Why stop with the headphone jack? Apple could delete everything!

When iPhone 7 ships next month, the venerable 3.5mm headphone jack won't be on it. That's the popular expectation, at least. Some are happy with the idea and eager to sacrifice the 100-year-old connector in an effort to bring a better and more wireless future to us faster. Others are filled with venomous rage at the thought of a standard being sacrificed and existing accessories made obsolete all in the name of some nebulous promise about tomorrow. Personally, I'm wondering why Apple's stopping with the headphone jack? If Apple is willing to delete even more hardware from the iPhone, why not simply delete it all?

Deleting Home

I'm not talking about replacing the mechanical Home button with a Force Touch Home button, the way Apple replaced the mechanical trackpad on the MacBooks with the Force Touch trackpad. I'm taking about deleting the Home button completely. The former saves vertical space by removing the mechanical stack needed to make it work. The latter saves all the space by removing the button. That would, theoretically, allow Apple to reduce the ratio of screen-to-bezel. In other words, make the casing smaller while maintaining the same display size. (Theoretically, because those bezels are tightly packed with components that still need to go somewhere.)

A few factors complicate this:

  1. Because Passcode and the first-generation Touch ID were so slow, people began using the Home button as a second power button to wake the iPhone's screen.
  2. The Home button functions as a manual escape valve for people who sometimes find iPhone confusing or stressful. With a click or two of the Home button, no matter where someone is in the operating system, no matter how lost or frustrated they feel, they'll get back to the known, comforting state of the Home screen and be able to start over.
  3. The Home button is also loaded with additional physical triggers. Holding it down triggers Siri. Touching it twice triggers reachability. Pressing it twice triggers Apple Pay. Pressing it three times, optionally, triggers accessibility. Pressing it once in conjunction with the power button triggers a screen shot. Holding it down in conjunction with the power button triggers a reboot.
  4. The Home button isn't dumb anymore. Thanks to Touch ID, it's now smart enough to scan our fingerprints and know who we are.

A few years ago it would have been easier, if still inconvenient to many, to delete the Home button. Since coupling it with Touch ID, though, it's become much tougher.

The obvious solution — obvious since tech writers are never the ones who actually have to implement anything! — is to decouple Touch ID from the Home button.

In the far-flung future, I imagine every part of iPhone will be able to "read" fingerprints, so the moment you touch it, it knows who you are. (Not just for unlock, but optionally to prevent anyone else from doing anything interactive with it — ever.)

Ubiquitous authentication — where the surface, camera, mics, motion, and other sensors conspire to collect a constant stream of partial prints, facial and iris scans, voice snippets, gait, and other data, and make a reasonable determination on authentication — is my beautiful dream.

The shorter term reality, though, could be having a discreet section of the screen, near the bottom, with Touch ID built-in.

Once the Home button goes Force Touch, it could go 3D Touch, but Apple would still have to figure out how to handle collision with other on-screen 3D Touch elements and where to put all the aforementioned triggers.

Wake is already being handled in iOS 10, though. Raise to wake, like on Apple Watch, means the screen lights up whenever you lift the phone. Add tap to wake, also like on Apple Watch, and tapping anywhere on the glass can — and I'd argue should — wake it as well.

"Hey Siri!" can handle activation absent Home. So could a discreet 3D Touch area on the screen or Force Touch area on the casing. The latter would also work for the other shortcuts. Squeeze the bottom of iPhone and hold for Siri, squeeze twice for Apple Pay, squeeze thrice for accessibility.

Deleting Everything

iPhone currently has three buttons along the top left side: ringer, volume up, and volume down. There's also one button on the top or side, depending on whether it's an iPad or smaller iPhone, or a bigger iPhone.

Apple could delete all of these as well.

There are already software controls for volume, though Apple has shunted them to a secondary panel in Control Center for iOS 10. They're certainly not as convenient as physical controls for runners, people ducking into meetings or events, or quickly making adjustments to an iPhone in your pocket or iPad in your hands.

Force Touch controls might work here too. Or a hybrid, where squeezing the top of the device brings up an on-screen rotor that can make several options available.

Bottom line

Some will read this and think I'm trying to make a point about the headphone jack, either sarcastic or optimistic. My real point is this — the future is always coming and everything will change. It's always too soon and it's always too late.

Taking things away reduces points of failure; whether they reduce or increase functionality depends on implementation. We'll see how Apple's next efforts work this fall.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

112 Comments
  • I guess I'm not sure what to make of this article. Is it serious?
    As far as the headphone jack, I won't praise Apple until I see how it's implemented. Nor can I defend their decision until I see how its executed. From a consumer perspective it doesn't seem to be beneficial to the average customer. I told my wife about it and she immediately questioned what Apple was thinking. And in my eyes, she embodies the typical customer. Not as techie as the majority and simply wants their products to work as expected with minimal change. And when the change does come, it has to make sense. And from her perspective, "why would they drop the headphone jack now requiring me to use their brand of headphones or bluetooth and lose the ability to charge while listening to my music at my desk?" It seems like so many bloggers and Apple enthusiasts are so quick to jump to Apples defense with the same tired "Apple is pushing the FUUUUUUUTURE!" rhetoric. Well let's at least see if this is a future we, as the money paying consumers, even want.
  • I agree with your wife. I am, I suppose, a little bit techie. And I'm not happy about the removal of the 3.5mm jack. Supposedly it'll give better sound when using lightning headphones. But from what I've read that difference will be minimal. How anyone can know at this point is beyond me. But there's nothing worse than spending $400 on headphones only to have them obsolete the next year. Of course there'll be an adapter for them but then as your wife mentioned, I can"t listen and charge at the same time which I do on a daily basis. I can't believe Apple won't have a way around all this if all the rumours turn out to be true. Fingers crossed.
  • Heck, I'm pretty "techie" and hardly use wired headphones. About 95% of the time it's Bluetooth and yet I'm pretty miffed at the headphone jack being removed. Just smells of nothing but more proprietary things for Apple to have. To me, this is would be a much more significant change than going from a 30-pin connector to Lightning connector change.
  • Personally, I like the lightening connector and I could go back to the 30 pin. That change made sense to me and continues to make sense. The removal of the headphone jack makes no sense whatsoever. Honestly I seems to only make sense to the bigger Apple apologists out there. I love the products Apple makes and I enjoy them as a company, but this particular change, if it turns out to be true, at this point makes no sense to me at all and I don't see how it could be spun as a positive. I'm not aware of any alternative technology available that offers better audio quality that justifies doing away with the 3.5. Nor do I think the majority will hear a striking difference anyway. But I will gladly admit Apple was right if they can convince me lol. Although not being able to charge my phone while listening to my music at work is going to suck. I'll have to remember to travel with my Bluetooth headphones I guess.
  • A question about the bluetooth headphones though. I've used a bluetooth receiver to send music from my iPhone to my stereo before. The sound was horrid. Any 80's music which was heavily overproduced and reverbed in a lot of cases drowned out the vocals. So I'm not a fan of bluetooth. But how's the sound quality in the bluetooth headphones? I may not be terribly tech savy but I do know sound.
  • I've got a pair of the LG Harmon Kardon Bluetooth headphones. The sound is fine. But in my personal opinion, it's not as good as a good wired pair. I admittedly haven't used anything other than those though. So there may be some great ones out there that I'm not aware of.
  • I don't know Quis89. Harmon Kardon is a pretty big name. I can't imagine a pair that'd be much better. But the fact that you don't think the overall sound is as good as wired headphones answers my question. Thank you.
  • This might sound crazy, but i use a pair of Beats Solo 2 Wireless and the sound production on my phone and laptop is almost as good as using a 3.5mm, I only use the 3.5mm when the battery goes down. But All in All, there are headsets that could suffice and work right with your mobile. PS. Besides the Beats Solo 2 (Wireless) Actually has better reviews than the predecessor, I was surprised bout it too cos I've used both
  • So, you have wireless headsets, but you still found a need for the 3.5mm because battery life of the wireless headsets. That's interesting. Joe
  • Another win for wired headphones, lol. Apple has some real convincing to do lol.
  • I guess for the same reason used use headphone cable on the Mac (because of batteries in Bluetooth headphones).. no difference... I say a post on MacRumors, asking users what if Apple did this removal of the 3.5 headphone jack not just limited to iPhone, but to Mac's as well.... That is, use Thunderbolt/ligening on Mac to connect lightening headphones.... How how u people react?
  • Personally I don't like the idea of having to have unique headphones or adaptors for multiple devices. I use the same pair of headphones on my phone, iPad, computer (Mac and Asus), microphone when recording, and gaming. If Apple were to change up their computers and phones and iPads, obviously I'd adjust. I just wouldn't like it lol. I don't like the idea of multiple headphones or unnecessary adaptors.
  • Been using a phone without a headphone jack for several weeks now (Moto Z Force) and it hasn't given me a single problem. They included an adapter with a loop that keeps it connected to the wired headphones I use (when I use wired headphones, that is.) Very simple and hardly worth getting apoplectic about.
  • +1. It's interesting that the above poster said that Apple enthusiasts are praising the change because it's the future, as if this was some sort of lie. It is the future and it's not just Apple making this change. Motorola as you said, and Intel are making the push to get rid of the headphone jack. As for what "consumers" want, sometimes consumers don't know what they will want because they can't see into the future or might not understand technology well enough. At the end of the day, the headphone jack will go, people will continue to buy the products, and it will become the norm. I'm all for removing outdated technology, it's so annoying to see people who just want to keep things the way they are because they don't like change. If "consumers" were to be deciding how the products are designed all the time, we'd still have floppy drives and CD drives in our Macs
  • If you have to supply an adapter, and if almost all headphones and earphones come with a standard connector, then the jack is not really gone, its just being transferred to an adapter.
    When Apple got rid of the floppy disk, it did not have to supply adapters or external floppy drives, there were better alteratives already in use. I don't think the flaky bluetooth connection qualifies as a better alternative to wire.
    If Apple and Motorola are ditching the audio jack, they better agree on a new wired standard, and not go the way of adapters or proprietary connectors.
  • Apple might do it proprietary, but the rest look like they will use USB-C
  • You may as well say then every manufacture wants to "lock u" then, not just Apple.. not that's a bad thig... we've been in the Apple eco-system to know that.
  • This all reminds me of the 12-inch macbook outrage before it was announced. So much pre-annoucement discussion was all wasted because, to understand what was going on, you really needed to listen to their announcement an understand what they were doing. There still were people upset after, but that was based on fact, not rampant speculation. Until we know Apple's thinking, what they include in the package, how charging while listening is catered to, what adapters are included (if any!), its hard to know what to be angry against, if anything. A vocal subset of the tech vlogger, bloggers, and tech press is all worked up to be sure, throwing all sorts of shade in all directions, but let's wait until we actually have an announcement to get too worked up.
  • We're upset because people think that just because something is old means it's outdated. It's not like there exist any pairs of consumer headphones that exceed the capacity of the 3.5mm jack. Audiophiles especially have invested hundreds of dollars into headphones. Why should they need one pair for each device just because Apple wants to sell MFI licenses?
  • Just a Reader, its difficult to respond with specifics since we don't yet have any details about what Apple plans. It seems unlikely that Apple would do what you imply, pairing headphones with devices in some semi-permanent way, or that somehow the solution would require MFI licenses. For example right in front of me right now are two pairs of earbuds, one is mine and one is my wife's. No idea which is which, and it doesn't matter. If Apple created a situation like you describe, where i could take the wrong one, and neither of use could use our headphones, can you imagine the press they would get? Now I cant say for sure that Apple worked through every scenario, but it seems really likely that Apple has some plan that doesn't reduce the attractiveness of their marquee product.
  • One of my biggest concerns with no headphone jack is, how will the new Bluetooth headphones have a mic for phone calls? How would a mic be implemented in the headphone to work properly? i worry about this.
  • Ariza16, Since headphones with built-in microphones are standard in the package now, it seems likely that its an important use can that Apple considered. Thats pretty much my point, that Apple has considered a lot of alternatives and has a lot of smart people deciding on the features of the worlds biggest company's biggest source of revenue... They need the next version to be wildly popular, so its unlikely they would drop features. We just need to wait a couple weeks to hear their plan, and then we can evaluate it. But the concept that Apple would make their product harder to use is one I find unlikely.
  • Bluetooth mics are already standard, and even if it wasn't Apple doesn't use technology standards anyways, for some reason.
  • Every article I read on this subject always mentions that the headphone jack is 100-year-old technology. How is that even relevant? The keyboard is 150-years-old, so by this bogus logic, Apple should stop supporting keyboards and make everyone enter text with Siri! For those who want to use Bluetooth headsets, you can already do that, but why take the headphone jack away from the rest of us. So far, I haven't heard a single good reason.
  • corbey, i argee with you that the age of technology isnt a valid reason. After all, look at cars. If Apple was against using 100 year old technology they wouldnt be thinking about cars. Apple tends to view what customers are doing, and decide how best to support that. Once they have a solution, they are not afraid to upset the apple cart with new ways to do things, but its always from a perspective of the tasks they see customers doing. The tech for techs-sake has never driven Apple -- they were late to 3G and NFC -- and they never adopted bluray in macs. I look forward to the announcement and hearing Apple story
  • I'll take a shot at a single good reason: Because competition.... Right now, Bluetooth headsets aren't all that great. And the reason for that is because there isn't enough demand for them, therefore, not enough competition from companies. When Apple removes the old jack, everyone else will follow. There's already at least one Android phone missing the headphone jack, and guaranteed that if the iPhone 7 doesn't have it, the Galaxy S8 or S9 won't have it either. Then you'll see all phones removing them, re-purposing that space or whatever, but the main benefit will be that demand for BlueTooth headsets will skyrocket and many companies will start making better and better BT headsets thanks to competition. They will work and sound great and someday we will think back to how horrible life was when we had to deal with stupid tangled cables all the time. (1st world problems).