Why Apple shouldn't put a headphone adapter in the iPhone 7 box

Cupertino's made its decision, and we'll find out on Wednesday. But we think including a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter dongle is a mistake.

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the next iPhone will ship without a headphone jack. Rumors have been swirling for months, and last week a supposed snapshot of the iPhone 7 packaging all but confirmed it: Apple’s new handset won’t include the traditional 3.5-mm EarPods, but rather new Lightning ones.

This doesn’t concern or surprise me. The headphone port is one of the oldest pieces of legacy tech and quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Apple to ditch it. Like many of you, I’ve been using a pair of Bluetooth earbuds for years, and to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I plugged a pair of headphones into my iPhone. But I understand the backlash. People spend lots of money on wired headphones with the understanding that they will be compatible with any audio-capable device they buy.

What does surprise me is that Apple seemingly cares about their plight. Rather than force millions of iPhone 7 buyers to add a new pair of headphones or earbuds to their order or purchase an overpriced dongle, the same packaging screenshot reveals an uncharacteristic plan to include a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter in the iPhone 7 box, presumably in an effort to cut off the backlash and the inevitable class-action lawsuit before they can even start.

While it’s certainly a nice gesture, I don’t think it’s the right move.

Shift assist

Dongles and adapters aren’t exactly uncommon in Apple’s world. Every few years or so Apple goes and decides some previously important piece of tech that has run its course, and tens of millions of users are left with suddenly obsolete accessories.

To help ease the transition, Apple generally offers a stopgap solution. When the 30-pin connector was replaced with Lightning, for example, there were not one but two adapters designed to keep the clocks and car kits running for a few more months. Small, clumsy and expensive, there was nothing convenient about them, but they served their purpose; within a year or two, mostly everyone had converted to Lightning and Apple was able to safely leave the 30-pin port in the past.

Remember this?

The headphone jack presents a more difficult dilemma. While 30-pin and Lightning were both proprietary ports limited to Apple’s mobile devices, the 3.5mm port is everywhere: PCs, stereos, dashboard decks, alarm clocks, you name it. Removing that port from the iPhone doesn’t make it much closer to obsolescence, and in fact, it’s doubtful it will have much of an effect on the headphone market at all. Sure, there may be a few more Lightning-based cans on the market (and certainly a few models made by Beats), but for the most part, Apple’s decision to axe the headphone jack isn’t about the industry, it’s about the iPhone.

Cord cutting

There are numerous reasons why Apple would want to eliminate the 3.5mm port from the iPhone, most of which have already been discussed. But if I had to guess at the primary motivation, it’s not about audio quality or repair frequency. The most logical reason for Apple to take away the headphone jack is most likely to continue the push toward wireless everything.

Where Apple once proudly embraced its dangling white earbud wires, these days coolness is measured by what isn’t attached to your phone. With the launch of the Apple Watch and the expansion of CarPlay, there is a clear push for freedom, not just from wires but from inconvenience. Aside from argumets about sound quality (which, to be fair, is a big deal when we’re talking about headphones), Bluetooth headphones offer a superior user experience, and the elimination of the 3.5mm jack presumably paves the way for mass adoption of Bluetooth, opening the door to more ubiquitous voice control and tighter integration with Apple Watch.

The inclusion of Lightning EarPods in the box doesn’t change this. While a free pair of pricey Bluetooth earbuds was a nice dream, few people really believed Apple was actually going to do that. The bundled earbuds were always going to be Lightning, but I’m willing to bet a wireless version will be heavily promoted, perhaps even as a BTO option.

Stuck in the past

But an adapter sends a different message entirely. Of course, Apple can’t expect every iPhone 7 buyer to plunk down an extra couple hundred bucks on a high-end pair of Bluetooth headphones, so a $29 adapter was always going to be part of the transition.

But while selling an adapter says, “If you need this you can buy it, but we think you can get along without one,” including one in the box is an admission that most people probably need one. In a nutshell, it says the iPhone 7 isn’t good enough. Not only is it needlessly unsightly, it gives people a reason not to embrace Apple’s vision and creates fragmentation within the same model of iPhone. Removing the headphone jack should be about the future, about Siri and about bringing the Apple experience to another level, but a bundled adapter gives one foot in the past.

Eventually we’ll get there. Before long the removal of the 3.5mm jack will be something we barely talk about, as other manufacturers follow Apple’s lead and headphone manufacturers ramp up their Bluetooth offerings. We saw it with floppy disks and CDs and USB, and it’ll be the same with 3.5mm headphones. It just might take a little longer this time around.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags iPhone 7

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Simon

Macworld.com
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?