Food for thought: is 3.5mm audio plug the new floppy drive?

By , Jun 22, 2016

iPhone 6 headphone jack

Responding to Nilay Patel’s controversial article on The Verge, titled “Taking the Headphone Jack Off Phones Is User-Hostile and Stupid”, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber pulls out the floppy drive analogy.

As you know, the next iPhone is rumored to ditch the industry-standard 3.5mm jack in favor of Bluetooth and Lightning-based headphones.

Gruber goes on to compare Nilay’s arguments against removing the century-old analog jack from mobile devices to the similar arguments that had been made in response to Apple’s decision to ditch the good ol’ floppy drive from the iMac in 1998 for USB.

Based on 19th century technology

The 3.5mm audio connector has been remarkably resilient.

The 3.5mm audio jack is a miniaturised version of the classic quarter-inch jack (6.35mm), which was developed in the 19th century as far back as in 1878. Both plugs feature a nubbin of metal that nips in before flaring out just before the tip. This lets the plug to be be inserted and removed easily while still making a secure connection.

Sony EFM-117J radio

The 3.5mm version—also known as a tip, ring, sleeve or TRS—gained in popularity thanks to the use of headsets on transistor radios in the middle of the 20th century.

More precisely, the 3.5mm audio connection has been around at least since the Sony EFM-117J radio, pictured above, that released back in 1964.

No, digital audio does not mean DRM

Patel posits that removing the analog 3.5mm headphone jack from our phones wouldn’t just pave the way for all-digital audio, but also for digital-rights management (DRM) systems that’d enforce digital copyright mechanisms. He observes that the same thing happened when the computer and video systems embraced HDMI, which brought us the HDCP system that prevents unauthorized content copying.

Writes Patel:

We deal with DRM when it comes to video because we generally don’t rewatch and take TV shows and movies with us, but you will rue the day Apple decided to make the iPhone another 1mm thinner the instant you get a “playback device not supported” message. Winter is coming.

“It’s not enforcement of DRM on audio playback,” reads Gruber’s response.

“It’s enforcement of the MFi program for certifying hardware that uses the Lightning port. Right now any headphone maker in the world can make any headphones they want for the standard jack. Not so with the Lightning port,” writes Gruber.

“No one is asking for this”

And what of Patel’s argument that no one asked for the iMac to remove the floppy drive or switch from ADB ports to USB in 1998, when PCs weren’t even shipping with USB?

“Raise your hand if the thing you wanted most from your next phone was either fewer ports or more dongles,“ challenges Patel. “I didn’t think so. You wanted better battery life, didn’t you? Everyone just wants better battery life.”

If not now, when?

Well, Gruber’s succinct esponse is this:

This is how it goes. If it weren’t for Apple we’d probably still be using computers with VGA and serial ports. The essence of Apple is that they make design decisions “no one asked for”.

He, rightfully so, points out that removing the deep headphone socket can only leave more room for a larger battery. I wholeheartedly recommend reading both articles as each writer raises some interesting points.

This all happened before

At any rate, you can bet that removing the 3.5mm headphone jack from the next iPhone will make headlines and evening news, just as dumping the 30-pin port from the iPhone 5 or outfitting the 12-inch MacBook with a single USB-C port led to a public outcry.

But as it turns out, no one is complaining anymore about replacing the 30-pin connector with Lightning I/O, are they? As for the debate surrounding the USB-C port on the 12-inch MacBook, that decision isn’t as much about switching to USB-C as it is about the fact that there’s just one rather than two such ports on the machine.

Twelve inch MacBook Silver closeup 001

For the sake of completeness, let’s also not forget the fact that Apple is the first technology company which dropped the floppy drive and the optical drive from its gear.

Gruber’s two cents

Gruber pose the following questions:

Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever? If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of us outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why.

But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. Also, historically, Apple has proven to be very good at timing the removal of established legacy ports.

My two cents

The removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from our devices is already underway.

For instance, several Android phones have now shipped phones without the 3.5mm connector and many other vendors seem to be moving in that direction as well. In my personal opinion, as a closely scrutinized company Apple has only helped push the industry toward abandoning this technology.

Sooner than later, the industry will follow in Apple’s footsteps. And no, this isn’t about thinness because the diminutive iPod nano is 5.4mm thin but still has the analog headphone jack. The next iPhone is said to be iPod touch-thin. The current-generation iPod touch measures 6.9mm deep and—you guessed right—comes outfitted with the 3.5mm audio jack.

Your two cents?

The next iPhone is said to shop with a Lightning-enabled version of the EarPods headphones that should provide crystal clear digital sound without interference. The only short-term problem I can see with this is that connecting Lightning-based EarPods to the 3.5mm jack on Macs and PCs would admittedly require a dongle of sorts, but who’s to say that future MacBooks won’t come equipped with a Lightning connector?

Do you think the whole mobile industry is moving to ditch 3.5mm headphone jack from our devices? And if so, is the industry going to regret this decision? How will end-users weather this transition? And in your mind, is the 3.5mm headphone jack yet another legacy port that the industry should abandon?

Share your thoughts and observations in the comment section below.

Source: Daring Fireball

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  • Timothy

    On the iDB app, that “hand holding lightning cable” image is a thousand times larger than it should be…

    • Not sure what happened there but I removed the image. Thanks

  • I don’t think it would matter if they took out the 3.5mm as long as there was a format everyone could get behind. But there just isn’t one. Lightning Adapter vs Micro USB vs Bluetooth vs on and on and on.. there needs to be 1 universal format just like the 3.5mm which is why it was so popular for so long. Once that is established across the board, no one will care about switching.

    • The Fluffy Alpaca

      Could not have said it better myself.

    • John Robinson

      The reality is that will not happen. There is a lot of money to be made by having more then one type.

    • JoJo

      Well I recently purchased a set of fully wireless Bluetooth earbuds (Bragi Dash) and have to say that this is exactly what Apple should do. It is incredibly liberating to be fully cable free. Bluetooth audio quality is getting better by the day so I am welcoming apple’s attempt at full wireless Bluetooth earbuds.

      • Agreed, I think Bluetooth is the way to go as well. Most devices already have it built in. So just make an extremely small dongle that connects to any 3.5mm headphone jack, boom connect it to your new devices wirelessly.

      • 353367356

        You forgot about batteries. We’re not making those ultra-small.

      • Slam

        Wired Lightning/USB-C headphones (and other devices) will also become more common as the transition phase goes on.

  • J3ff

    I still don’t see the big deal with dropping the 3.5mm, ive been using a bluetooth headset for 2 years now and have no issues with it. My lifeproof case 3.5mm cover looks brand new because its never been opened! The only issue i see is how flexible can the lightning cable to headphone adapter be especially with gym users. Should be interesting to see what they come up with if they are removing the 3.5mm

    • Blip dude

      Crappy battery life!!!! Seriously only 12 hours?? And so far I’ve only seen one pair of bluetooth earphones under $100 that have only 12 hours of battery life, everything else is 4.5 hours. So even as someone who owns Bluetooth headphones I can understand the big deal. Do you really think with such crappy battery life Bluetooth is ready to be the new standard??

      • T_Will

        I just picked up some Jaybird X2’s for $100, they’re supposed to have 8 hours of battery life (not quite 12 hours, but still pretty decent).

      • Blip dude

        That’s the issue though, I would still have to charge them EVERY night. Otherwise, I would still have to bring power banks and cables to charge them, and dongles?? Really??

      • Mark

        Don’t you already charge your phone every night? Just charge your buds with it, it’s not a big deal and I’ve been doing it for years. You could also opt for the new jaybird freedom buds which last 4 hours and have an attachable battery (can buy more separately), or have a decent 20,000mah pack with you for when your phone dies which will also charge your buds when you’re not using them…

      • Blip dude

        4 hours?? I don’t understand how this is supposed to contradict my point. So now you’re telling me to carry additional accessories to charge my earbuds??

        So far you’ve only proved this is an inconvenience. How is only 4 hours of battery life on Bluetooth EarPods and then having to carry additional accessories any convenient??

        I don’t need to carry a battery pack because luckily unlike many people, I can leave the phone charging at work throughout the day as I work with iPhones. Also, unlike most humans, I have a reverse-peak commute, so in addition to being able to charge my phone at work. I’m never commuting long enough to need battery packs. But for those longer trips is where my complaints come in or when I’m working out all day (that’s a different subject). But for many others who aren’t in my situation, sorry, but your comment only proved how weak battery life Bluetooth EarPods and earphones are not ready to become the new standard yet. Maybe in a few years I’ll begin to agree with the argument, but until Bluetooth EarPods can last 24 hours and begin to be approved by audiophiles, 3.5mm will still be the standard.

      • John Robinson

        This doesn’t mean Bluetooth will be the standard. I am only seeing this as a advancement into a digital age. Your lightning cable would be able to power and charge your headphones. this would also mean that audio companys would be in a higher demand meaning they would have to fight for there customers leading to better products. I don’t own a single Bluetooth headphone but have more earplugs then I need. I am still in favor of the shift to remove the ear jack.

      • Mark

        They are 8 hours, but the newest ones, also 8 hours have a removable battery pack so you can use 4 hours of the battery pack, have 4 hours in the buds themselves, and be charging your attachment, giving you 12 hours overall. Sounds like you’d be fine with, for example the jaybird x2s which give you 8 hours straight off, which if only used for your short commute, would last you a good few days. If you’re sat at a computer all day, and you’re out of juice, you could just plug them into the USB on your computer if you don’t have any other means of charging.
        Personally I’m looking forward to the freedom buds coming to the UK because of their overall smaller design and optional battery attachment as I’d never be commuting anywhere more than 4 hours so I can always keep on top of it, and if I forget to charge them the odd time, I’ve always got the extra 4 hour attachment.

      • J3ff

        its really not a big deal having to charge the headphones. My headphones get 8 hours i believe and i have no issues. You are just being dramatic about it lol

      • JoJo

        Sorry, but if you listen to 8-12 hours of music straight you should probably find a job. Most of these earbuds have a case which can charge the buds several times over before running out of battery. So every time you are not using the buds, you put them in the case and they are being charged. Once every few days you charge the case and voila. Something tells me you don’t actually own a set of Bluetooth earbuds because you would not be making such a fuss about it.

      • Blip dude

        Haha, I love how you just assume I need to find a job when obviously a job is usually needed to even buy a decent pair. Second, I own a pair of Bluetooth headphones (which I paid $250 for), and as part of Apples current promo, I was able to grab a free pair of powerbeats wireless when upgrading a phone in my family plan.

        3rd, While not a privilege for most, both the jobs I have allow me to listen to music or watch movies as a way of killing time whenever there is downtime or business is slow, so please kindly piss off with that stupid thought.

        So why do I make such a big fuss about it?? Because I know a LOT of people who would disappointed by this. People that don’t need to be spending their hard earn money on a company that tells them how they are supposed to use their products. Some people don’t even need Bluetooth earphones as the cheap $20-$30 earbuds are good for them. It has nothing to do with affordability, and more to do on spending on something one doesn’t need. Is it that hard for people to believe that one may need/want a $700 smartphone but don’t need/want $50 and $100+ Bluetooth headphones in their lives??

      • Slam

        It was an expression. Calm down. Even if you truly listen to music 12 hours straight (I doubt it) without any break or power source to recharge, then it would mean you have a very specific need and therefore, it’s up to you to make the extra effort to adapt the phone to your needs, not the other way around.

      • czbird

        Get a BT4 headset. My Senn Momentum last for over 20 hours. But they cost more, I admit.

  • igorsky

    This debate is so dumb that it’s not even worth having. After Apple every manufacturer will get rid of their 3.5mm jack (some are already doing it), so this will all be a moot point.

    • Bugs Bunnay

      Bingo. Only a few companies did it, but once apple does it then every major company will follow suit!

      • Slam

        Exactly, and Lightning/USB-C devices will flourish.

  • Sohail Wahab

    Why not magsafe like charger for both Mac and iOS devices with USB C built in? Why Apple?

    • Agneev Mukherjee

      MagSafe charges way faster than the Lightning Connector, this would in turn may cause some damage to the battery, should the battery design stay the same and as for the magnetic part, it would be not-so-good.

  • Bugs Bunnay

    Person that wrote the article on the verge is just mad and throwing a fit. Was also mad when apple ditched flash. It’ll all blow over soon.

  • Agneev Mukherjee

    No, in my personal opinion, I prefer the 3.5mm jack to stay put, it’s what makes an iPod an iPod and an iPhone an iPhone, It’s undoubtedly the face of Apple’s iconic products. Even if the Lightning Connector replaces the jack, it would create a world of problems… I personally don’t think the replacement is viable.

  • edwilk55

    Good riddens. Esp with bluetooth 5 around the corner, bluetooth will be far superior to using cables. I like the aux port on my car stereo, but it’s cumbersome to use. But the bluetooth standard now makes for crappy A2DP transmission. With BT5, it’ll sound as good as a cable to the human ear.

  • khmi

    Bluetooth is fine when using it to listening to audio, but for video the lag is something that is bothersome, unless that is fixed I would keep the 3.5mm jack.

  • Elias Chao

    I’ve said it before (and I guess others have as well) but the 3.5mm connector ditching would make tons of sense if Apple would decide to use USB-C on the new iPhones rather than Lightning.

    Lightning means MFi, and that along is not a good thing when it comes to headphones. Instead, with a pair of USB-C headphones we’d be able to use those headphones on other devices rather than just the new iPhones.

    • DeAndre Enrico

      Agreed. Just look at the MFi game controller market compared to game controllers that work with Android and computers.

      • Mark

        I believe ios 10 supports other game controllers now though as well..? But yeah I see your point. I’m happy with jaybird Bluetooth buds, though and have been for years

  • DeAndre Enrico

    If the 3.5mm jack gets removed before I can purchase sub-$20 bluetooth headphones that can go all day on one charge at any corner store within walking distance from my home and job, I’ll be switching to Android, which I really don’t want to do.

    • Mark

      Cloud buds are fairly cheap and decent, have lasted me the day in the past…

    • czbird

      You’d ditch the whole Apple ecosystem over a headphone connector? Really? Apple tought us to live without many other things (USB host, root, color notification LED, FM radio…), you’ll just adapt as you did before 🙂

      • 353367356

        Why should you adapt when you’re giving them money? Why compromise when you’re giving them a LOT of money?

      • Slam

        Science and technology marches on…

  • USB type C needs to replace Lighting so Apple can be on parity with Android and Ship a dongle with each new iPhone 7.

    • Slam

      Android did not adopt USB-C, and it’s not even a standard yet. But it will be soon. The Lightning cable is very similar to the future USB-C. It does look like Lightning is USB-C’s future ancestor.

  • Don’t need to read no long stupid article to understand how ditching the port would be a bad idea. In all those precious examples of Apple “innovation” one old outdated thing was replaced with another. This is not the case with this current scenario. It’s just a complete ditching of the jack. I don’t remember too many issues switching from huge 30 pin to lightning connector or from floppy to usb. However, i now will not be able to simultaneously charge my phone and use my headphones. I use a portable charger a lot as I’m away from home most of the day. Bluetooth isn’t yet an option because it’s still faulty as hell and for the same reasons stated previously I’m not able to keep them charged. This is a stupid idea for no reason. Thinner phone? Same shitty batter life? Who cares.

    • Blip dude

      Exactly!!! I rather have a thicker phone than some shitty battery life just to please a few of those who can afford $200 lightning and Bluetooth headphones no one asked for.

      • Mark

        What if they bundled a decent pair of Bluetooth ear buds with the phone?

      • czbird

        You can afford a $700 iPhone but not a decent BT headset?

      • Blip dude

        Finally, I was waiting for someone who would asks that Stupid ass question.

        To answer your question first, yes, I have not 1 but 2 Bluetooth headsets.

        Not to explain why your question is stupid: What the **** does buying a $700 iPhone have to do with whether or not a person can afford a decent BT device, you just like everyone else has proved the point that Apple’s only love to spend money. Why should someone have to spend a $100+ for a decent set of BT headsets when the subpar $20-$30 earbuds that are in the market now are good enough??

        So you’re saying that because someone spends $700 on a phone they should also have to spend more on a headset because some people say “it’s the future?”

    • Mark

      Bluetooth isn’t faulty at all, maybe you’ve had a bad experience with certain buds. Bluetooth 5 will change a lot though and improve strength and range of signal with less drain on battery of both your phone and buds, win win. Who knows what apples reasons are for ditching the port, but I don’t think they’ll be making the phone thinner either way as they’ll have an even further protrusive back camera, which they can’t make any thinner at the moment…

  • nthndsjrdns

    As somebody down below stated, how are we supposed to charge outr device while still wanting to use our headphones? Bluetooth isn’t always a viable option for people, so i would love to see applems thought process here.

  • onesimpleclik

    Far from it. The 3.5mm jack will be around for quite a while longer, in spite of what Apple chooses to do with their products.

  • jamster440

    I think USB c should be be the standard, ditch the lightning cable and use USB c for everything!

  • TheDarxide

    “User Friendly” is equated with Analog 3.5mm jacks; while other formats exist, it doesn’t mean it’s easier. My Mother-in-law JUST got a smartphone (iPhone 6), and has a hard-enough time learning how to use one.

    There’s also the fact that this isn’t the first FAIL to switch to a “dongle” adapter or Bluetooth headphones. Remember when Motorola changed the V3 to use that USB-to-3.5mm dongle? Total FAIL!

  • Brett Kessner

    Why should they remove the jack again? I haven’t seen any explanation as to why digital is better than analog. But people do claim it. So, if those people are right, you’ll have headphones out there that will sound better than the highest end sennheisers? And even if that is the case, will your average in-ear headphones that come with the iphone (a lightning connector set), sound better than the headphones that came with my iphone 5s? I say this because people are making it seem like you’ll magically get high-end sound from all headphones; or that all previous headphones, including the high-end won’t compare in someway to what you’ll get from a packaged set of headphones that use a lightning connector…. I dont get it.

    • Brett Kessner

      so…. what I’m saying is, is your statement about earphones with “crystal clear, ‘interference’ free (really?)” sound right around the corner, is a load of ****.

      • Brett Kessner

        oh, and comparing the the removal of the 3.5 jack to the removal of the floppy drive is laughable. ( is writing an article including it without ever mentioning that it makes no sense)

    • Mark

      Apple hasn’t said for sure whether it’s ditching it or not, it’s speculation and I’ve heard that they are and then they aren’t and then they are… I’ll be using Bluetooth earbuds either way which sound great and are wire free and the range is long enough to not have to carry my phone when I’m in the gym. No, they won’t replace larger headphones for audiophiles that are wired, but even wireless headphones sound damn good. Id expect the bundled earbuds that come with the phone, whether wired or wireless will be at least as good if not better than what comes with current devices

  • Mark

    I’ve been using Bluetooth jaybird bluebuds for a good few years now and my 3.5mm jack is never used. That said, I hope they have a good reason why they are getting rid of it, whether it’s for battery space or stone other improvement, which I trust they will, so I guess I’m not too bothered about it

    • Than tell me, is it allowed to use Bluetooth in an Airplane? No it’s not!

      • Mark

        I fly often enough to know that having wired headphones isn’t a big deal to me. Okay I won’t use the jack, but the lightening port instead, suits me just fine… The fact remains that the majority of the time I don’t use it, but yeah, there is need for one and I think utilising the lightening port for that is the way forward. Best of both worlds

  • John Smith

    I understood the reasoning behind the CD drive. It took up too much space and was becoming rarely used because people had already burnt and saved them to their computers. Floppy was long overdue. But the 3.5mm jack is an unmatched standard that is widely supported. Just think how long it will take for the transition to take. Plus no way to plug and play while charging? Horrible idea.

  • Apple will do it anyway, so THEY can decide who can make an adapter for their iPhone, It’s the money stupid!
    Another brick in the wall…

  • Wicrowe

    My concern with the removal of the port is I don’t have bluetooth in my vehicle. so i’ll buy a new car to upgrade my phone

  • 353367356

    Yeah, nobody complains about the Lightning Connector switchup a few years back because it affected 1 DEVICE. THAT’S IT. And if you had an older iPod dock, you didn’t need to carry around a dumb, easy to lose dongle because it was always sat in the dock anyway. And Floppy Drives are a bad comparison because when Apple removed it, they claimed it was because users were creating files that were bigger than what they offered, but their first generation of CD drive toting products could only read, not WRITE.

    Not to mention floppy drives were a product limited to computers in a time when computers were not used for multimedia. the 3.5mm headphone jack on the other hand is used on all computers, all phones, all tablets, literally all multimedia devices in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with it. The Floppy drive had serious flaws with file size limitations, but there’s no flaw in the TRS connector, if there was, we would have been using adapters years ago, and as we all know, all the early to mid 2000s phones with proprietary connectors and headphone adapters like the old sliding Samsung phones and such died out and were replaced by handsets with TRS.

    Also? The whole size problem is nonsense, faster phones with better specs in thinner cases feature the port, and removing a port that’s literally 5mm wide, 5mm tall and 13mm long in total build won’t contribute to the availability of space for the processor or the battery. The battery is a big lump, if you add the literal full amount of volumetric capacity you could get from that tiny space, you’ve added 15mA at most, or around 0.8% extra capacity. And it doesn’t help with waterproofing either, several manufacturers built 3.5mm headphone jack toting waterproof phones before this, most of which had higher waterproof ratings.