Apple’s removal of the 3.5mm audio jack. This topic may have been done to death already, but there are a few technological and social issues people are not really considering.
By doing this, Apple is directly exposing their clients to this market of crap.
Audio Jack Loss – Social Issues
It is much more expensive to get Bluetooth headphones than wired headphones, plain and simple. From crappy headphone vs. crappy Bluetooth, to high end devices, in each case adding Bluetooth means adding batteries, charge management, and processing/communication circuitry. With cell phone costs already very high, adding a second expensive accessory seems unnecessary. This leads directly to the second issue:
There are thousands or even millions of earbuds and headphones. However, there are only a few hundred Bluetooth ones. Headphones made in the 1970s would still (with a simple jack adapter) work with a modern cell phone. However, the same cannot be said of Bluetooth headsets, with the current spec already up to V4, there is no guarantee of backwards compatibility. Therefore, there is a good chance that 10 years down the line, your nice Bluetooth headphones will not be usable anymore. This is not even considering the fact that the built-in batteries will die within 3 years, necessitating expensive replacement or DIY efforts.
Also, if I buy cheap, crappy earbuds currently, I just get tinny, scratchy sound. However, trying the same thing with Bluetooth headphones could result in dropped signals, little battery life, and a host of other quality issues. By doing this, Apple is directly exposing their clients to this market of crap.
This is more of a minor issue, but broadcasting data over the fairly insecure Bluetooth standard is not the best idea. Though even wired headphones radiate EM that could be intercepted, they are orders of magnitude quieter than Bluetooth signals. This is not a huge deal in most cases, but confidential conversations and especially financial transactions (like Square does with the audio jack currently) are at risk. Bluetooth does have some encryption and countermeasures to surveillance, but they are not really designed to be robust.
What happens when a torrent of user complaints come in about dropped Bluetooth signals? Apple will announce a “partner program” where companies can get “Apple Certified” Bluetooth headsets approved. This opens the door to further restrict how and when users can listen to their music and content. This also locks out vendors unwilling to pay (what has historically been) high licensing fees to use Apple’s technology. Before you think that this is just scare mongering on my part, let me remind you that Apple is no stranger to proprietary formats and locked down content; they have done this before.
Audio jacks have been used for lots of secondary devices; payment processing, children’s games, etc. This is one of the last, easy to use input/output ports on modern cellphones. Making something work with the audio jack takes a little copper wire, a magnet, and some patience. With Bluetooth, the question becomes a lot harder, and loses a lot of its education immediacy.
Ever notice how most small cafes now use an Ipad for a checkout register? This is a revolution, mostly started by Square, but now there are hundreds of companies that provide Point of Sales (POS) systems built around an Ipad. They are cheap, durable and easy to program. Most of these systems use the audio jack to input and receive data from the Ipad, because trying to get USB hosting working is (yet another) proprietary nightmare. Here is another avenue that Apple is eventually looking to cut off by removing the audio jack.
Audio Jack Loss – Technological Issues
These issues have been touched on elsewhere in this post, but the essentials are:
- Bluetooth is more complex, and thus more expensive than simple wires.
- Bluetooth has backwards compatibility issues, and eliminates a huge amount of very good, old headphones and speakers.
- Wires are just more reliable than Bluetooth. (I just had Bluetooth audio issues with my car for more than 4 months. I just had to wait for an update. Without the audio jack I would have been totally stuck!)
- The RF spectrum is not infinitely large, with more RF devices, interference and so called “spectrum crunch” will start to play a role. I am willing to bet that if everyone on a crowded subway car tried to use Bluetooth at the same time, everyone would get audio drops and issues.
- Batteries built into headphones means they last for a maximum of 3-4 years. After that, Li-ion batteries are toast. We will no longer have beautiful, old-school headphones passed down through families.
Audio Jack Loss – Benefits
Well, we have listed the large amount of downsides to losing the audio jack, but there must be some reason to lose it… right?
From the consumer and user standpoint, a *very slightly* thinner phone, is ultimately the only benefit. Users that claim frustration with tangled cords already had the option to use Bluetooth headsets, there is no difference.
From Apple’s standpoint, all of the negatives listed above are potential positives. Greater control over the market is the prime way any media distribution company has of wringing more profit.
Especially with Apple Pay competing with Square in a similar space, the incentive to physically block out their competitor is high.
For the opposite view (totally wrong of course…) see here:
Death To The 3.5mm Audio Jack, Long Live Wireless