Swapping the Headphone Jack for USB-C Makes More Sense Than What Apple Did

By Tom Pritchard on at

Last night Google unveiled the Pixel 2, and one of the noticeable changes is that, like the iPhone 7, this phone doesn't have a headphone jack. It's not the first non-Apple phone to do this (Moto Z and HTC U Ultra are two good examples), but it does look like the first time it's happened to a premium-tier flagship. Or, at least, the first that people care about. They cared enough to let out an audible groan when it was mentioned at least.

Some might call this mimicking Apple, others might say it's the future of audio and we should accept that, and of course there will be those resistant to change who want to use the same headphones they've had for years without an adaptor of some kind. Whatever your opinion on the matter, there's one thing that's blindingly obvious here: swapping the headphone jack for a USB-C port makes a hell of a lot more sense than Apple's switch to Lightning.

Why? I'm upset you had to ask. It's simple when you think about it. Lightning is Apple's proprietary connector, which managed to survive the EU's cull on all phone chargers that were not micro-USB, whereas USB-C is a universal connector. If a company wants to use Lightning, they'd have to pay Apple a (presumably) extortionate licence fee - provided Apple even wants to licence out the technology to someone else.

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Not like this

There are fees attached to using USB in general, not specifically USB-C, though we're talking a few thousand dollars (tops) due every two years. But that's not the point. The point is that USB is already fully ingrained into our tech, and even Apple has utilised USB (and USB-C) in its Macbooks. The same Apple that didn't like HDMI or VGA, and used its own Mini Display Port/Thunderbolt connector instead.

That's my main point. USB is everywhere and the USB-C standard was designed to be futureproof, so it's going to be sticking around for a long time. Given time, companies are going to start phasing out USB 2 and 3 ports in favour of it (it might take a while, but I digress), and we've already seen rapid adoption of it in the mobile phone business. So if you were to go out tomorrow and buy a pair of headphones with a USB-C connection, you know that the chances of those becoming obsolete are incredibly slim.

Similarly, as more devices start ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack there will be more devices open to you. Even if your old device (like a laptop) doesn't have USB-C, there's nothing stopping you from buying an adaptor and plugging them into a regular USB port. While that might not work if you end up with a phone that continues to use micro-USB, headphones with regular USB connectors are not a new development.

 

Sure that's still an adaptor that you'd need to buy to make it work with your older devices, but as time progresses that's going to become less and less likely. And you don't need to buy them from Apple and pay Apple prices.

If you have Lighting headphones, however, it's a totally different story. Lightning is only going to appear on Apple products, barring some weird-ass business dealings, so Lightning headphones aren't going to work with your Toshiba laptop, or Samsung TV. They might appear on Macs, but considering USB-C appeared on a Macbook before Lighting I have my doubts that it'll ever happen.

So USB-C headphones will, eventually, work with everything except iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Lightning headphones will only work with those three things.

These are woefully insufficient

Now Apple diehards might tell you that the switch to Lightning is meaningless anyway. The phrase "the future is wireless" was bandied about at the launch of the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8/X, because Apple wants you to go out and buy Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth headphones are universally compatible, don't need adaptors to connect to new devices, and actually let you charge your phone while they're in use (charging the headphones might be a different story, depending on the manufacturer).

They probably have a point. Bluetooth is already universal, and currently has no issues about compatibility between devices and headphones. No ports means you don't need to hack stuff together to get it to work, and given Bluetooth's pre-existing backwards compatibility it probably won't matter if you carry on using headphones that are a bit old. Basically it might as well be the wireless version of USB-C, since the same points apply.

But there will always people who hold out for wires, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they're worried about lag, or want better audio quality, or just can't be arsed recharging their headphones every single day. Those people want a full-time wire, or at least one they can keep around in case of emergencies or plane travel. And if that wire isn't going to be 3.5mm, it's better off as USB-C.

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