At 6pm Irish time on the 7th of September, Apple will unveil its newest range of handsets. It’s generally believed that we’ll be getting two new models- the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and possible headline features include waterproofing and an improved camera.
But the feature which has been getting the most attention is certainly the much rumoured possibility that the iPhone 7 and its ilk will come without a 3.5mm headphone jack.
This port has been standard for audio enjoyment throughout every generation of mobile phone, both smart and dumb varieties. In fact, this connector has been in regular use for your listening pleasure since 1964.
That’s a long legacy and represents a real barrier for users to get over. They associate that tactile plugging in motion with the listening experience, and it’s also likely they’ve invested a good deal of cash in headphones which suit their kind of listening.
In short, the very act of dropping the connector is going to cause a visceral reaction from some quarters but the question remains - is it really justified?
Technology changes. The very fact that this particular tech is already in its sixth decade means it’s likely high time for something newer to take over. And in fact Apple won’t even be the first company to make that leap, with Lenovo’s Moto Z smartphone being the first to market with no headphone jack.
That handset uses the new USB-C port for its headphones instead, which has a couple of benefits including allowing the phone to be a few mm thinner, which some manufacturers really value.
Other plus points include digital audio which has the potential to be of a higher quality with greater fidelity than an analogue system. This new port can also provide power, and more complex systems like noise reduction included right in the headphones.
The Apple presentation will likely spend a good deal of time making these new elements sound like huge wins for the customers and they are well versed in this kind of PR speak.
Realistically speaking, it would seem that the days of the 3.5 mm port are numbered. All the evidence suggests that it’s not going to really make much of a difference to your average listening experience, with a simple adaptor ensuring you can still get analogue audio straight to your existing cans.
And does it really matter? Well no. These huge tech companies are going to do what they like, and spend a lot of time and money convincing the users that the improvements they’re making will bring the best audio ever to your earholes.
So much of enjoying music and audio is such a subjective experience anyway, and one that’s mitigated by the quality of the source files, the wizardry going on inside the handset and in the headphones.
True audiophiles likely aren’t exclusively listening to their favourite tracks on their phone- Apple or otherwise- and everyone else will continue to have choices in how they experience their tunes. You can still use that high priced analogue set you bought a few years back, and it’s very likely that you won’t notice any difference in the sound day to day through an adaptor.
Change in technology happens for a number of reasons, and sometimes it’s less about the real user experience and more about selling new fangled headphones featuring lightning or USB-C connectors and touting sound quality that will make your ears bleed, or something equally hyperbolic.
This is coming and there’s nothing you can do about it- so just sit back and relax while the new standard comes about. There will be plenty of shouting from the sidelines over the next few months and years before this all gets forgotten like every sea change. Or you could just invest in a pair of decent wireless headphones now and save yourself the bother.
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be announced on the 7th of September, 2016. They probably won’t come with a headphone jack and it probably won’t matter a jot.