The Mystery of Apple's Disappearing Headphone Jacks

Apple may have taken away the headphone jack, but now, it appears that they are actively stopping third-party companies from bringing it back. 

This all started in 2016 when Apple announced that the iPhone 7 would no longer have a headphone jack. I wrote a post calling for third-party case manufacturers to design a battery case that brought the headphone jack back. To my surprise, just a few months later I was contacted by multiple companies who were developing cases that did just that. 

In December 2016, we filmed a video with the world's first iPhone 7 case with a working headphone jack. The case worked perfectly and we expected it to come to market in the near future but for some unknown reason, it never did. We reached out this manufacturer multiple times and never got a response. Other cases with headphone jacks started popping up around the web; some prototype reviews and others were on crowdfunding sites. From what I can tell, none of these cases ever made it to market either. 

Fast forward to the iPhone X launch. My iPhone 6s' battery was almost useless and the update to IOS 11 crippled its speed. I decided to preorder the iPhone X even though I knew I would miss the headphone jack. I checked Amazon and to my surprise, there was a battery case with a headphone jack up for pre-order for $80. I bought it. 

A few weeks later I got the phone and the case, and it worked! I could listen to music without a dongle and I could charge my phone at the same time. On the same day that I received the case in the mail I got an email from Amazon telling me that they were refunding me for my new case. They didn't ask me to mail it back or tell me why, they just gave me my $80 back. The listing for the case was completely removed from Amazon as well. 

The highest rated case on Amazon with a headphone jack works via Bluetooth and it must be charged separately. That's such a ridiculous workaround. 

At this point, I realized that something had to be going on. I started to try to contact every headphone case manufacturer I could find to figure out what was happening. Not a single one of them responded to me. 

Later that month I updated my phone and the case stopped working. It now shows the error "This accessory is not supported by this device." Apple shut it down. 

I understand that Apple likes to keep their ecosystem closed for quality control and that they are now licensing the lightning port out to third-party accessory makers. I know for a fact that the case manufacturer that we initially had contact with was going through this process. They told us that they were waiting on Apple's approval. 

I think it's fair to say that Apple is blocking this type of accessory and I can't figure out why. Are they trying to sell more wireless headphones? If so, why include a free dongle in the box? Why did every case manufacturer stop responding to us? Does Apple have something to do with that too? 

I'm sure that 99.9% of the people reading this don't care about the headphone jack at all, but that's not the point. The point is that it appears that once again Apple is actively trying to block third-party manufacturers from creating products that the public wants. Can you imagine if they blocked USB type A adapters for the new Macbooks? Just because Apple thinks that USB Type C is the future doesn't mean all of their customers are ready. If Apple wants to remove a feature from one of their products, that's their decision. But if a third party company is willing to pay them to license the port so that they can bring it back, Apple should welcome the extra cash and happy users. 

If anyone has any additional information on this story I would love to hear it. Please leave a comment below. 

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87 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

i care about headphone jacks Lee, #headphonejacklivesmatter. and you got it for free..........sweet !

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Headphone jacks do matter UGHHH

Lee Christiansen's picture

I think for a while now, that Apple have forgotton there is a world outside the Apple ideal. But there will come a point where the world may no longer bend to their insistences and Apple may find themselves proudly out in the cold.

Jason Lorette's picture

Trust me...I'm not a fan of the "dongle" and I'm sure old Steve J. wouldn't be either. It's like when they took the card reader out of the MacBook pro (which I use constantly), that was just a ridiculous decision.

Pete Whittaker's picture

Why do you keep buying a crippled product? No headphone jack?!? Battery too small and you can't swap it out?!? Vote with your wallet.

Lee Morris's picture

I love almost everything else though... I’m trapped!

Android and iOS are both pretty good now - I carry a Samsung S8+ and an iPhoneX myself, but if I had to pick just one, I'd go with the S8+ because of the headphone jack and the bigger battery.

You should give it a go for a month and see if you can get to like it. Android does a few things better than iPhone, like notifications, multitasking, customizability and general open-ness. It might be hard to switch back!

Spike S's picture

This is propagated by the Apple echo chamber. Android phones are as secure as iPhones as long as you don't obtain apps from outside the Play Store, especially in India or China. In most countries, those apps aren't available. I switched to Android phones six years ago and support other users and have not once had a security issue.

Apple's support/update model isn't great either. Some critical applications (browser, messages) are tied to the operating system image. So once your device reaches its support end-of-life, that's it, no more updates for you.

On the other hand, in Android, those same applications are not tied to the OS image, and are updated well beyond your device's EOL.

First of all, I don't know that 5 year support is typical. Wasn't iOS updates for the iPhone 5c stopped in less than 4 years?

I believe that application updates are even more important than OS updates. (Eg. mail and web browser) Applications are your first line of defense against malicious attack, and messaging and web services are a primary attack entry points. Perpetual updates to these applications are one way in which the Android security model is better.

I suspect you are too committed to your argument to consider another perspective. Let me reiterate one last time.

Neither iOS or Android is clearly more secure. They have relative advantages.
Once an Android device has reached its EOL, critical applications will still receive updates. Eg. Web Browser. Once an iOS device has reached EOL, that’s it. No more updates. That is one way that Android offers better long-term security.

Have a good day.

Very curious indeed. Love and need a standard headphone jack. I won't ever buy any phone without one (despite I currently have a dying iPhone SE and switching to another iPhone would be easier). I am also looking forward to solve that mystery ! Good find detective Lee !

Michael Holst's picture

The loss of Steve will haunt them until a new visionary comes along. They're starting to remind me of the Apple that existed before Jobs came back to the company.

Michael Holst's picture

That would be a good move. Someone who's a genius marketing mind like Jobs would be important.

Albert Stewart's picture

"It seems really strange to me to force your customers to use a product in the way that YOU want, when we're willing to pay the premium for the device but we also want to pay for accessories that allow us to use your product in a different way"......................THIS is what it means to be an Apple user which is why I'm still trying to understand why you guys don't just leave Apple alone. I remember when the iPhone FINALLY got 4k (iPhone 6S: 2015), you guys made a video about how it was going to change the game. Phones from years prior (Note 3: 2013) had 4k a full 2 years before the iPhone yet not a peep from anyone. Apple makes inferior products, overcharges for them, and then goes behind the consumer's back to sabotage them to force you to upgrade. Why blindly support them? You clearly see the writing on the wall when it comes to laptops/desktops so why not follow through with mobile as well?

Lee Morris's picture

Maybe one day. I think I’m going to the new Samsung reveal next month.

miss a lot of the iPhone interface apps tho went Android two phones back.

Currently on a Samsung, hate how it looks & it's cased the whole time. Battery life is king when I'm off grid and traveling.

Minion Blob's picture

A few years ago there was a similar mystery about the floppy and then the optical drives on other Apple devices. Do you miss those as well? There is always a transition period to every technological paradigm shift. A legacy analog port simply has no justification to exist when the function can be easily accommodated by wireless or other existing digital interfaces a fraction of the size. Your iPhone is also water resistant because of that, something that cannot be easily accommodated otherwise without increasing the bulk or other compromises. Hence the adapters for those situations or customers who just must have those. Same goes for USB-A vs USB-C on the MacBooks.

I have a pair of $3K custom JHA IEMs gathering dust because I can’t use it with the iPhone X for the same reason. But the main reason is the convenience and liberating experience of the AirPods had trumped all other considerations (for me). YMMV and there are plenty of other choices out there for every customer.

My 2 cents..

The headphone jack has absolutely nothing to do with water resistance. The Samsung S7 managed a higher protection rating (IP68 vs IP67 for the iPhone 7) while keeping the jack.

At the end of the day, there is not a single good reason to remove the headphone jack. It is still the standard interface to audio equipment. As much as I love and use bluetooth, it isn't there yet. Not in sound quality, not in price, and definitely not in widespread adoption among audio equipment manufacturers. When it requires more work to find a wired pair of headphones than bluetooth...only then can you pry that 3.5mm jack away from me. I can't wait for that day - but it isn't here, and it isn't going to be here for quite a few more phone generations.

Ryan Cooper's picture

The are plenty of good reasons, the first of which is redundancy. They moved from two jacks capable of doing the same thing to one. That saves space and streamlines the device. A lightning jack is capable of doing everything a 3.5mm headphone jack can do and more so why keep the headphone jack except for to maintain backward compatibility on technology that was invented in 1878? Its time to move forward. Yeah its annoying, even for me, but it does make sense to move forward. Apple's long term goal is likely no jack at all but they can't until wireless charging becomes much better but once it does, expect lightning to go away as well.

Why Apple is blocking companies trying to help smooth the transition though is a confusing choice.

They were not redundant. The lightning port may be able to pass through analog signals, but it does not accept the industry standard audio plug. Hence the need for another device to make it work (#donglelife). Adapters are not elegant. They are a sign of poor design, especially for a permanent solution. That is especially true when the included dongle reduces functionality by forcing you to choose one function or the other, rather than running both. Sure I could go buy one that allows both, but, again, why do I need to pay more money to get back the same utility I already had?

Second, you can't call it "backwards compatibility" when its being used to maintain compatibility with the current industry standard. There's nothing "backwards" about the phone connector - as I said, its harder to find bluetooth headphones than it is to find wired headphones with, you guessed it, a phone connector. And the market for lightning connector headphones is laughably small (for good reason).

As for the age of the design, that is of absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Turbines date back to Roman times...we still are using them in the most advanced aircraft in the world. Age means nothing - effectiveness is what matters and as I said, the industry standard for audio equipment, whether at the bottom or top of the line, is still the phone connector.

Finally, eliminating it did nothing for space usage, nor did it streamline the device - it looks exactly the same as the 6S, only with reduced utility. Actually, the dongles make it LESS streamlined, so it is a massive fail in that department.

Again, when the day comes that bluetooth is the industry standard, by all means, get rid of the port. That day is not today, and we're well past the iPhone 7, in the middle of the 8, and will be well past the 9 before we see bluetooth become the standard.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Industry standards only change when industry leaders move them forward. The 3.5mm jack is well beyond its lifespan. Apple doesn't consider the adapters a perma solution. They see it as a stopgap for people to switch to lightning headphones, or more permanently, wireless.

Old designs can remain relevant only if they still meet all the needs required by current technology. The 3.5mm jack does not. Thus it has reached the end of its lifespan. It is obsolete but maintained because it became such a ubiquitous standard. The lightning jack is superior in every way other than that it doesn't fit your old headphones.

I bet the adapters are used by less than 5% of all iphone users. If that. The vast majority of users will be using the headphones that came with the phone, which are lightning. (or wireless). Hell, I'm on an iPhone SE which has a headphone jack and I'm using lightning earbuds now.

According to teardown reports the majority of that newly made space was used for the "taptic engine" which is what is responsible for the phone's ability to detect pressure and react accordingly. The rest of the space was taken by an expanded battery which is why the phones gained an hour or two extra duration in the newer generations since the jack was removed. So yes, removing the jack allowed Apple to streamline the internal configuration of the device to make new for new technology, even if the outer shell is still very similar.

You are mad because you want the 3.5mm jack, thats fair. But you are in the minority. Most could care less and Apple wants as few "holes" in the side of their device as possible.

Just like removing optical drives or floppy drives in PCs before, it made sense, removing the 3.5mm jack made sense as well. And you better get used to it. Other companies tend to be slow to react to this sort of thing but give it a few years and there won't be any phones with the jack on the market.

Industry leaders are typically in the industry. Apple is not an industry leader for audio equipment by any stretch of the imagination. The industry leaders in audio equipment still, by far, utilize the phone jack. Your proclamation of obsoletion is based on what, exactly? Certainly not any industry or technological data - which says exactly the opposite. Chances are, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, you're just parroting what Apple said.

I've seen the teardowns - the space was not utilized for anything worthwhile. The taptic engine was already there - they just put a bigger one in (which received rave reviews by...well no one). They also put in a *redundant* speaker (because stereo sound works so well with speakers an inch apart, pointed in the same direction). The battery did not occupy any of the space previously occupied by the headphone jack.

By your "get used to it" comment you, yet again, seem to have completely skipped over the part where I say I'm looking forward to bluetooth taking over. This is only the third time I've had to mention that in this thread. The issue here is not the elimination of the headphone jack, its the timing of the removal - Apple jumped the gun by at least three generations of phone (note: I've already been proven correct on two - the 7 and 8 - as the per-unit market share for wired headphones still vastly out paces wireless). So yes, the dongle was, in fact, a permanent addition to the 7 and now 8. If Apple truly thought wireless was here, why not include wireless headphones with the phone? Instead they included wired headphones...

Other companies are not slow - other companies pay attention and for the past 5 years, at least, have beaten Apple to the punch on many big ticket improvements (larger and curved displays, larger batteries, 4k video, OLED displays, wireless charging, IR remotes, FM receivers, etc, etc, etc). Yet, they, for the most part, all still have the headphone jack...

Why? Because optical drives and floppy disks were only replaced AFTER a better technology had not only emerged, but also become common place. In fact, those other companies have more technology built into their phones, with bigger batteries, and bigger screens, and better environmental protection...yet still retain that headphone jack...

Apple jumped the gun. There's nothing "courageous" about that.

Spike S's picture

The jack is not beyond its lifespan. I travel a lot, I need something that connects to the plane entertainment systems along with my speakers at home and my Kindle. Why would I want to carry two sets of headphones, or one with a dongle?

Lee Morris's picture

That’s an excellent point. Anyone who flies needs a wire to connect to the airplane.

Lee Morris's picture

But apple didn't block external cd rom creators.

If you think bluetooth audio is superior to cabled headphones, why did you spend the time & money on the CIEMs?

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