It is never too early for a juicy Apple iPhone 7 rumor and today we have a whopper: Apple might drop the venerable 3.5mm headphone jack in an effort to build a thinner iPhone, a move that would disrupt the $8 billion headphone industry.
The rumor, from Japanese Apple blog Macotakara cites a “reliable source” claiming Apple will remove the audio jack in an effort to shave a millimeter off the iPhone’s thickness.
The idea of a slimmer iPhone 7 is not new. A few months ago, KGI Securities’ analyst Ming-Chi Kuo wrote a report saying the next iPhone would be almost a full millimeter thinner than the current iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. Back then, it was thought Apple would rely on the resiliency of 7000 Series Aluminum, which showing up in this year’s “S” models, to prevent bending on a thinner device.
The removal of the 3.5mm jack, though, is a new wrinkle, and while the report doesn’t mention it, many believe Apple could replace the jack with a multi-purpose USB-C port. It’s also worth noting that a USB-C port is 2.5 mm high, exactly a millimeter thinner than your standard audio jack.
Apple watcher and Creative Strategies President Tim Bajarin told me, though, it’s unlikely Apple would remove the 3.5mm jack solely as a design decision. However, “If Apple has found some significant way through USB Type C to enhance sound — and it’s highly noticeable — that could justify it.”
On the other hand,
dropping that port could cause a world of hurt for hundreds of millions of headset owners
dropping that port could cause a world of hurt for hundreds of millions of headset owners. UK research firm FutureSource reported 286 million pairs of headphones shipped in 2013 and predicts the headphone market will grow to roughly $11.3 billion in 2017.
People who spend extra money on in-ear and over-the-ear headsets from companies like Klipsch, Parrot and Beats Audio (which Apple owns) prize their audio quality. If Apple jacks the jack, they’ll all have to buy 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapters. It’s the kind of market disruption few believe even Apple can withstand. Back when the company introduced its very first iPhone, it slightly recessed the 3.5mm audio jack, necessitating a small adapter for anyone who wanted to use any headset other than the one that shipped with the device. Instead of the headphone industry adapting to Apple’s change, Apple fixed the port on future iPhones.
If Apple chooses to remove the audio jack, it’s not clear if they would simply replace it with a USB-C port while leaving the Lightning data/charging port intact, or go the “one-for-all” route and only provide a single USB-C port for charging, data and audio. Some believe this is plausible.
Over email, Gartner Analyst Ken Dulaney told me that, as usual, no one actually knows what the highly secretive Cupertino company is up to, but he acknowledged the rumors and can envision a single port solution:
There have been rumors that Apple will switch from the lightning connector to USB Type-C that they have on the new MacBook. Anyway, the reason for removing the [3.5mm] barrel connector is that it takes up a lot of space and doesn’t permit them to thin out the device. Few people use the lightning connector when they are listening to music in a mobile environment (in a fixed environment you can do other things to get audio). So this change would make sense.
So, as Dulaney sees it, losing access to the charging port when you’re listening to audio may not be an issue for most iPhone owners. Plus, the spread of Bluetooth-based speakers and headsets may, ultimately, diminish the need for this port.
It’s a fun rumor to ponder. In the meantime, there are virtually no 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapters available, so if you’re an accessory maker, you may want to get on that.