In my Scientific American column this month, I wrote about the public’s hysteria when Apple eliminated the headphone jack in its phones, starting with the iPhone 7. (Motorola and LeEco had also eliminated the headphone jack.)
Apple argues that sooner or later, everything goes wireless: phones (cellular), networking (WiFi), video connections (AirPlay or Chromecast), accessory connections (Bluetooth), and so on—and now it’s time for headphones to go wireless, too. Apple sells its own, rather amazing AirPods (wireless white earbuds that hook into each ear), but there are dozens of Bluetooth earbuds available, costing as little as $17.
In the box with the iPhone, you also get a set of wired earbuds that connect to the phone’s charging jack, plus a little two-inch adapter cable that accommodates any existing earbuds or headphones.
So: Does that cover it? Does that make it OK to eliminate the jack? Here’s my diary of life without one.
Day One: Amtrak to Boston. I decide to give the AirPods a try. The white case looks like a dental-floss container, but it’s also an AirPod recharger (holds 24 hours’ worth of charge). Just opening the container’s hinged lid makes the AirPod “pair” with the phone—very slick.
I’m listening to Facebook and YouTube videos. The AirPod sounds great. I’m perfectly content to ear only one of them, so that I can still be aware of my surroundings. I’m not listening to, you know, Mozart.
Day Two: In my Boston hotel, I grab the phone and head downstairs to the fitness center. On my way in, I spot a bowl full of cheap earbuds, provided for the gym’s guests. Cool! I’ll plug into my phone and listen to some NPR! Oh wait—no, I won’t. I didn’t anticipate this event, so I didn’t bring the adapter.
Day Four: After five hours of playback, the right AirPod I’ve been using is finally dead. I switch to using the left one. All the fears about having them fall out and get lost are overblown; this thing hasn’t even come close to falling out.
Day Five: I’ve been listening to my phone through the AirPod, but now I want to switch to my Mac laptop. Without even removing the bud from my ear, I see that I can switch the AirPod’s source to the Mac with one menu click. That’s cool.
Day Six: Flight to San Francisco. Yay—seatback TVs! Boo—they have standard headphone jacks. I can’t use the AirPods; I’m going to have to get the Apple headphone adapter cable. Which is in the overhead bin. Which I’m not allowed to open until the seatbelt light goes off. OK, I’ll just watch in silence.
Day Seven. Home. Well, both arguments are correct. Wireless really is wonderful. It’s glorious not to have to untangle a set of earbuds, not to have the wire get caught on things. But we live in a headphone-jack world. In principle, the little adapter should solve that problem every time; in practice, it’s something you have to remember to keep and track and carry.
Someday, all of us will listen wirelessly. For now, we’re stuck in the transitional age.