Since the Sony Walkman debuted in late 1979, we’ve become accustomed to enjoying music on the move.
CD players were a less successful sequel to the clip-on tape player, while Sony’s MiniDisc also enabled people to enjoy block rocking beats wherever they happened to be.
More recently, MP3 players kept the world’s Millennials entertained on train platforms and in waiting rooms, before expanding storage capacities saw smartphones taking over MP3 duties.
However, recent advances in smartphone design have seen the iconic 3.55 millimetre headphone socket – better known as a jack – being phased out.
For a generation used to plug-and-play music consumption, this is proving to be an unwelcome development.
So why are phones with headphone jack sockets becoming so rare?
And should consumers be concerned about the rapid decline in 3.5mm sockets?
Playing the blame game
Apple is commonly credited/cited/blamed for launching phones with headphone jack sockets removed, but it was Chinese brand Oppo who started the ball rolling seven years ago.
Their 2012 Finder phone had a headphone connection via the micro-USB port also used for charging – establishing a trend which has continued ever since.
HTC’s G1 was the first successful Android phone – and also the first without a jack – whereas Apple didn’t abandon the 3.5mm socket until the iPhone 7.
Today, you’d struggle to find high-end smartphones with headphone jack sockets. The Google Pixel doesn’t have one, nor does the iPhone X, or the Samsung Galaxy S10.
However, many of the more affordable handsets launched in 2019 have retained a 3.5mm socket.
Why is the headphone socket becoming an endangered species?
There are several reasons.
Firstly, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to give their handsets IP68 water-resistance, which is hard to do given the design of the 3.5mm jack socket.
Other connectors (specifically USB-C) are much easier to protect against water ingress when they don’t have a cable plugged in.
Secondly, manufacturers are constantly trying to streamline their devices. Removing a socket means less wiring, fewer restrictions on frame design and more room for a bigger battery.
A charging socket is unavoidable, so why not make that socket double up as a connector for peripherals like headphones?
Thirdly, manufacturers recognise that forcing people to buy new wireless or Bluetooth headphones gives them an opportunity to upsell additional products.
Proprietary headphones with platform-specific features represent a useful revenue-booster, at a time when a flood of new Chinese competitors is diluting everyone’s market share.
Fourthly – and this is an opinion espoused by many – smartphone manufacturers lose a lot of valuable meta data on individual device usage and location when Bluetooth is deactivated.
Giving consumers a reason to keep it on helps brands like Google and Apple track movement, increasing profits on the targeted advertising that funds their ‘free’ services.
What should I do about this?
There are several options:
- Buy a USB-C or Micro USB to 3.5mm adapter. Third-party manufacturers sell adaptors for a few pounds online, but ensure your device is compatible with them first
- Go wireless. Bluetooth is increasingly being used to connect wireless headphones automatically, though it lowers a handset’s security and increases battery drain
- Choose a device with a jack. High-end phones increasingly shun 3.5mm connectors, but many mid-priced and budget smartphones still offer the classic headphone jack
- Use USB-specific headphones. Manufacturers sell proprietary headphones which work through the charging port, though this prevents simultaneous charging and audio output.