All Work and No Headphone Jack Makes Nilay a Dull Boy

A (partial!) selection of sentences containing the word “headphone” from Nilay Patel’s review of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus for The Verge:

  • And, yes, Apple has removed the headphone jack.

  • Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products.

  • And now it’s decided that — yikes — the headphone jack is over.

  • And third — here it is again — there’s no headphone jack.

  • Apart from the revised camera, the new home button, the screen, and — heyo! — the headphone jack, the other notable external hardware change to the iPhone 7 is the addition of stereo speakers.

  • Let’s talk about that headphone jack, shall we?

  • So there’s no headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

  • Apple says it needed to take out the headphone jack so it could make space for better cameras, the Taptic Engine (even though the 6S also had a Taptic Engine), and perhaps most importantly, a bigger battery.

  • Apple ships a pair of its EarPods headphones with a Lightning connector in the box, as well as a Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle so you can use your traditional headphones.

  • You’re not totally out of luck if you have a big investment in corded headphones, but you’re going to want to stock up on those adapters if you regularly plug your phone into a car or have a variety of headphones you like to use — the dongle is small enough that it’s not obtrusive, but also small enough so that it’s destined to get lost if you move it around a lot.

  • At $9, the headphone dongle is the cheapest Apple hardware you can buy; the company thinks people will just buy a few and keep them permanently attached to older headphones.

  • I’ve been spending some serious time really thinking about when and where I use the headphone jack, and it turns out that I already do much of my music listening wirelessly: Bluetooth in the car, an Amazon Echo, a few Sonos speakers, a couple Bluetooth speakers here and there.

  • There’s a huge opportunity for third-party accessory makers to fill all the gaps left by the removal of the headphone jack, but it’s also clear that the first wave of accessories is going to be a little clumsy while everyone learns exactly what those gaps are and how best to fill them.

  • Down to brass tacks: do all of the new features of the iPhone 7 make up for the inconvenience of the missing headphone jack? This may or may not surprise you, but I don’t think so — not yet.

  • The entire ecosystem of new headphones and adapters required to make use of Lightning and wireless audio is just getting off the ground.

  • Only Apple or Beats headphones offer the best wireless audio experience, and you might not like how they sound or fit.

  • Make sure you factor in the extra cost of headphone adapters or Bluetooth headphones, because you’ll end up needing them.

Nilay’s review is going to age about as well as a 2007 review of the original iPhone that devoted the same amount of attention to the lack of a hardware keyboard.

Two more sentences which demand comment:

The company’s own new W1 headphones get the fancy new pairing support, but other Bluetooth headphones and speakers still use the same somewhat flaky Bluetooth setup interface as before. […]

“Other Bluetooth headphones and speakers still use the same somewhat flaky Bluetooth setup interface as before” makes it sound as though only Apple products experience this. As though Apple makes standard Bluetooth pairing cumbersome and withholds the good experience for W1 headphones. But it’s not like Android or Windows or any other platform makes standard Bluetooth pairing as effortless as pairing with AirPods.

Apple supports completely standard Bluetooth as well as anyone. The problem with Bluetooth isn’t Apple. The problem is Bluetooth. It sucks. There is no open standard for wireless audio that doesn’t suck. “Open” had its chance, and they blew it.

I highly doubt Apple is going to license its W1 chips to any other company. I get the feeling their letter-number custom silicon (A-series iOS chips, M-series motion co-processors, S-series Apple Watch chips, and now the W1 chips in the AirPods) are all for Apple’s use only. Their A-series chips have given iPhones and iPads double the single-core performance of their next competitor.

Will they open up software APIs so third-party headphone makers can pair as easily as AirPods and Beats do? I hope so, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Can other companies create their own custom silicon of the size, quality, and power efficiency of the W1? I have no idea, but (a) my hunch says no, and (b) that’s their problem, not Apple’s.

And if Apple is really serious about wireless audio, it will allow third parties to extend the AirPlay interface just like it allows third parties to extend Siri and iMessage; an iPhone without a headphone jack needs to have dead-simple integrations with all kinds of wireless speaker systems, whether they’re from Sonos or Samsung or Amazon.

This was my favorite sentence of the lot. Are iPhones with headphone jacks somehow in less need of dead-simple integrations with wireless speaker systems?