Apple’s Terrible Decision to Eliminate the 3.5mm Audio Jack

iphone7While everybody focuses on whether or not the user’s listening experience will be effected positively or negatively by the decision, there are many other devices and markets that are effected as well.  The 3.5mm audio jack isn’t used for just audio.  Many people use third party products that interact with mobile apps via the audio jack; such as credit card readers, 3D scanners, external microphones, infrared sensors, IR blasters, various medical devices, scientific instruments, temperature probes, remote controllers for slideshow presentations, receivers for electric musical instruments, universal docs, spot lights for video recording, even CB radio attachments and much, much more.  Sure, many of these devices are designed for very specific use cases by a small group of users; but those users are surely not going to want to use their devices with an adapter, which is just another item to carry around and pay for replacements when they eventually get lost.

iHealth Glucose MonitorThe 3.5mm audio jack on smartphones has long served users for more than just delivering audio.  Audio-only jacks include two black contact rings, one each for left and right stereo sound.  Many devices include a third black contact ring that is used to deliver other data in the other direction, such as audio from an external microphone, video and/or playback and volume controls physically located on an external headset, or other data collected from an external device.  Apple has long used a four contact ring connection to offer support for third party devices like those listed above.  Now that they have eliminated the audio jack from the iPhone 7, those devices will no longer work without also connecting the adapter.  And anybody that has ever used audio cables knows that the connection inside audio jacks can easily break due to constant movement of the cable or its phono jack.  The contacts inside the jack become loose and you get sound that is staticky or broken up, causing the listener to constantly have to wiggle the connection or rotate it to improve the connection.  Adding an adapter to the mix always increases the likelihood of this occurrence.  While this sounds like a point in favor of wireless connectivity, mobile devices (especially the iPhone) are upgraded and replaced regularly, so average users may not use them long enough to experience this.  However, a lightning to 3.5mm audio jack adapter does not eliminate this possibility; so there’s no advantage to be had in that area by eliminating the jack from the phone itself.

Square Chip Card ReaderA perfect example, and probably the most common one, would be credit card readers.  Many consumers still use credit/debit cards with magnetic swipes rather than the newer chip/PIN implementation.  With Square and other services like PayPal Here, Intuit’s Go Payment, Stripe and others, a free card reader is sent to you when you sign up for an account.  The readers connect to your smartphone or tablet via the 3.5mm audio jack and interacts with their mobile apps to swipe cards and process those transactions.  You can manually enter a customer’s credit card information, or even take a photo of it, but that results in a higher transaction fee due to the increased likelihood of accuracy and security issues (card owner may not actually be presenting the card being charged).  Square does offer a Bluetooth card reader, but it only processes cards via the chip/PIN and NFC methods and costs $49, compared to the free one.  They also offer a reader that supports both magnetic swipe and chip/PIN cards, but not NFC that costs $29, but like the free magnetic reader, it relies on the 3.5mm audio jack.  To my knowledge, none of the competing services currently offer Bluetooth variants of their card readers.  This means that suddenly, entrepreneurs and volunteers at nonprofits will have to choose between switching to Android devices, or not upgrading their iPhones just so that they can continue collecting donations and selling fundraising items.

Most of the other devices I listed above have the same problem.  In order for the manufacturers of those accessories to work on iPhone 7’s, they must upgrade them to include Bluetooth antennas in them.  That makes them bulkier, and pricier.  It also adds another layer of security concerns that have to be dealt with when transferring financial, medical or legal data over Bluetooth due to federal regulation requirements.  So, it only makes more sense for users to switch to an Android device that costs less to begin with, includes the audio jack required for the best audio experience and to support these other devices, and does not require an ongoing cost of losing and replacing adapters and wireless pods that are overpriced and produce an additional revenue stream for Apple through their licensing partners.  For those in the medical and scientific communities using devices in connection with their smartphones, that’s a pretty convincing reason to ditch the iPhone altogether or avoid upgrading to the iPhone 7.

People Criticize Microsoft all the time in the computer and server markets for not eliminating old technology in their products; but the reason they don’t is because they realize how big their market share is, and how much of that is business users who are always reluctant to invest in new technology.  If they were so quick to abandon legacy interfaces, they would lose many of those customers who are their bread and butter.  It is possible to embrace new technology while still supporting the old, provided that it is still in use by the vast majority of people; and that’s definitely the case here.  And the “valuable real estate” excuse makes no sense to me either.  The market for larger phones has been growing steadily for a few years now; and if you’ve ever seen photos or videos from teardowns of these devices (see iFixit teardown video of the iPhone 6 Plus above), you’ll realize there’s actually quite a bit of unused space inside.  After all, the largest component inside any smartphone is the battery.  So, if you really want to be innovative and actually solve a real problem that every smartphone owner has; figure out a way to improve battery life exponentially, to the point that we begin reducing their physical size.  Besides, that’s one of the reasons the larger form factor is preferred by smartphone owners.  It usually means a longer batter life because they’re able to fit larger batteries inside.

So the point is, there are plenty of reasons not to eliminate the 3.5mm audio jack from any smartphone and I believe they simply didn’t think it through thoroughly, or put the consumer’s needs first.  Now, just to be fair, Apple is not the first one to make this decision.  The Moto Z, Moto Z Force and China’s LeEco have all ditched the audio jack as well.  So, Apple isn’t really setting a trend here, or even pushing an advancement of any kind.  They’re simply making the same dumb decision.  However, at least the others have opted for a non-proprietary alternative; the USB-C port, rather than Apple’s proprietary Lightning port.  So in contrast, those companies aren’t looking for additional revenue streams through licensing deals like Apple is because you can purchase USB-C cables and adapters from just about electronics retailer; and without the Apple tax.



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