Apple unveiled its latest iPhone 7 — along with a slew of other new products — at its annual Keynote event in San Francisco on Wednesday. The tech giant also revealed one of the most polarizing decisions it has made in recent history, and one that will forever likely alter the consumer audio industry.
In a notable shift from previous Keynote events, this year the focus was not on a flashy new feature, but rather something the new iPhone lacked – the traditional headphone jack.
As previously rumored, Apple has officially removed the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack from the new iPhone 7. Now, those who want to listen to music with the new phone will have to use a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter (which allows for the use of a traditional wired headphone), Lightning-based headphones, or wireless Bluetooth headphones instead.
Acknowledging that many people have wired headphones that connect through a headphone jack, Apple is offering a free adapter with all iPhone 7 and 7 Pluses to help ease the transition. The company is also providing a new new Lightning-based version of their own EarPods that traditionally come packaged with Apple devices.
Reports of Apple ditching the headphone jack started popping up nearly a year ago, causing plenty of fury, criticism and unsolicited blog posts as they picked up steam.
During the Wednesday event, Apple attempted to positively spin the controversial decision. Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior V.P. of Hardware Engineering, explained that losing the jack will save space within the iPhone itself, and its ability to provide better wireless audio. Schiller further said that the decision took courage — “the courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”
As part of removing the headphone jack, Apple also unveiled a completely new product: AirPods. The new wireless headphones connect to the iPhone 7 or to Apple Watch 2 using Apple’s W1 chip. In addition to infrared sensors detecting when they are in your ears, the new little earbuds also include a microphone and one-tap Siri access, powered by built-in accelerometers. AirPods come with a white charging case, and get up to five hours of listening time per charge. The wireless headphones will cost $159 when they come out in late October.
Since introducing the new jack-less iPhone 7 a few days ago, the responses amongst tech experts and consumers has been extremely mixed. Bluetooth headphones still require regular recharging, do not sound as sharp as their wired equivalents, and tend to come at a price premium. On the wired side, a digital connection like Lightning can allow for better audio, but those benefits usually only apply on higher-end headphones. Additionally, using the Lightning port for audio means you cannot use it for charging.
And with what is perhaps the public’s biggest complaint, is that by removing the headphone jack, Apple has once again created a divide between their products and most other devices.
As Business Insider points out, Apple is not the first smartphone maker to ditch the port. Both Lenovo-owned Motorola and the Chinese firm LeEco launched jack-less devices in recent months, although neither of those two companies have the landscape-shifting pull that Apple holds. The tech giant has a long history of upending industry standards, from ditching floppy disks with the iMac to losing the optical drive with the MacBook Air. As in the past, this radical decision is likely to have far-reaching effects across multiple fields.
The new iPhone 7, along with the larger iPhone 7 Plus, will be available for pre-order beginning September 9, and starts at $649.