Jack Off

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac, has a video from Vietnam purporting to show Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm adapter for the upcoming no-headphone-jack new iPhones:

The adapter seen in the video features the male Lightning connector at one end for output and the 3.5mm port for standard headphone input at the other end. The adapter also looks exactly like what you might expect Apple to produce if you compare it to Apple’s Lightning to SD Card adapter and similar products.

It looks exactly like what I’d expect it to look like. The question is, what will Apple ship in the box with the new iPhones? I see the following options:

  1. Wireless ear buds.
  2. Wireless ear buds and this adapter.
  3. Lightning ear buds.
  4. Lightning ear buds and this adapter.
  5. The existing 3.5mm ear buds and this adapter.

My hope is that they ship wireless ear buds. When Apple eliminates ports, they tend to do so in favor of wireless technology. Pushing wireless as the default would solve the problem of listening to audio while charging the device, too.

I don’t think they’ll ship this adapter in the box, so I’m betting options 2 and 4 are out. If they ship it in the box, the implied message is that a 3.5mm headphone port is something every iPhone should have, which is contrary to the decision to remove the port from the device itself. If they’re eliminating the port, they’re saying most people should not need it. If most people shouldn’t need it, there’s no reason to ship the adapter with every iPhone. I’m hoping they sell it separately for $19. I worry they will sell it separately for an exorbitant $29, like they do with the 30-pin to Lightning dongle.

That leaves 1, 3, and 5. I think 5 — bundling the existing 3.5mm EarPods and requiring everyone to use them with a dongle — is terrible. This would make using the included EarPods worse on the new iPhones than it was on older iPhones.

Option 3 sounds OK to me.

Option 1, though, is what I’m hoping for. And note that I keep saying wireless ear buds, not Bluetooth. It could be Bluetooth, but doesn’t have to be. Whatever it takes to make wireless audio easy-to-pair, high quality, and reliable.

A lot of people seem to think Apple will promote wireless as the best solution, but will do so via $99 or $199 ear buds that you have to buy separately. That wouldn’t surprise me — this is Apple after all — but to me it would muddle the message. I’d prefer “good enough” wireless ear buds included with the iPhone, and “amazing” headphones as the upsell1 product.

The other problem with bundling Lightning ear buds with the iPhone is that you’d need another adapter — female Lightning to male 3.5mm — to make them work with a Mac. That matters, to some degree, because Macs don’t ship with headphones of any sort. Nor do I expect Apple to add Lightning ports to Macs. Wireless ear buds, on the other hand, could be compatible with existing Macs if they use Bluetooth. And if they use some sort of new (proprietary?) wireless protocol, perhaps that’s the reason we’ve been waiting so long for updated MacBook Pros — because they’ll support the new protocol, too.

The bottom line: this move should be about moving away from wired headphones period, not moving from one wired jack to another. The best way to achieve that is for Apple to ship wireless ear buds in the box.

  1. Beats-branded? ↩︎