Why Apple dropped the headphone jack in the iPhone 7

The company also unveiled wireless 'AirPods' that use its new A1 chip

wireless airpods
Credit: Apple

As had been rumored, Apple removed the headphone jack from the upcoming iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and introduced wireless AirPods for listening to music, talking to Siri and making phone calls.

Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, offered up a thorough argument for why dropping the jack is a good technology move.

Simply put, doing so leaves room in a slender phone body for other technology. Plus, Apple is shipping -- in the box -- EarPods that connect via wire to the lightning power port, which also supplies sound to the EarPods.

lightnight headphones Apple

Apple's new wired EarPods plug into the iPhone 7's lightening port.

And, if a user has third-party headphones or accessories still requiring a headphone jack port, Apple is also shipping in the box a small 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter to connect to the iPhone's lightning port.

Schiller used the removal of the headphone jack as a way to transition to wireless EarPods, which Apple calls AirPods, that go on sale for $159 in late October. The AirPods operate on a new low-power W1 chip that's designed to provide highly efficient audio playback with a consistent connection. Infrared sensors inside the AirPods will detect when they are in the ear. Accelerometers will respond to touch, and a double touch will activate Siri and help determine the direction of a person's voice.

The AirPods will work for five hours of listening on a single charge and can be stored in a wireless charging case that has 24 hours of battery life. That case can itself be charged via a lightning port.

AirPods can also be activated across an iPhone and Apple Watch at the same time.

"We're just at the beginning to a truly wireless future where tech enables a seamless and automatic connection to you and your devices," Schiller exclaimed. "It is a breakthrough design to deliver a truly Apple magic experience."

The pre-announcement online talk about the removal of the headphone jack and the possibility of wireless headphones was intense among analysts and Apple fans. Some were concerned that Apple was forcing too much change on users, and worried that Apple would require users to carry around an adapter.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the lack of a headphone jack will have "minimal to no impact on iPhone 7 sales. The relatively few customers that care about this won't be much of a burden to Apple's sales efforts."

Even so, Schiller took the time to address the concerns over removing the jack.

"Some people have asked us why we would remove the analog headphone jack," he said. "It's been with us a really long time. It comes down to one word: courage. Our team has tremendous courage. Our smartphones are packed with technologies, faster processors...and all of it fights for space." That argument alone makes it less reasonable for "maintaining an ancient single-purpose analog connector."

Other innovations to the camera and processors in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus might bring more sales to Apple, but Schiller put a premium on the removal of the headphone jack and launch of AirPods.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead at Moor Insights and Strategy, tweeted about the importance of the move. "Did Apple just fix crappy Bluetooth headphone experience with AirPods? Probably," he tweeted.

Moorhead added later via email that Apple has a tradition of tackling customer experience concerns, like poor Bluetooth headphones and headsets. "From what I experienced with AirPods, they...fixed Bluetooth headsets. AirPods connect consistently, are truly wireless, stay in your ear and are easy to charge and harder to lose. I think Apple has a real winner here."

Apple has a long history of moving reluctant customers along to new technology. The lightning port was one such innovation, introduced on Sept. 12, 2012. It replaced the 30-pin dock connector in many Apple devices. Making the adjustment meant that customers needed an adapter for speakers and other devices. Schiller said there are now 900 million lightning connector devices in use.

With the AirPods, Apple is not relying on standard Bluetooth technology in its W1 chip, according to a report by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that was obtained by AppleInsider.

Kuo also argued that the wireless headphones will become the default option for many iPhone users. The low-power wireless communications used in the W1 chip could become the basis for communications with smart home accessories and smart automobiles.

Kuo said that Apple needed higher requirements for power savings than what the Bluetooth specification provides.

This story, "Why Apple dropped the headphone jack in the iPhone 7" was originally published by Computerworld.

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