Change My View is a series of opinion posts that relate to technology in today’s world. The series is inspired by the subreddit with the same name, where a user will post an opinion on a current issue and other users will try to sway their position.

The posts in this series will fall in one of two categories. Either the opinion being posited will be a legitimate view of the author, or the author will gather sources based on the opposing view on an issue, and will argue a case about it.

We would like to remind everyone that these posts are written for the sake of discussion. While there will always be people who will try to incite a specific group of users, we ask that you don’t “fuel the flames”. In other words, keep it civil.

So let’s get started.

This post on Change My View focuses on a highly-debated topic: the headphone jack in phones.

The view I will express in this post is NOT my own, however I will develop the opposing side’s view as if it were my own. I encourage everyone to engage in constructive debate in the comments, whichever side you might be on.

The view: The headphone jack has run its course. It’s an old technology in new phones, and it’s time to phase it out.

The issue

3.5mm headphone jacks have been around since the middle of the 20th century, when they were included in personal transistor radios. They have also been in phones since portable mobile devices started to be mass-produced.

Yet some of the top phone manufacturers – Android and Apple alike – are removing the beloved piece of hardware for various reasons.

The trend first started with LeEco, a lesser-known Chinese conglomerate. In 2016, the company released the Le 2 lineup: Le 2, Le 2Pro, and Le Max2, all without a headphone jack. Instead, users had to listen to audio through headphones with a USB Type-C connection.

LeEco’s USB Type-C Headphones

At the time, it was rumored that Apple would remove the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, which the company subsequently did. This was part of the reasoning behind LeEco’s industry-changing switch, as Apple is widely considered to be the leader in mobile design. In short, whatever Apple does, other manufacturers follow suit.

However a bigger question remains: what were the rationales behind each company’s decision to remove the headphone jack?

Removing the headphone jack: Company rationales

The list of manufacturers that have removed the headphone jack in their phones grows larger with each year that passes. Each company had their own motivations for the shift, but there’s a few rationales that repeatedly popped up in my findings: the need to save space, thinner phones, and better audio quality.

The plight to save space in phones

As batteries get larger and the internals in phones get more complex, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to cram as much as they can into their phones.

One way is the removal of the headphone jack.

In September of 2016, Apple announced that they were removing the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and later models. Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, called it “courageous” (which then took the meme world by storm). Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior VP of hardware engineering later said:

It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there’s a better, modern solution available, it’s crazy to keep it around.

His second sentence provides some reasoning behind the company’s decision. Apple did improve the camera from the iPhone 6S to the iPhone 7. Particularly, it included better low-light shots and a faster shutter speed.

Apple also increased the battery capacity between the two phones (iPhone 6S: 1715 mAh, iPhone 7: 1960 mAh). This higher capacity was introduced alongside the newer A10 Fusion chips in the iPhone 7, which offered a quad-core 2.34 GHz CPU, as opposed to the dual-core 1.84 GHz CPU in the iPhone 6S.

While these things do require more space in the phone, I believe Apple had a higher motivation.

The iPhone 7 has a substantially larger haptic vibration motor than the iPhone 6S. The motor powers 3D touch in the phones, but the 7 needed a larger one to power its fixed home button. This meant that there wasn’t enough room for the headphone jack, so Apple removed it entirely.

Apple also made it harder to get in the phone to do repairs such as screen replacements, and forced customers to buy separate dongles to connect their headphones to the phone. This all plays into the ulterior motive for Apple’s removal of the headphone jack: profit.

Read More:

Thinner is better, according to manufacturers

Saving space in phones also ties into the race for thinner phones. A perfect example of this is the Essential Phone from Andy Rubin. The project stemmed from the Android Inc. founder’s need to deliver a device that had all the features that were missing in other phones at the time.

When people found out that those features didn’t include the headphone jack, well, let’s just say that they didn’t find the Essential Phone so… essential.

The Essential team did a Reddit AMA in September of 2017, where they responded to questions regarding the phone. Of course, the removal of the headphone jack was on the docket, to which the team responded:

Headphone jacks are pretty big components and they don’t play nice with all-screen Phone architectures. We studied it very seriously, but fitting a headphone jack into our Phone required tradeoffs we were uncomfortable with. We’d have grow a huge “chin” in the display and reduce the battery capacity by 10%, or we’d need a huge headphone bump! We decided it was more important to have a beautiful full-screen display in a thin device with solid battery life. Then we made sure we to build ya’ll a high-quality DAC in a tiny adapter that can elegantly live on your headphones.

This rationale makes sense in regards to the Essential Phone. According to the team, the headphone jack would interfere with the design integrity of the whole phone, which is why the feature wasn’t included. Basically, the team saw there were trade-offs to be made, so they sacrificed one feature to save a lot more.

Better audio quality

Lastly, one more argument that I found manufacturers putting forth was the issue of better audio quality.

Apple was at the forefront of this rationale when they were developing the iPhone 7 and later models. Their campaign was simple – introduce mobile devices that didn’t need wires, and have a product on hand to help ease the transition: AirPods.

As usual, once Apple announced their intent to phase out the headphone jack, Android manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon.

One of the first was HTC with the U Ultra, which definitely wasn’t the company’s prettiest piece. The phone had a large chin and huge bezels, a non-removable battery, and of course no headphone jack. There was quite a huge uproar with this phone, however once the storm blew over, HTC released a statement to The Verge about their intent:

We removed the headphone jack because we believe the audio experience on the phone can be so much more than just the simple transmission of sound. The sonar-like capabilities of USonic wouldn’t be possible with a 3.5mm headphone jack. We have microphones built into both earbuds that “listen” for sonic pulses, which can then adjust your audio to match your ears’ unique architecture. We believe the market is ready to push audio into new innovations that benefit consumers’ listening experience.

Sounds familiar, right? HTC removed the headphone jack, however they had a product already on hand to justify their move. However HTC did include their USonic headphones in the box for free in order to gain adoption of the new wireless standard.

Even though the U Ultra wasn’t a huge hit, the HTC U11 that was introduced in May of last year helped to re-enforce HTC’s reputation.

Wrapping it all up

So I’ve given you the view (stated below), along with three distinct rationales as to why companies are phasing out the headphone jack.

Now I want you to create a constructive debate in the comments, depending on which side you fall on. If you have facts, please back them up with sources to prove their legitimacy. Let’s see if you can Change My View.

The view: The headphone jack has run its course. It’s an old technology in new phones, and it’s time to phase it out.



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