The Stochastic Game
Ramblings of General Geekery

Apple Headphones

The “Apple removing the headphone jack plug” story is warming up again.

The 2 best arguments against removing the jack plug in favor of a digital port, in my opinion, have been put forward by Patel and Streza in the previously linked articles:

  • Opportunities for audio DRM.
  • Necessity to move the DAC and amp into the headphones – which will most probably sound worse than before on average, or raise the price of headphones in general.

I can add one more that I haven’t seen yet:

  • A shared connector like Lightning or USB (as opposed to a port dedicated for headphones) means a connector that will change in a few years. Some of us buy expensive headphones that we expect to last for 10 or 20 years – well below the life expectancy of those digital ports.

The interesting thing though is that pro-removal people often make a weird logical leap. For instance, Gruber:

Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when?

He does his best to compare the jack plug to floppy disk drives, and how eventually it will all work out and Apple will once again be proven right in their forward thinking awesomeness… but the floppy disk drives weren’t replaced with a proprietary Apple device. They were replaced with USB sticks and downloads, all of which are superior in every way to floppy disks. It’s definitely not the case for the Lightning port – to quote OSNews’ Thom Holwerda: “as far as I can tell, there are only downsides”.

The whole point isn’t whether the jack plug is up for grabs or not – it’s debatable whether it should be right now, but nothing is sacred in technology. The whole point is that the replacement needs to fulfill the basic requirements that we expect from something to use headphones with. The Lightning port fails so many of those requirements (“standard” being probably the most important one) that it’s a really bad and, yes, user-hostile choice.

It’s a great choice for Apple however. It grows their accessories revenue, strengthen their hold on their users, and generally speaking puts them even more in control. It’s such a great idea for Apple that I can actually totally see them doing it. A lot of people will complain, but pretty much everybody will put up with it, as the cost of switching is much higher than the cost of tagging along. And what does it matter if it splits the audio market in two because of the proprietary port? It’s not like Gruber and other Apple bloggers are very sensitive about life outside of the walled garden anyway.