micro usb & made lightning instead, despite the fact that lightning is far far better than micro usb, they still manage to complain about it, ive already seen videos on youtube about this, its kicking up so much anti apple hate. 

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