Apple brutally murdered the headphone port in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and stood over its bloodied corpse, proudly declaring the future of audio was Lightning. Or possibly wireless. Or dongles.
Regardless, we now have three solutions to a problem most people didn’t realise existed. So is Apple mad, or was it time for the headphone port to die and take its place in tech heaven alongside the floppy disk and ZX Spectrum?
Allow us to weigh up the good and the bad in Apple’s decision:
Good: Better audio
Apple argues that Lightning offers a superior audio experience to the old analogue port, with noise cancellation, more control over frequencies, and other tech to make audiophiles giddy.
Fair enough, we say, although a moment’s thought might have you conclude there was nothing stopping Apple moving to Lightning without simultaneously killing the old headphone port.
Still, if you're after a pair of noise cancelling in-ears without an annoying battery pack, you've got something to be happy about, we suppose.
Bad: It’s wasteful
Apple deserves credit for its green credentials, but has spent quite a bit of time of late rubbishing old kit.
The headphone port still had utility, but we’re now encouraged to embrace new headphones, and hurl old ones into the abyss. Even the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone dongle in the iPhone 7 box feels like it uses resources that don’t need to be used.
Good: It moves tech on
Exec Phil Schiller described Apple’s decision as "courageous", which stuck in the craw a bit. But there is an argument that companies should go all-in on their visions of the future, and seek to move entire industries forwards.
Apple’s already rethinking wireless headphones with its new W1 chip found in the new AirPods, and you can bet headphone makers are clamouring to make great new kit for the iPhone 7.
Bad: Lightning’s proprietary
Whichever way you cut it, the headphone port was an old, open standard Apple killed and replaced with something proprietary it can control.
Ironically, Apple’s iPhone in part drove adoption of the standard headphone port on phones, in a similar manner to the iMac and USB on PCs. But Lightning is the ADB of phone ports – Apple-only (well, iOS-only) and not something that will be industry-wide. You’ll never plug Lightning headphones into a PC, for example.
Fortunately for Apple, the iPhone’s such a monster seller that companies will support it anyway.
Good: It frees up space
Crack open an iPhone 7 and a taptic engine lurks roughly where the headphone port used to be.
In removing a hole full of air, Apple has more scope with its smartphone’s internals. Although you might suggest Apple could drop its obsession with thin and have space for loads of additional stuff too. Like an even bigger battery, for example.
Bad: You’ve lost an input port
If you stared at the MacBook’s sole USB-C port and puzzled over how to plug in all your stuff, just imagine if there was no headphone port either. That’s the iPhone 7.
You can’t charge your iPhone or use a Lightning-to-USB adapter and listen to wired headphones. We did briefly mull a Lightning Y cable/dock until our intestines threatened to strangle our brain for conceiving of something like that dangling from a phone. And then, naturally, we discovered one existed anyway. So there is a solution – for 40 bucks.
Good: It helps with waterproofing
The new iPhones can be hurled into a swimming pool or toilet and survive unscathed. Surely that’s worth losing the headphone port for? And, yes, we’re happy we’ll never again sadly plonk an iPhone in a bag of rice and hope for the best.
But then we remember the Samsung Galaxy S7 is water resistant – and still has a headphone port.
Bad: You might need a dongle
We already mentioned the dongle, for connecting old-style headphones to Lightning ports – but it warrants its own entry.
Dongles are easily lost and have a tendency to break easily. The headphone port was more robust. Also, the notion of needing a dongle to use headphones feels very un-Apple. It’s almost as if the company’s strongly hinting you don’t really want that ugly thing dangling from your iPhone. Why not just give in and use Lightning, or, better, buy some AirPods?
(We’d complain, but imagine such gripes would just fall on deaf ears.)