The coming trend in smartphones seems to be to ditch the 1/8” (3.5mm) earphone jack in favor of making the phone ever thinner and more water-resistant. Not only is the iPhone rumored to lose its headphone jack in the next model, but the 2016 Moto Z phone from Lenovo has been confirmed to ditch the jack. All audio outputs will be digital, whether via a USB-C or Lightning plug, or via Bluetooth.
Needless to say, this will affect not only how you listen to music and video, but also how you play audiobooks or hear text-to-speech. On The Verge, Nilay Patel goes off on a lengthy rant about what a spectacularly bad idea this is—and makes some pretty good points.
If the only audio outputs are digital, it means they can be locked up by DRM, which offers the specter of “playback device not supported” in the future. (Having done my time at Best Buy tech support helping customers confused over why the new wireless headphones they plugged into their TV’s digital audio out don’t work when they play Blu-rays, I can definitely vouch for this.)
Platel also complains about the relative quality of wireless headphones and speakers, the requirement of yet another battery to charge, the inconvenience of having to plug in dongles to access audio output, the question of how ditching an established standard will affect accessibility and compatibility issues, and finally, that no one was asking for their phones to be able to do less.
This is an important question to consider. Even I, who had been using Bluetooth headphones and more or less enjoying them, lately switched back to a pair of wooden plug-in earbuds because they provide excellent sound (and don’t keep cutting out all the time). This set of earbuds has a mic built in to work with smartphones and such, but will also work with any legacy device sporting a compatible earphone jack, all the way back to the original Sony Walkman or beyond. That’s a lot of equipment heritage, and a lot of earphones people already have, to break compatibility with.
Is this a harbinger of analog earphone jacks eventually going by the wayside? The smartphone is the device most people have now, after all; if they discard earphone jacks in favor of something else, how long is it before other equipment follows suit to be compatible with the digital earphones people are using with their smartphones?
Headphone jacks are an old, old standard, invented decades ago, and they’ve continued to be used for all that time simply because they do work, and work well. Is it really worth throwing something like that by the wayside simply because the component’s a little more bulky than a super-thin phone can handle?