Ben Dodson

Freelance iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Developer

iPhone 7 headphone predictions

I don’t tend to make many Apple predictions but I’ve been meaning to write about the rumour of the lack of a headphone port on the iPhone 7 for some time. It seems almost certain that the iPhone 7 will drop the 3.5mm headphone jack in favour of using the proprietary lightning port and this has caused a lot of consternation in the tech press. This is understandable as there are several issues with doing this:

  1. You wouldn’t be able to use headphones you already own (potentially very expensive headphones).

  2. If you were using lightning headphones, you wouldn’t be able to charge your phone at the same time.

  3. Whilst Bluetooth is an option, it can have lag (only annoying on video) and you have to remember to charge them.

The solution to the first problem is very simple; there will be an adapter accessory1 to allow you to plug 3.5mm headphones into the lightning port. I personally don’t have a problem with this; if you have expensive headphones and an expensive phone, the cost of buying an adapter is negligible really and it is unlikely to add any bulk as it’ll just be extending the cord that you’ll already be using. You are unlikely to buy an adapter to use the existing bundled EarPods as it is certain that Apple would bundle in some lightning powered EarPods so really the adapter is for those with existing expensive 3.5mm based headphones.

However, the other two issues are more problematic. There is an issue that you may very well want to charge your iPhone whilst listening to music via headphones and Bluetooth does suck when you are watching video as it is often out of sync by a few milliseconds. I own a pair of Beats Studio Wireless which connect either via Bluetooth or via a 3.5mm cable; I regularly use the cable when watching Netflix in bed as I find the lag incredibly irritating2. In addition, I can charge my phone at the same time.

Some people have proposed that the iPhone 7 could get conductive charging much like the Apple Watch but this seems highly unlikely to me; the amount of space required to do that is huge (compared to a 3.5mm jack) and it charges very slowly, especially with an iPhone 6 Plus sized battery.

I have two predictions which I believe solve these issues:

  1. The bundled headphones will be lightning but will have some sort of lightning passthrough so you can continue to power your device or use any other lightning accessory at the same time.

  2. There will be wireless headphones that will work with some new proprietary sync method3 but can also work with a lightning cable for both listening and charging. They would be called “AirPods” and would either be bundled as the lightning headphones or be available separately for something like £79 / $99. A recent patent that was unearthed would seem to indicate this as a solid option. Extra points to Apple if it is a custom wireless solution and it works with the Apple Watch 2.

Both of these proposals get around the charging issue and the Bluetooth lag issue. I think it more likely that we’ll get basic lightning headphones included and then have to pay for the fancier lightning / wireless ones but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that they could be bundled. That said, I also wouldn’t put it past Apple to say “you can use headphones or you can charge your phone” similar to the “charge or use peripheral” attitude to the solo USB-C port on the MacBook4.

The only thing that seems certain is that the 3.5mm port will not be available; you’ll need to use either an adapter or whatever new headphones Apple release.

  1. Likely priced at $29.99 / £24.99 because they can. You’ll get a cheap version on Amazon for $9.99 / £6.99 within a month. ↩︎

  2. I couldn’t care less about audio lag for listening to music or podcasts as it really doesn’t matter and isn’t noticeable; it only affects video as 50ms of lag will mean that the actors lips don’t move precisely with their voice which is offputting. ↩︎

  3. They would probably use the “AirPlay” brand. ↩︎

  4. Which I own and have had no issues with. Interesting that it retains a 3.5mm jack though when a USB-C port on both sides would make more sense to my mind. ↩︎

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