If you’re one of those people who think that technology always follows a linear path of evolution, going from one great idea to the next, you’re probably also gullible enough to believe that Nigeria is a nation full of temporarily cash-strapped princes. The reality is that new technology that appears to be progressive frequently turns out to be a step sideways or even backwards. The latest example is the ongoing effort to sound the death knell for the 3.5mm audio jack.
The mini TRS connector, to give it its proper name, was created in the 19th century for use in telephone switchboards and is now the de facto standard for audio output pretty much everywhere. Headphones and speakers of all shapes and sizes support them, as do computers, smartphones, tablets and all manner of other machines, including passenger aircraft. But a few smartphone manufacturers have decided that the circular port that the jack plugs into, is holding their handsets back from achieving the kind of bulimic supermodel form factor that their marketing team wants. So in the interest of slimmer, sexier phones, we will soon see a standard of over half a century junked, despite the fact that it works great and an overwhelming majority of consumers already own devices that support it.
Chinese upstart LeEco and American major Motorola have already launched new models sans the 3.5mm audio jack port. But the real body blow will come when Apple unveils the iPhone 7 next month, which is expected to shed its audio port as well. You see, Apple has a long and storied history of taking established standards outside and violently stomping them into the curb. The Floppy, then the CD and most recently Adobe’s Flash have all been victims of its rush to move on to the next big thing.
What’s going to replace 3.5mm audio out? With no new standard available to take its place, it looks like manufacturers will make the call individually. Android devices are expected to go with USB-C and Apple will use its proprietary Lightning port. This means your days of swapping earwax across ecosystems are numbered. In fact, since even Apple’s laptops don’t have Lightning ports, users who own an iPhone and a MacBook will most likely require separate headphones for each of them.
Oh and that’s not all. Your audio devices are also going to get heavier, more expensive and more restricted than ever before. Unlike the analog signal passed through a 3.5mm port, digital audio will need to be converted to analog before it reaches your ears, meaning added circuitry in your headphones. And since the same port is being used for audio, data and charging, you can’t power up or transfer files while listening to music.
Unfortunately, the host of reasons that make this a stupid move fade in front of the need for constant progress – or at least the appearance of it. So here’s to you, dear 3.5mm audio jack. You were faithful and low maintenance, but family values don’t make for great marketing copy. You will live on, but only as a shadow of your former self, in the hands of hipsters whose plaintive insistence that you are better than the alternatives will no doubt be ignored by everyone else. Farewell, friend. You weren’t broke, but we fixed you anyway.
Cover Image Illustration: Aditi Sharma; Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com