Hit the road jack! Apple shows wired headphones the door

Apple Airpods wired headphones

Apple caused outrage amongst fans and tech lovers when it announced that their new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will not include the standard 3.5mm headphone jack we are all so accustomed to. They are not the first to do so; Motorola and Chinese smartphone brand, LeEco, have both taken this route before. However, for some reason Apple’s decision has provoked the ire of many.

According to Apple, there are two important reasons why they took the leap. One, the jack takes up a lot of valuable space – space that can be used to improve the efficiency of the phone itself. More space (even if it’s not much) means the expansion and improvement of camera technologies, processors and battery life. Funnily enough, this doesn’t mean that the new iPhones are thinner than its predecessor, but simply that more tech is now crammed into the already available space.

The second reason is waterproofing. Creating a phone that is able to withstand being dropped or dunked in water and suffering little to no damage isn’t possible when there are holes present (like the one created by the headphone jack). Some argue that there are ways that Apple could have circumvented this issue since other phone manufacturers have managed to waterproof despite the headphone jack’s presence. Conspiracies abound that this is simply a clever ploy to force people to buy more Apple products than they actually need, like the newly-created wireless AirPods and special adaptors for wired headphones.

Ever since Apple’s announcement, sales of wireless headphones have been increasing. In fact, Bluetooth has been getting a leg-up on wired headphone sales for a while now even though both are in high demand. Bluetooth’s popularity may be due to the fact that the average sale price has decreased over the years in comparison to headphones. Many people see Apple’s decision as coming at a perfect time as more and more people favour Bluetooth. The company is after all known for being revolutionary.

However, despite statistics showing partiality to wireless, removing the headphone jack from a popular device like the iPhone has been a controversial move to many. Since so many devices today have the jack and everyone has at least one pair of headphones, this decision could render the tech we currently own useless. It is also particularly vexing for those who are sentimental about the long history of head- and earphones.

The technology dates back all the way to the 19th century. The 3.5mm jack derived from the connectors invented for use with telephone switchboards, a system people use to answer and direct calls. Back then the jacks were ¼ inch in size (about 6.35mm). In 1891 French engineer, Ernest Mercadier, patented in-ear headphones for use as telephone receivers, his design was very similar to modern earbud headphones. Not long after this in 1910 electrical engineer Nathaniel Baldwin developed a prototype telephone headphone in his kitchen (a true entrepreneur!). These headphones were eventually bought by the United States Navy because they possessed such superior sound quality.

Years later, in 1957, earmuffs were created with active noise cancellation, which proved that technology used in the aerospace industry was also useful for everyday consumers. Musician John Koss developed commercial stereo headphones after experiencing how good military-grade headphones were. He also invented a phonograph (a device for recording and reproducing sound) that incorporated both speaker and headphone jacks.

Sony was instrumental in making the headphone jack and headphones omnipresent in everyday life. The Walkman was one of the first times the 3.5mm headphone jack became commonly used. Bluetooth Wireless technology came around in the late 1990s when a Dutch inventor filed a patent for it. (The word “Bluetooth” was derived from the name of the 10th century Danish king, Harald Blatand). Bluetooth was only launched commercially in 1999 by Ericsson, the Swedish telecom developer. It allowed data to be exchanged over short distances using radio waves.

Such a long history either shows that the invention and development is so good that it doesn’t have to be replaced or that it is outdated technology in need of a modern upgrade. Be that as it may, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, says, “Remember, we’ve been through this many times before. We got rid of parallel ports, the serial bus, floppy drives, physical keyboards on phones… At some point — some point soon, I think — we’re all going to look back at the furor over the headphone jack and wonder what the big deal was.”