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Android phones will follow Apple into the post-headphone jack era, and it’s going to be rough

Apple rumors are not always accurate, but in the case of the iPhone 7‘s headphone jack, they were dead-on. As expected, Apple announced the iPhone 7 without a headphone jack. Instead, it will do audio over the Lightning port, via Bluetooth, and apparently via a Bluetooth-like low-power protocol for the optional AirPods. Whether or not you think this is a good idea, Apple has kicked off the post-headphone jack era — Android OEMs are going to start following suit. I’ve spent some time trying to live without the headphone jack courtesy of the Motorola Moto Z, and it’s pretty much as annoying as you’d expect it to be… at least for now.

Apple has a history of removing older standards from its devices before anyone else. For example, it famously ditched the floppy drive in the iMac G3. The venerable 3.5mm headphone jack is a little more troublesome as there’s an entire ecosystem of accessories that rely upon it, including some very expensive headphones that Apple itself sells under its Beats brand.

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Apple is including an adapter for headphones — yet another thing to carry around. It’s not a good solution, but one that plenty of Android device makers will embrace. All it took were rumors of Apple removing the headphone jack for companies like LeEco and Motorola to release phones that eschew this universal port.

There may be a time in the not-too-distant future that removing the headphone jack is a viable option, but it’s not now; this transition is going to be painful. When I was reviewing a Moto Z, there were several instances when I needed a headphone jack only to remember my phone didn’t have one. For example, I forgot my Bluetooth headphones at home when I went to the gym one day, but my backup headphones are wired. Another time, I was in a friend’s car and wanted to pipe in some music, but he only had an aux cable. You’re stuck with either carrying around an easy-to-lose adapter, or just hoping everything you interact with is wireless.

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As with all technology transitions, this will even out in a few years, and it might be a little smoother on the Android side thanks to USB Type-C. USB alternate modes can be used to output the same four-signal audio over a Type-C port that you get with a headphone jack. The move to USB-Type-C offers a viable standard for audio and charging over a single port too. Better adapters and even headphones with the Type-C connector will start popping up, and this is a standard anyone can implement (Apple controls Lightning). It’s also possible to charge and get audio over a Type-C power, or rather it will be eventually. A Type-C adapter could be designed that lets you do both.

It’s likely that Android phones will start coming out in the next year or two that lack a headphone jack. If you don’t mind dealing with some inconveniences to be on the bleeding edge, that won’t bother you. If you aren’t ready to deal with the loss of this port, you might want to upgrade soon, and then baby that phone for a while until the transition is easier.

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