Saturday, September 10, 2016

Why no iPhone 7 3.5mm audio jack is a deal-breaker for me personally

Apple announced last week that the new iPhone 7 won’t have a “standard” 3.5mm stereo headphone jack; it’ll only have a Lightning port.  To offset this, the iPhone 7 is shipping with a dongle that allows 3.5mm headphones to be plugged into the lightning port, as well as with a pair of earbuds that have a Lightning connection instead of a 3.5mm.

Although I’ve only ever owned Apple iOS smart devices up to this point – and I’ve even developed and published my own successful iOS-exclusive RPG game on the App Store – the lack of a standard 3.5mm jack on the iPhone 7 is unfortunately a deal-breaker for me personally.  Here are my reasons why some of the arguments that I’ve heard for why the iPhone 7 having no standard audio jack is no big deal don’t resonate well with me.

Apple is giving you a dongle! Just use that!

I have several different pairs of earbuds that I use with my phone, so just keeping the dongle permanently attached to one pair isn't an option.

I could buy a dongle for every pair of earbuds I own, but in addition to being somewhat expensive and annoying, it would be a hassle to remove (and keep track of) the dongles when I want to use the earbuds with a non-iPhone device.

Keeping a dongle always attached to my phone isn't going to happen. I don't want it always dangling, and when I remove to charge the phone it might get lost.

Finally, I already did the thing where I need to use a dongle to plug in headphones via a device’s power port: With the Gameboy Advance SP, back in 2003. I found the experience to be pretty annoying back then.

Apple is giving you Lightning-connector earbuds! Just use those!

I often plug my earbuds into devices besides my phone, so replacing all of my earbuds with lightning-connector versions isn't an option.  Here’s a partial list:

  • My PC
  • My iPod Nano (which I still use for listening to live sports broadcasts on local FM radio)
  • My Nintendo DS
  • The built-in jack in airplane seats (for watching live sports or recent movies)
  • The built-in jack in the treadmill-with-TV at my gym

Further, I’m not interested in owning two distinct sets of earbuds, one set that works with 3.5mm connections, and one set that works with the iPhone.  (I own multiple pairs of fairly inexpensive earbuds, because over time I’ve learned that I tend to misplace them frequently.)

I’d much rather be in a position where any pair of earbuds I own will work with any audio jack that I own, or might encounter.

The iPhone works with Bluetooth earbuds! Wireless is better anyway!

I don't like wireless / Bluetooth earphones much, as I have found that for me, the hassle of needing to keep them charged outweighs the benefit of not having a wire.

I’ve found that having to manually re-pair them often (when I use the same set of earphones with multiple devices) can be annoying as well.

But the 3.5mm standard is antiquated! Stop living in the past!

Sure, it absolutely makes sense to replace old technologies when superior replacements become available.

In this case, though, I’d argue that for most practical purposes Lightning (for audio connections) is an inferior alternative to 3.5mm audio. Lightning offers no discernable improvement in sound quality, and forces the use of workarounds like the dongle, in contrast to the “it just works” of the 3.5mm stereo standard.

So, I will not be buying an iPhone 7.  My tentative plan is to replace my current iPhone 5S with an iPhone 6S – which works with all standard earbuds, no dongle needed! – at some point in the next year or two.  Hopefully that’ll last me until at least 2019, at which point I’ll decide what to do next – including maybe making the painful jump away from my accumulated iOS software library to Android, Windows Phone, or whatever other future alternative might be available.