With Apple looking all but certain to be dropping the 3.5mm headphone socket in favor of audio via the Lightning socket of the iPhone 7, Intel backs the move to digital audio but suggests Apple is using the wrong connector, at least in its iOS devices.

The chipmaker has announced that it will be adding digital audio to the USB-C spec later this year, reports CNET, and that this will be ‘the right connector for audio’ …


At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel architects Brad Saunders and Rahman Ismail sketched out a coming USB audio standard that could help push the 3.5mm jack aside. The new specification, due this quarter, adds features to ensure a USB headphone doesn’t drain too much battery power and defines how buttons for pausing music or lowering volume work. The work “will really make USB Type-C the right connector for audio,” Saunders said.

Intel is also adding a new video standard to USB-C, intended to replace HDMI for running standard apps and watching movies, but without offering the frame-rate needed for gaming. Finally, the updated spec will also add device authentication for improved security.

Apple is of course no stranger to standing apart from other manufacturers in using its own connectors, having developed the 30-pin dock connector for the first iPod and used it for early iPhones and iPads before switching to the equally proprietary Lightning socket. But with the company seemingly standardizing on the USB-C connector for its MacBook range, it is something of a shame that it isn’t doing the same for iPhones.

It seems unlikely that Apple will make the switch from Lightning to USB-C in iOS devices. The company attracted a great many complaints when it abandoned the 30-pin socket, with many having to replace sometimes-expensive accessories like speaker docks, so a second switch soon after pushing Lightning as an audio standard would seem a virtual impossibility from a PR perspective.

All the same, Intel’s backing for digital audio is likely to lead to other manufacturers also abandoning the 3.5mm headphone socket, making Apple’s move seem less controversial over time. Motorola/Lenovo has already done so with the Moto Z, offering a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, while audio companies are already offering USB-C headphones.

Lightning headphones have of course already been available for some time.


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