What Happened to the Headphone Jack on Your Phone?
I’m going to show my age here, but I grew up with a Walkman on my hip. First, it was cassettes, but eventually, I upgraded to CDs. One thing was always true, you plugged your headphones into the provided jack. When smartphones came out, they all had headphone jacks. But slowly, they’ve started to disappear. In place, we’ve been told we need to use the dreaded dongle. Easily lost, this small connector attaches to the charging port and allows you to connect your wired headphones. Of course, when the dongle is attached you can no longer charge your phone. Why? What happened to the headphone jack on all of our phones?
At first blush, the removal of the headphone jack on our phones happened at the same time that Bluetooth headphones started to become more common. Now we were forced to buy a dongle that we could easily lose as well or opt for wireless earbuds that were also easy to lose?!? Clearly, this was a conspiracy to make us spend more money replacing things that we shouldn’t have to replace. I know that the last time I bought a replacement dongle, I bought a pack of five. Why? Because I knew I’d lose it again.
You could make the case that, for Apple, removing the headphone jack would create additional income. They sell their own headphones (which are some of the few that work with spatial audio) and their connector is proprietary. This means that to make a 3rd party dongle, you have to pay Apple a licensing fee. But most companies have switched to USB-C ports. For them, they get no extra revenue from licensing. So, what is this really about?
When asked, almost every company gave space savings as the primary motivator behind ditching the 3.5mm jack. This round port takes up considerable internal space as well as limits how thin you can make a phone. By removing the headphone jack, they can make the screen bigger, the phones thinner, and the batteries larger. That’s a lot of motivation!
Now, some manufacturers also mentioned audio quality. While you can make a case that a headphone that connects digitally (through the charging port) might have potentially better audio, this is certainly not the case when all people are really doing is adding a dongle. Those companies claiming better audio quality? Yeah, they were also selling branded headphones. While we don’t think this is the case with all manufacturers, some certainly took advantage of the trend to remove the headphone jack as an opportunity to sell headphones.
Don’t Forget About Water!
People use their phones all the time. When they are working, playing, or exercising, they want their phones nearby. This often puts them in close proximity to water. Either through being outside where it might rain, or just from excessive sweat. People started finding out, very quickly, that their phones might be smart, but they weren’t waterproof.
One of the main ingresses for water is, surprisingly, the 3.5mm headphone jack. This weak point in the smartphone design was not only bad for waterproofing but was redundant. If the charging port could be used for audio, and the 3.5mm headphone jack only did the one thing, doesn’t it make sense to remove it? Since the loss of the headphone jack, just about every phone released has boasted increased water resistance. That alone seems like a pretty good tradeoff.
This is very much a chicken and the egg question. Did they remove the headphone jack to sell Bluetooth headphones? Or did the cost of Bluetooth headphones come down enough that they felt like they could realize the benefits of removing the headphone jack without too much pushback from consumers? We tend to believe the latter. That said, we do miss our headphone jacks. What about you? Do you still use wired headphones with your smartphone? Let us know your solution in the comments!