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Why removing the headphone jack from phones was a bad idea

Key Takeaways

  • The removal of the headphone jack was driven by tech companies wanting to sell more wireless earbuds for profit, not simply innovation.
  • Bluetooth headphones have a shorter lifespan due to the battery inside, making wired headphones a more durable option.
  • Buying wireless earbuds adds to e-waste and uses rare earth minerals, contributing to environmental problems.


When Apple announced it was getting rid of the 3.5mm jack from phones, audiophiles didn’t take it very well. The removal of this essential port makes it, so you either have to use a dongle from 3.5mm to Lightning for iPhones or USB-C for Android phones, or you have to switch to Bluetooth entirely. Dongles are a pain, cost extra money, and get lost easily, and switching to Bluetooth means lower music quality, more latency, and a shorter life span of your headphones. The move from 3.5mm to forcing us toward dongles and wireless felt like a death knell for wired headphones, at least for a while.

The move from 3.5mm to forcing us toward dongles and wireless felt like a death knell for wired headphones, at least for a while.


But now we’re seeing increased interest in wired headphones again. Part of it can be attributed to fashion trends, with platforms like Pinterest and TikTok showing more people accessorizing with wired headphones and earbuds, and celebrities like Jenna Ortega sporting wired earbuds, being the it-girl she is.

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Additionally, increased awareness of lossless audio and audio quality in general seems to be helping too. So now people might start to care again about the lack of a 3.5mm jack — and I really, really hope they do.

With that, I think it’s important to think about why the headphone jack was removed from so many devices in the first place, what that achieved for the tech companies that did it, and what can happen going forward.

Wired headphones on a desk next to a Focusrite audio interface.



The death of the headphone jack

Apple, the first phone manufacturer to get rid of the headphone jack, openly wanted to kill it for a few reasons. In 2016 with the announcement of the iPhone 7, Apple’s former Senior VP of Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, said it had to do with making space inside the iPhone for other components, and driving Apple’s goals of making audio better, and also said the move came down to “the courage to move on to do something new that betters all of us.”

The technology behind the port has been around since 1877 with the ¼ inch port, and the 3.5mm port hasn’t really changed since the 1950s. This isn’t a standard you can just move away from — it’s the standard.

Sure, the Lightning dongle works just fine for audio, it doesn’t reduce the quality at all, it’s still an analog signal. And yes, the lack of a headphone jack makes room inside the phone for other things, and I guess you could say it took “courage” to remove an essential port from what is basically an essential piece of technology in this day and age.


But those likening it to removing VGA ports or floppy disk drives from computers are missing the piece about why 3.5mm ports are so important (plus, maybe they shouldn’t have removed VGA from computers). The technology behind the port has been around since 1877 with the ¼ inch port, and the 3.5mm port hasn’t really changed since the 1950s. This isn’t a standard you can just move away from — it’s the standard.

Really, this just feels like an excuse for Apple, and companies that followed suit, to make more money off of selling wireless earbuds and headphones. Apple owns a huge share of the market with the AirPods and also by owning Beats. Google now makes earbuds, and so does Samsung. These companies all stand to gain a lot by making consumers switch to using wireless earbuds, especially the ones most compatible with their ecosystems.

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wired headphones


Wireless earbuds aren’t truly the best choice for everyone

But aren’t wireless headphones a great feat of technology that we should celebrate? Sure, they’re great in a lot of ways, but they can’t beat wired headphones when it comes to sound quality, since we don’t have the capacity to listen to lossless audio over Bluetooth yet. One could argue that wireless earbuds are better because they’re more convenient, you don’t have to deal with tangled cables, and there’s no wire getting in your way while you’re walking around or fiddling with your phone.

AirPods Pro 2nd Generation

Pocket-lint

But consider for a moment that you could theoretically use wired headphones until they start to disintegrate in your hands, while Bluetooth headphones have a much shorter lifespan because of the battery inside the headphones. According to Wirecutter, this can be as little as two years, or a few more, depending on how often you use them and charge them. Plus, what I find is a major inconvenience — having to charge my earbuds.


What if you forget to charge them before your commute? Plus, they’re so easy to lose or break. What if you lose one earbud because there’s nothing tethering it to the other one? What if one falls out and breaks? These problems don’t really exist for wired headphones, and for those reasons, along with the audio quality reasons, I personally believe wired headphones win.

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And while true wireless earbuds are convenient, that convenience comes at a cost, literally. Like I said before, wireless earbuds and headphones don’t last a long time, whereas wired earbuds and headphones can last for decades. Bluetooth devices inevitably have their battery capacity reduced after repeated charges, and because you can’t just change the battery on any Bluetooth device, you will inevitably have to buy another pair of earbuds.

Having to purchase wireless earbuds often means you’re buying a piece of tech using rare earth elements, the over-extraction of which is rampant, which adds tons of CO2 to our earth’s atmosphere, and contaminates water and soil.


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Then that leads to the issue of e-waste. Having to purchase wireless earbuds often means you’re buying a piece of tech using rare earth elements, the over-extraction of which is rampant, which adds tons of CO2 to our earth’s atmosphere, and contaminates water and soil. Many of these minerals also come from conflict zones, leading to even more ethical issues when you are being forced to over-consume technology that is essentially made to be disposable.

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When you have to repurchase wireless earbuds over and over again because the battery keeps depleting, you’re not only creating more demand for products using rare earth minerals from potential conflict zones that pollute the planet, but you’re also creating more e-waste, some of which is recycled, but certainly not all. Companies like Apple claim to care about the environment, but contribute to these wasteful cycles with practices like removing headphone jacks from their phones.

Wired headphones could come back in an even bigger way, and hopefully with it, it’ll bring back the headphone jack.


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Steps forward by taking it back

So, knowing what we know about the impact of mining and e-waste, what could happen here? Unfortunately, not a lot. Whether we like it or not, companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung are probably going to continue making phones without headphone jacks because people are buying wireless earbuds.

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But as a consumer, you can vote with your dollars. You can opt to buy phones that do have a headphone jack the next time you need a phone, and for right now, you can use a dongle and a pair of wired headphones. Showing that you are opting for the analog option and not showing any demand for wireless headphones or earbuds at least shows your friends and passersby that wired headphones are still relevant, and your actions as an individual can have a ripple effect. Wired headphones could come back in an even bigger way, and hopefully with it, it’ll bring back the headphone jack.

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