Six Colors’ Jason Snell (via Daring Fireball) posed an interesting question in his preview of today’s launch event: how will Apple justify the removal of the headphone socket? Will it do so loudly or quietly, and what will it sell as the benefit?
What’s going to be interesting is how Apple explains the move. Does it play it off quickly with a shrug—“wireless is better”—or does it go into detail? Does the jack’s removal get blamed on some other great iPhone feature that required the space? Does Apple have a bigger story about wireless headphones that it uses to distract from the removal issue?
I’ve already suggested that Apple has been preparing the ground for some time now, but I think yesterday’s KGI report contained a rather large clue as to how Apple will sell the move …
Here’s what KI’s Ming-Chi Kuo had to say:
We also believe Apple will have its own-designed Bluetooth-like communication chip, given its higher requirements for power-saving, communication specs and potential rapid growth of Bluetooth headphone shipments.
As regular readers will know, I consider wires to be the work of the devil. Anything that can be wireless should be wireless. Yet, for the most part, I stick with wired headphones. That’s partly because I’m not keen on having yet another device to charge, but more because even expensive wireless headphones can suffer from lost pairing and random cutouts. Bluetooth just isn’t a particularly robust protocol where audio is concerned.
But if Apple – or Passif – has solved this via a variation on Bluetooth that is significantly more reliable, that would give Apple an extremely strong basis for arguing that now is the time to lose the wires. If the technology can meet three requirements, then I think the switch to wireless becomes a no-brainer.
First, fast and rock-solid pairing. First-time pairing should be quick and painless, and once headphones have been paired to a particular iPhone, they should instantly re-pair next time they are used. No more of the ‘will they or won’t they?’ question familiar to current-generation Bluetooth products.
Second, the connection too should be ultra-reliable. No random cutouts that interrupt the audio stream. Even half a second’s stuttering quickly becomes really annoying when listening to music.
Third, the power efficiency should be better than current low-energy Bluetooth, so charging headphones becomes a weekly thing for the average user, not something we have to do every few days.
If Apple can deliver on all three of those, I think almost everyone will consider the loss of the headphone socket a price worth paying. The new iPhone will, of course, also retain existing Bluetooth for backward compatibility.