Skip to main content

The Moto Z proves an iPhone 7 without a headphone jack is no big deal

It seemed almost karmic, Lenovo's latest phone being unveiled in San Francisco — just days before Apple kicked off its week-long WWDC festivities. I was lucky enough to attend both, and in doing so, talk to a lot of people about the state of Apple hardware and software and how it compares to the best of Android these days. Much of that narrative centered, with no lack of passion, around the lack of a headphone jack in Lenovo's Moto Z handset.

I got to hold the phone in my hand, and it actually took me a considerable amount of time to identify the omission, so accustomed am I to connecting my devices to wireless headphones.

The internet alternately praised and raged against this insouciance for custom: What was the average person going to do to listen to music? Most were not sated when Lenovo revealed that an adapter — a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone dongle — would be included in the box, nor the fact that the company is partnering with popular accessory makers to encourage people to upgrade to USB C-based headphones.

Like the transition from micro-USB to Type-C — and 40-pin to Lightning — these transition periods are awkward and, for some people, frustrating, but they are good for the industry as a whole.

On to the iPhone

There is another handset that infamously may lack a headphone jack: The iPhone 7, which will be released in September, enjoys a number of lofty rumors, from waterproofing to wireless charging, but the discontinuation of a headphone jack is all but certain — and after seeing its effects on the Moto Z, I am increasingly encouraged.

I've actually been mimicking that very workflow over the past few weeks, with a pair of headphones that (voluntarily) eschews the traditional headphone jack for a Lightning cable. Dubbed the Audeze Sine (opens in new tab), these planar magnetic cans are not cheap at $499, but they are some of the best-sounding headphones I've ever used. Moreover, the addition of a Lightning cable allows for the DAC, or Digital-Analog Converter, to be installed in the cord itself, bypassing the one within the iPhone.

Why would you want that? Because as much as Apple cares about the sound quality from its headphone jack, a dedicated DAC embedded in a headphone cord that interfaces directly with the Lightning port ups the ante considerably.

Music is an indelible and lasting part of the iPhone experience.

Losing the headphone jack is going to be supremely frustrating for many iPhone users; similar to the myriad ways MacBook owners have become reliant on awkward USB-C dongles and extenders. Even a nicely-designed adapter included in the box will surely rile the masses, many of whom have built up extensive collections of over-, on-, and in-ear headphones over the years.

But many of these same companies have seen the wave of change: Sennheiser, Bose, B&O, and many others have released wireless versions of their most popular headphones. And while Bluetooth still doesn't offer the same fidelity of sound as its wired counterparts, most people streaming Apple Music while on the train — or even quietly listening at home — won't notice a difference.

Still others will immediately go out and purchase one of the growing number of Lightning-enabled options, which even without their own DACs built into the cord will take advantage of a digital-first connection. Apple will certainly facilitate those purchases in its retail stores. The cycle will continue.

Losing the headphone jack is going to be supremely frustrating for many iPhone users, but Apple knows that.

Music is an indelible and lasting part of the iPhone experience, and Apple isn't about to disappoint the millions of people anticipating the next great smartphone. Apple sells less than five million Macs per quarter, and only a handful of those are MacBooks. In contrast, it sells more than 50 million iPhones every three months, and despite some slowdown will likely do so again in the quarter ending December 31st. By the middle of next year, over 100 million iPhone owners will possess devices with no headphone jack, and with a choice: stay legacy for as long as possible, or get with the times. Apple has never been afraid to kill its darlings when it believes it will move the industry forward, and by eliminating the headphone jack it finally removes the last vestige of its analog past.

Beyond the early adopter

iPhone with AirPlay options

I use my iPhone to listen to music every day. I use wired headphones, wireless headphones, AirPlay speakers, Bluetooth speakers — even the tinny mono speaker. I use whichever source is closest, and easiest, to pull from. That's what ubiquitous connectivity means: my iPhone should give me every possible option and let me choose. Similarly, Apple won't be discontinuing every other iPhone model with a headphone jack with the release of the iPhone 7, so there will be plenty of options for consumers who don't want to contend with being an early adopter.

After using a combination of wireless headphones and Lightning headphones for the past month or so, and seeing the future in the Moto Z, I am less concerned about the coming backlash. Instead, I'm lamenting over how long I still have to wait until my favorite band releases its new album.

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.

42 Comments
  • This won't be a problem because Moto's user base isn't filled with whiny, complaining, entitled spoiled brats like those that Apple is stuck with. Disclaimer: I'm an iPhone user who's had his fill of the people mentioned above.
  • The Android community has a bunch of cheap skates. Also I'm a Nexus 6P user. Neither community is better than the other, just annoying in different ways. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Finally someone agrees with me TTY that Apple fans are no better than Android fanboys. Sent from the iMore App
  • The irony of someone whining over whiners always cracks me up.
  • Android users are far worse than iOS users. Just saying. Sent from the iMore App
  • Let's just agree that both sides have plenty of annoying users and leave it at that.
  • Word! Sent from the iMore App
  • Couple of notes to the author. 1. Something cannot be classified as "no big deal" if it requires you to change out the rest of your gear.
    2. Something cannot be classified as "no big deal" when it forces you to buy additional equipment just to facilitate a basic function that worked fine prior to intentionally breaking the said function.
    2. There is not a single serious headphone manufacturer that is making headphones without a 3.5mm jack (though you cleverly hid this via the "Sennheiser, Bose, B&O, and many others have released wireless versions of their most popular headphones", which is really just another way of saying cheap, low-end headphones). So, after reading your article, remind me again what exactly is your argument that makes this "no big deal"?
  • Are you referring to 3.5mm to Lightning adapter as the "additional equipment" that you'll have to get (that will likely be provided by Apple for free)? See my original post.
  • That adapter would need to include a DAC, which will need power, will suck more of your battery, and will be yet another thing to break. Hopefully, just hopefully it will be possible to charge at the same time but even that is up in the air. It will most definitely not be free, not to mention that if the quality of the DAC is crappy, the solution will be absolute garbage. If any buds end up included with the iPhone at all, what you can expect is a cheap set of Bluetooth buds. You want corded? You pay for the accessory. One thing is for sure, you can't get away from physics. Whether the DAC is in the phone, external to the phone, in the headphones themselves, you will need a DAC. The less room and ability to power the DAC, the crappier it will be (generally). Don't expect this to be a leap into the future. This is cost cutting principally.
  • Look, I definitely don't disagree with you Original post but I'm also seriously having a hard time not laughing at the fact that you MAY believe that apple will include a "additional equipment" for free. I'm honestly surprised that EarPods still come included in new iPhones. Also, as someone who now owns Bluetooth earphones AND headphones, I can still understand the need for a 3.5mm headphone Jack. Battery life on Bluetooth devices are about as crappy as smartphones at the moment. Lastly, exactly how many lightning headphones are in the market at this time?? And out of amount available: How many are in the under $100 range?? Oh what's that "If you can afford an $800 phone you can surely afford a $200 pair of cans!!" Ehh no, because for some, those cheap $20-$30 earphones are more than enough. You talk about entitled spoiled brats but I personally can't blame people for sounding like annoying entitled spoiled previleged brats when they spend $649+ on a device then be told they can't use it their way. Ultimately, Apple being stuck with those brats is an issue they may have ultimate brought that upon themselves.
  • I can not remember the last time I used the 3.5mm jack on my phone. 100% bluetooth - cords are so messy!
  • This is not about you and your use case. Im glad you found a solution to your situation. Others may be different.
  • Actually it is exactly about him and his case. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use a 3.5mm jack every single day. So, there are plenty on both sides here.
  • Sure, for people who don't care about quality and convenience (not having to charge yet another device). Sent from the iMore App
  • Bluetooth sound quality is unacceptable to many.
  • What growing number of lightning headphones? There's what? 2-3 on the market. How long has Apple made the spec available? Companies aren't rushing to make lightning headphones.
  • "a dedicated DAC embedded in a headphone cord that interfaces directly with the Lightning port ups the ante considerably." This depends on the DAC in the cable. And you're using a high end headphones with a very good DAC, but a low end headphones will have a ****** DAC worse than the one on the phone.
  • "which even without their own DACs built into the cord will take advantage of a digital-first connection" How can a headphone work without a DAC?
  • It can't.
  • RE: "Why would you want that? Because as much as Apple cares about the sound quality from its headphone jack, a dedicated DAC embedded in a headphone cord that interfaces directly with the Lightning port ups the ante considerably." Did you compare the two? Audeze offer a replacement cable with a 3.5mm jack, so A/B'ing should be pretty straightforward. I'm willing to bet that the sound quality with either cable is virtually the same. For one, that dedicated DAC in your Audeze cable is almost the same quality as the on-board DAC within the iPhone, and since it's using the iPhone's power, the on-board headphone amp ain't much better either. The "upped ante" you're listening to is most probably just the quality of the headphone itself. If you were to have a more powerful DAC/Amp in between the iPhone and Sine, one that has it's own battery and doesn't depend on the iPhone for power, that'd be a different story. A story of true "upped ante", as opposed to the snake oil you're trying to peddle here.
  • Well said.
  • I can't remember the last time I plugged in my phone for music. All i need is wireless charging for my journey to be complete. My adapter dosen't charge all the time so i would like it built in.
  • Everyone is different. But for those enjoying semi hi-fi sound, you aren't getting even bottom of the barrel sound quality wireless.
  • This makes no sense. No one is buying the Moto Z. The iPhone ditching the headphone jack is just an excuse to sell dongles (!?!) and other overpriced accessories.
  • Why would you use a $499 pair of headphones to listen to ****** compressed music?
  • Because Apple that's why..
  • Iphones are quite capable of player high resolution music, I'm listening to a song right now, ripped from vinyl at 2813 Kbps.
  • Yes it does....lots of the Android community hated this when it was announced and said between this, battery and timed Verizon exclusivity that these phones sucked. Stop trying to use this as a justification for Apple doing it and releasing an iPhone with no major changes this year except removing the headphone jack. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • This article was written by someone who doesn't get that the average user doesn't want/can't afford wireless headphones. 99% of the office that I worked at was people using the headphones that came with the phone they bought (or skull candy for those who didn't get headphones from a crappy carrier version) and their phone plugged into the wall. The moment you tell them they need to add a whole new thing that needs charged or love with a clogged up lightning port for sound, they will not go along with that. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know. I hear ya. But I thought the same thing when they yanked the floppy disc. Sent from the iMore App
  • The floppy disc was broken and needed to be fixed, the headphone jack isn't. I have yet to really see a great argument for getting rid of the headphone jack, and this coming from someone who owns Bluetooth earphones and headphones. Leaving it alone isn't bothering anyone (but I guess the same could be said about floppy disk). And lastly, who the **** actually asked for this??
  • I'll leave this here... http://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2016/6/21/11991302/iphone-no-head...
  • It's not just headphones that use the jack. All kinds of simple measuring devices will be obsolete with the jack gone. Citizen Science will be worse off without the jack.
  • I don't see Apple doing a thing because Lenovo did it on the Moto Z. Motorola generally isn't a trend setter. They did have the fingerprint reader on the Droid Bionic, but nobody liked it. It wasn't a game changer. Apple may not have invented the fingerprint reader, but the iPhone 5s made a greater case for it than the Droid Bionic. And then Motorola did the "lift to wake" with the 2013 Moto X. Which my wife had, it was a great little phone, but 16GB and no memory card does not a good music player make (and on US Cellular that was the only size option). And Apple is doing the "lift to wake" thing in iOS 10. Along with virtually every other company. But I'm not looking forward to it. I think it will be a battery drain. We'll see. However, Apple is a trend setter, like it or not. And if they pull the 3.5mm jack, and keep it gone, it will create a trend. The original iMac didn't have a floppy drive (though you could get an external one). And that was so controversial. Slightly less so when optical drives started disappearing from laptops (mostly netbooks and ultrabooks). People get that these omissions, these removals aren't just saving the company money, they make our tech more efficient (albeit at added cost to the consumer, sometimes). But these changes also drive prices down. If all of a sudden, the new iPhone doesn't have a 3.5mm jack, prices won't stay high for long. So right now, nobody's making a cheap, affordable Lightning headphone set? That will change. And there will be competition. Wireless ones will go down. Decent wireless/Bluetooth speakers aren't that expensive, though they might be higher than you'd like. Verizon really tempted me with a Bose SoundLink... dropped it from $130 to $100 when I got my iPhone 6s... had a real hard time telling them no. Wife woulda killed me... but on the other hand it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. But still, I was good. And really, I don't need it. I'm okay with the speaker on the iPhone. It's not great but it's fine.
  • Looks like someone doesn't pay for his tech goodies and hasn't already a substantial investment in headphones without usb-c. Please stop repeating the marketing B.S. you are fed with, there is no reason to believe the DAC of a headphone will be superior to the one in the iPhone.
  • Here is my main issue with this. The iPhone still uses lighting. If wired headphones have a lightning port at the end then those headphones are no longer useful of my laptop or any other non iOS device. Furthermore it is not like lightning will be adopted on other devices. USB type c on the other hand will soon be ubiquitous. We already see it on laptops and phones and has the potential to so do much. Good headphones are worth more to me than the iOS experience. The two main reasons I currently have an iPhone 6s plus is battery life and the fact that the snapdragon 810 was such a mess (otherwise i probably would have gotten the Nexus 6p)
  • Lets take a quick look at the Lenovo Moto Z. They removed the headphone jack and made it ridiculously thin and added a 2 k screen and a huge camera bulge. Despite their claims of all day battery life, battery life will be crap which is why they added that 'wonderful battery pack you can slap on the back.
    They made a version exclusive and the add on modular bits are ridiculously expensive. No one will buy it. no one cares that they removed the headphone jack to one up Apple
  • I have Headrush Bluetooth 3.0 headphones; they work great and have long battery life. I would have no qualms about pairing them to an iPhone 7 and saving my wired headphones for other devices.
  • So anyone know if you can use Bluetooth on airlines? Does the rule vary from airline to airline?
  • My main concern is charging while using headphones, or if you have to use wireless headphones always making sure they're charged. There are times that my iPhone battery is low and I'm listening to music, for now I can do the two at the same time, but I won't be able to if there is only a lightning port. Or if I have to use wireless headphones while charging or on a long trip I am then limited to the battery life of the wireless headphones. I feel it's a big issue.