Rumors have been swirling about Apple killing off the 3.5mm jack for the upcoming iPhone 7. It has come to a point where case makers and headphone developers alike are already preparing for such a change.
But why such a crazy change ? You ask. The iPhone is already very thin!!
Potential of High Resolution Digital Audio
There are of course many theories out there, but the most sensible one is that Apple will soon introduce 96kHz/24-bit High-Res streaming in Apple Music. However, the current analog 3.5mm headphone jack only delivers 44kHz/16-bit CD-quality sound.
Instead, using the lightning connector, any headphone with integrated Digital-to-Analog Converters and amplifiers can theoretically output lossless stereo 96kHz/24-bit audio.
Why theoretically, you ask?
The thing is, Apple has already launched the Lightning Audio Module for more than a year, and there are headphones with such plugs already in the market. However, despite how these companies market their products, every single one of them still only support 44kHz/16-bit output. Which means they perform the same way as any headphone with 3.5mm plugs.
Of course, Apple intentionally limits the output capability at the moment, and will eventually allow full 96kHz/24-bit soon enough.
So, no, Apple isn’t killing off the 3.5mm jack just to shave 1mm off the new iPhone. Heck, they will probably not kill off the 3.5mm jack on all their devices, since their subsidiary co. Beats still sell millions of headphones with the 3.5mm connectors.
Downsides of Lightning Audio Connection
There are actually a lot of downsides on buying a "Lightning Headphone" (if you can call it that). For one, only iPhones and iPads support lightning connectors, so a Lightning Headphone can only connects to your iDevices, without an adaptor. However, the same connector is used for charging, so if your iPhone or iPad needs charging, you won't be able to listen to music. Worse yet, you cannot use your headphone to connect to your computers (even a Macbook) for music while you wait for your iPhone to charge up.
Second, and more importantly, a Lightning Headphone does not have microphone. So while you can listen to music on it, you won't be able to use your headphone for teleconversations.
This is a big problem, and although rumors are reporting that the newer versions or firmware of the LAM (Lightning Audio Module) will include the path for microphone, no such solutions are available at the moment.
Add these problems to the fact that the current audio performance is the same as any standard 3.5mm output method, it's no wonder Lightning Headphones haven't taken off, in terms of sales or acceptibility.
Winning the Music Streaming War
Still, it makes a lot of sense for Apple to start market HD audio-streaming. The innovative changes to video recording, photography and general screen display have been improved so drastically in the last few versions of the iPhone/iPad, yet there have been little to no improvements on audio performance, be it wired or wireless (iDevices still do not support AptX via Bluetooth).
Apple Music is doing well, but there are simply too many other streaming services out there in the market. With such strength in music catalogue and studio relationship, imagine what Apple can do if they can deliver better audio quality as well.
And if they truly intend to initiate their attack on the audio front, re-emphasis their core-essence of "Music Lover", what better product to start than their most popular device ever sold - the iPhone.
To sum up, this drastic change seems inevitable, and yes, people will scream and shout in the beginning or even petition to stop this. But just like what Apple did with the floppy drive, CD-Rom or the 30-pin connector, we have to live with it, we will get used to it, and perhaps we will be better off for it.