With mobile manufacturers starting to axe the aux, we take a look at what ditching the headphone jack means for the future of smartphones...

We live in an increasingly wireless world, but so many of us are still tethered by our ears. Snaky headphone wires are everywhere on trains, planes and urban streets, but could they soon be a thing of the past? To find out, we’ve been chatting to Founder and CEO of Pocket-Lint, Stuart Miles, about the impending death of the headphone jack, as well as Apple’s Lightning port, Bluetooth and what it all means for your eardrums…

Plug it in, plug it in, baby

Motorola has made the first move. It’s ditched the headphone jack with the recent US release of its Moto Z in favour of connectivity through its USB-C charging port, while rumours continue to swirl about other manufacturers following suit. But why? What’s to gain? Well, in an ongoing quest to save space, Stuart believes removing the headphone jack is a logical move:

“If you think of all the components that manufacturers put into a mobile device, the headphone jack is quite large. It might not seem big, but it obviously is in comparison to the space inside a phone. So, if you can remove that and put it into another element of the device (i.e. the charging port), then you save not only a component in terms of space but also in terms of cost,” he says.

“If you think of all the components that manufacturers put into a mobile device, the headphone jack is quite large.”

Saving space has got to be a good thing right? It means you’ll be able to cram in some more battery, a meatier processor or a more powerful camera. The same goes for reducing costs, especially if the savings are passed on to all of us.

But what about sound quality? Background hissing and dynamic range compression (squeezing the file down to be able to reliably send it through the air) have plagued wireless listening in the past, and audiophiles won’t take low quality tunes lying down.

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We put the question to Mark Hockey, Customer and Account Coordinator for Harman Consumer’s UK Division, who told us that Bluetooth – while still a solid choice – is far from the only option when it comes to connecting headphones to a smartphone that lacks that all important headphone jack. The charging port solution is one that a host of brands are now turning towards:

“Our Harman Kardon, AKG and JBL brands already have a range of top quality Bluetooth headphones to suit new devices,” he says, “but the JBL Reflect Aware in-ear are the first headphones from the brand to use Apple’s Lightning connector.”

“It’ll be a change for those used to plugging in their headphones without thinking or worrying about what kind of port they have…”

The simple fact that headphone makers are now adopting this new means of connectivity is a big signifier of things to come over the next few years, but what about in the long term? Mark believes wireless will definitely be the way to go:

“It’ll be a change for those used to plugging in their headphones without thinking or worrying about what kind of port they have, but Bluetooth is a standard technology that’s mainstream and understood by most people now anyway. It may finally allow us all to really see the benefits of not having a wire holding us back and being completely hands-free when controlling music and calls,” he says.

Footloose and wire-free

Ok, so it sounds like things are evolving quickly. Quality is on the radar as manufacturers work to improve wireless products and, whilst the lack of a headphone jack doesn’t necessarily mean the lack of a cord, Bluetooth is definitely here to stay. But then, what does that mean for battery life? According to Stuart, Bluetooth battery woes are an oft-overblown gripe.

“Bluetooth technology’s come along quite a lot nowadays,” he says. “Bluetooth LE [Low Energy] is pretty good in that you normally get a decent amount of juice. And the other thing is that (in the western world certainly) you know we’re never far from a charging point these days, and a lot of manufacturers rely on this.

“Battery technology hasn’t necessarily changed drastically over the years in terms of longevity but it certainly has in terms of charging speed. We’ve seen that a lot of manufacturers go with Qualcomm Quick Charging technology, which gets you up to 70 per cent of your battery back within minutes, and it’s because they know that you’re likely to be within range of a power point at some point in your day.”

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There’s already been a quiet push from industry over the past few years to move phone owners towards wireless headphones, and Stuart says previous tech examples have shown that companies like Apple aren’t afraid to push the boat out if they see they have the momentum and enough industry support.

Just look at the rapid removal of the CD/DVD drive, Ethernet socket and even the USB port from recent Macs. Likewise, over the years we’ve seen iPhone go from a 30 pin charging dock to the lightning cable. Will the humble headphone jack be the next casualty?

“There’s always a bit of frustration at the time from people who don’t like to adapt and change…”

“If more and more people shift towards wireless headphones anyway then what’s the point in having the headphone jack there in the first place?” Stuart asks. “The message is that things constantly adapt and change. There’s always a bit of frustration at the time from people who don’t like to adapt and change in the same way that other people do, and I think that if Apple do create their next phone without a headphone jack there will be large uproar, but in reality people will just get on and adapt to it.”

“A lot of people that are already using wireless headphones would think, ‘oh great, I no longer have something that gets lint in it’. In the long term, [removing the port] makes sense. We’d like to live in a wire-free environment.”

So there we have it, a revolution in listening? A wire-free future? Go ahead and pop those tangled up headphones on the pile with your floppy discs, CDs and USB sticks. We’ll see you on the fast train to freedom.

More forward thinking tech… Check out how our Internet of Things-powered ‘Connected Swimwear’ concept could revolutionise your future holidays.