Apple, the disappearing headphone jack, and the critical nature of the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter

This particular wave of thinking started with this AppleInsider article, Analyst says Apple may forego Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter for new iPhones. From the article:

Apple will probably stop bundling a Lightning-to-3.5 millimeter adapter with this fall’s new iPhones, according to a Barclays memo obtained by AppleInsider.


“We currently model no dongle this year,” wrote Barclays’ Blayne Curtis. The analyst didn’t provide any immediate evidence for the assertion.

It’s a rumor, and one I take with a fair sized grain of salt. But it did start the train going for me.

First, is it inevitable that Apple will kill off the headphone jack on the Mac and the rumored updates of the SE? I just bought Apple’s latest iPad and it comes with a headphone jack. Will future iPads kill the headphone jack or is this purely an iPhone issue, where the real estate is much rarer?

Next, consider the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter that ships with the latest iPhones. To me, it serves an important purpose, a bridge to the world of inexpensive wired headphones. I’ve got a bunch of these sitting around my house, ranging in quality, but all usable if I have access to a 3.5mm port.

I also own a set of AirPods. I love my AirPods and use them almost exclusively. But two things about my AirPods:

  1. They are not cheap.
  2. They are way easier to misplace than a pair of wired earpods. Which makes me hyper-careful about taking them out (which makes me less likely to lose them, I suspect).

If Apple does eliminate the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter or the headphone jack from the SE and future iPads, they are truly raising the bar on the cost of membership in the Apple ecosystem.

My son currently has an older iPhone and is angling for a replacement. He likes the smaller form factor of the SE, but will buy the current model (with a headphone jack) if the rumored newer model ships without a headphone jack.

His thinking? Bluetooth earpods are expensive. I tend to lose stuff. I can’t afford to replace AirPods if I lose them. And I will. And I will lose the dongle, too. If I lose wired earpods, no big deal. I can replace them for $10.

I get that logic. And the SE is the low end iPhone, the most likely purchase for someone who cares about price.

One thing that is clear to me is the complexity of this problem. I think it’ll be hard for Apple to unify its headphone strategy across its product line. And I find that interesting.