If there's one company out there that isn't afraid of disrupting the status quo, it's Apple. Most famously, Apple in 1998 did away with the floppy disk drive with the iMac, a move that elicited a lot of criticism at the time. In 2016, Apple will likely find itself embroiled in a similar controversy if and when it reveals that the next-gen iPhone won't come with a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack.
The rumors pointing to a headphone jack-less iPhone 7 have only accumulated in recent weeks. According to recent reports, Apple will instead rely upon the iPhone 7's Lightning port for audio-out, effectively ignoring a legacy technology that has been around for decades.
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If we take a step back and put aside some of the vitriolic complaints against Apple, there are some compelling reasons for Apple to abandon the headphone jack altogether. Now, whether or not these reasons are persuasive is up for debate, but it's not as if Apple is just opting to say goodbye to a tried and true audio port for no good reason. That being the case, here are a few reasons which might help crystallize Apple's reasoning behind what will undoubtedly be a controversial design change.
Now, above all else, getting rid of that pesky 3.5mm headphone jack will free up a whole lot of room internally. In turn, this would allow Apple to make the iPhone 7 form factor thinner, something Jony Ive is reportedly intent on pulling off with Apple's next-gen iPhone.
But thinness aside, getting rid of the headphone jack might also free up room for Apple to incorporate a larger battery, thus addressing a common complaint many iPhone users have had for many years.
There's also a usability benefit involved with Apple opting to use the Lightning port for audio-out. Note the following excerpt from Fast Company last week.
Apple is working with its longtime audio chip partner Cirrus Logic to adapt the audio chipset in the iPhone to work with the Lightning port, according to our source.
Our source adds that the audio system will also leverage a new noise-canceling technology from Wolfson Microelectronics—a U.K.-based audio tech company Cirrus acquired in 2014. The software will be baked into the phone and also into the headphones that will plug into it, and will help remove background noise in music playback and in phone calls, our source says.
What's more, with reports that Apple is hoping to make the iPhone 7 waterproof, removing the headphone jack will eliminate a common avenue for water to sneak in and short-circuit the device's internals.
Another interesting possibility raised by designer Matt Galligan is that Apple is getting rid of the headphone jack become it needs to eventually make room for Apple to incorporate more biometric sensors underneath the display:
Touch ID will move to the screen itself and by eliminating the space necessary to house the headphone jack, the iPhone’s home button might look more like the pill-shaped buttons on the sides of the phone, or perhaps be eliminated altogether. After all, the iPhone 6s gave us 3D Touch multitasking, replacing multitasking’s reliance on the home button. The phones will become shorter, and likely easier to handle. One could even envision a day when the phone has no physical buttons, and it simply a display in a sealed enclosure.
I personally don't buy into that specific theory, but you have to bet that Apple will find a creative use for that extra internal space, even if it just ends up being used for a larger battery.
As a final point, I think it's helpful to take a step back from specific features and focus on an interesting point made by Jim Dalrymple of The Loop: When Apple removes technological features, it's all done with the intent of making things better and more convenient, not the other way around.
In other words, perhaps one day soon we'll look back at this design change in the same way we now look at Apple's decision to slowly start abandoning optical discs.