First they did away with the floppy disk, then the USB port, now Apple is planning to consign the headphone jack to the history books too.
Rumors that Apple’s next flagship smartphone—presumably called the iPhone 7—will not feature the standard 3.5mm headphone jack have been circulating for months, and while Apple’s policy is to not comment on products before their launch, a recent report seems to have provided definitive proof that headphones will connect to the handset through the lightning port.
So what’s the reason for abandoning a technology that’s been a standard for more than 130 years? Newsweek takes a look at five theories why.
1. Wrap-around screen
A patent filing published on September 29, 2015 suggests the Cupertino company is considering a radical design departure from previous iPhone models. It describes a 4.9-inch wrap-around screen that foregoes the Home Button, volume controls and headphone jack.
“Form factor is an interesting area for development given that the large majority of portable electronic devices have settled into a standard form factor, namely a flat planar form factor with a display on one side and an opaque housing that contains the electrical components covering the rear surface of the device,” Apple states in its patent.
“Unfortunately, this popular form factor leaves the sides and rear surfaces of the device unused or at best configured with buttons and switches with fixed location and functionality.”
As with any patent filing, the wrap-around screen could also be an attempt to prevent rival firms like Samsung from exploiting the design. Or it could simply be a red herring.
2. Beats for everyone
When Apple spent $3.2 billion acquiring Beats electronics, one of the world’s most popular headphone makers, some analysts questioned whether it was worth that price. Eight months earlier, Beats had been valued at just $1 billion.
“This is really puzzling,” said Forrester analyst James McQuivey. “You buy companies today to get technologies that no one else [has]… or customers that no one has. They must have something hidden… under the hood.”
What if that hidden something was secretly creating a new standard for headphones that only its Beats headphone conform to? “It could mean saying goodbye to your favorite pair of headphones,” Forbes contributor Gordon Kelly speculates. “Furthermore, if my theory is correct, then the new ones you buy will probably have Beats on the logo.”
3. Better sound for Apple Music
Apple is planning to start streaming high-resolution audio as part of Apple Music, at least according to Japanese site Macotakara.
The analog headphone jack is only capable of delivering CD-quality sound. A lightning port would allow for headphones with integrated digital-to-analog converters and amplifiers.
The rumors from Japan claim Apple wants to implement 96kHz/24-bit music streaming to Apple Music in 2016. Several headphone manufacturers are also reportedly already in talks with Apple to design headphones that replace the traditional headphone jack with a lightning port.
4. A thinner iPhone
Probably the most straightforward answer is Apple wants to make a slimmer iPhone. The headphone jack is a major limiting factor to the dimensions of a device and using the slimmer lightning port to connect headphones would allow about 1mm to be shaved off the smartphone.
Getting rid of the 3.5mm socket would also mean Apple can stretch the screen further down the device, with some even suggesting it could extend right to the phone’s base. San Francisco-based designer Matt Galligan believes the reason for getting rid of the headphone jack has nothing to do with thinness at all.
“It’s all about internal space,” Galligan wrote in a recent Medium post. “Think about it… that jack at the end of your headphones has to go somewhere in the phone… See how close it comes to the screen? Basically there would be no way to fit the jack itself under the screen.”
5. Because they feel like it
Apple has arguably the most loyal following of any multi-national corporation. It could release an Apple-branded pencil and it would still have legions of fanboys pitching tents outside Apple stores to buy it - in fact it already has.
Who cares if it will render millions of headphones obsolete? So what if more than a quarter of a million people have signed an online petition to keep the standard headphone jack? Apple will inevitably do what it wants because it can.