I'm not going to argue against Apple's decision to drop the 3.5mm headphone connector on the new iPhone 7; maybe it is a good idea. The 3.5mm audio jack has been around for over 60 years and gained worldwide popularity when Sony used it on the Walkman in 1979.
Apple is not the first smartphone manufacturer to ditch the audio jack. Motorola launched the Moto Z series earlier this year without a dedicated headset connector and included a 3.5mm to USB-C headphone port adapter with the devices.
The issue with the iPhone 7 is that Apple has decided to continue using the proprietary Lightning connector instead of the new, standard, USB Type-C. If the Lightning connector is better than USB Type-C, why did Apple choose the latter for the new Macbook?
Back in 2009, the European Commission reached an agreement with 10 leading manufacturers, including BlackBerry, Samsung, Sony, and Apple, to reduce the amount of waste generated by discarded phone chargers. However, the agreement only held until the end of 2012, when Apple launched its iPhone 5 in Europe and introduced a Lightning connector. The company argued that the existing Micro-USB connector was not enough to power their large iPads, since it was limited to nine watts. Apple then claimed that customers had the choice of purchasing a special Lightning-to-Micro-USB adapter to use with standard chargers. Since customers always receive a Lightning charger with their iPhones, this means an additional purchase and more waste.
Two years ago, the European Parliament approved the final draft of the new Radio Equipment Directive, destined to replace the old 1999 “R&TTE Directive on radio equipment and telecommunications terminal equipment.” One of the most commented provisions of the new directive, which will go into full effect at the end of 2017, is the requirement that all mobile phones and tablets in the European Union use a common charger.
USB 3.1 with the smaller, reversible USB Type-C provides all the functions of Lightning and Thunderbolt cables for regular consumers. Apple itself decided that USB Type-C was good enough for their new ultralight Macbook introduced last year, but not for the iPad and iPhone. Why? Because they can't charge a license fee for USB connectors, but they can charge manufacturers that want to sell devices featuring Lightning interfaces.
I believe USB-connected headphones are a good idea. Apart from the obvious advantage of delivering a pure digital signal to the headset, the connector can also power it. USB Type-C active noise cancelling headsets are lighter, don't need their own batteries and, paired with the processing power of smartphones and tablets, provide the best performance and sound quality.
Now, here's the problem. If I were in the market for a new ultralight Apple laptop, such as the Macbook, and a new iPhone, and I also wanted to invest in a good pair of active noise cancelling headphones (wired) for traveling, I would have had to also buy two new headsets. Obviously, I could buy an existing battery powered headset from several vendors, with the standard 3.5mm audio jack, and use the adapter for the new iPhone. Unfortunately, I'd have to sacrifice the convenience, lightness, and performance of the new digital headset models.
Apple executives are probably banking on users who buy or upgrade to the iPhone 7 being lured into spending an additional $160 for the sleek new AirPods when they become available in late October, and on them forgetting about the missing 3.5mm audio jack. But most people will be getting the new iPhone through an upgrade program or together with a 24-month contract with one of the authorized Apple carrier partners and are not expecting to pay a premium for a pair of ear buds.
The fact is that most music lovers prefer a wired headset because of audio quality. Anyone that has used Bluetooth speakers with a wired connection knows they sound better when connected via cable to the music device.
It is clear to me that Apple's motivation is to maximize its gross margin adding new accessories to the product line. The company is famous for making close to 40% margins on devices, which is the highest in the industry. Further, it makes profits close to 80% selling accessories, such as the €25 ($28) Lightning-to-MicroUSB adapter.
Apple is always happy to point out that its products are environmentally friendly, free of many pollutants already banned in Europe, such as mercury, arsenic, and beryllium. I wish that Apple would join the real sustainability trend and stop trying to sell more unnecessary accessories, especially adapters, just to maximize earnings.
The recycling robot Liam being able to dismantle end of life iPhones is a great start (See the video below). Even so, much more has to be done!
Do you agree? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.