What it is: The headphone jack has been around for decades, but it may finally be phased out with the introduction of the iPhone 8.
When rumors started to hint that Apple may abandon the traditional headphone jack, many people were confused. After all, why abandon something that works perfectly well and works with existing headphones and ear buds?
Of course, there’s no reason to abandon technology just for the sake of doing something different. That’s what got Microsoft in trouble when they abandoned the traditional Windows 7 user interface for the tile interface of Windows 8. When you create change for the sake of change that provides zero consumer benefit, it’s no surprise when consumers rebel and refuse to adopt the latest changes.
The simplest answer why Apple would abandon the headphone jack in the iPhone is so they can make the iPhone thinner. That by itself isn’t enough of a reason to abandon technology, but there are a lot more.
First, replacing a Lightning connector for the headphone jack allows the Lightning connector to supply power to the headphones, unlike traditional headphones that require their own power source such as batteries.
Second, the traditional headphone jack is analog while the Lightning connector is digital. While a traditional headphone jack can deliver audio, a Lightning connector can deliver audio and so much more information stored as digital data. One example is that headphones, through a Lightning connector, can track a user’s head movements, which is impossible to do with a traditional headphone jack. Such head tracking data can be useful for virtual reality headsets.
In 2008, Apple patented an invention that would collect biometric data such as temperature, perspiration, and heart rate through a set of headphones or earbuds — something that’s impossible to do with a traditional headphone jack.
So Apple isn’t just planning to dump the traditional headphone jack just for the sake of change or to make a thinner iPhone. Apple will eventually dump the traditional headphone jack because it won’t be as flexible or versatile as the Lightning connector. When you can get head tracking movement data along with biometric data through a Lightning connector, a traditional headphone jack will seem as restrictive as an 8-track cassette.
While the rest of the world keeps clinging to ancient technology, Apple keeps pushing technology forward. After critics initially savage Apple for abandoning older technology (floppy disk drives, DVD drives, Adobe Flash, etc.), the rest of the world soon follows Apple once they see the advantages (and conveniently forget their earlier criticisms).
The traditional headphone jack is ancient technology that’s going to disappear soon. Besides offering advanced features, the Lightning connector also has the business advantage of being patented by Apple. Once Apple introduces headsets that rely on Lightning connectors, competitors will need to match that feature using their own technology.
Yet that won’t work because once Apple introduces Lightning connectors, few people will want to support a rival headphone jack standard. This essentially locks the rest of the world (Android) to traditional headphone jacks while Apple reaps the technical and financial benefits of their Lightning connector.
Eventually Apple’s patent for their Lightning connector will expire, but in the meantime, this will give Apple a huge head start on new types of headphones that are more versatile than headphones relying on a traditional headphone jack. Although the Lightning connector may seem like a tiny feature, it’s actually part of a larger vision that Apple will define and reap the rewards in the future.
It’s not about making thinner iPhones. Switching to Lightning connectors is about bringing a whole new range of features to devices through the Lightning connector that only Apple can use for free (while charging others a patent fee to use).