The days of your headphones working with all of your devices appear to be nearing an end.
Rumours of Apple removing the headphone jack from the next iPhone have persisted for months, while recent reports and launches have suggested that Android phones could follow suit by replacing the traditional jack with USB-C.
As you might expect, this would complicate things for the people who actually make the headphones Apple and co. are about to change.
Judging by recent conversations with several of those companies, though, most aren’t panicking. If anything, many are excited about the possibility of selling more Bluetooth pairs, which would become the only way to use your headphones across device types if this scenario were to come true. There could be some newfound benefits, too.
Still, there’d be changes, many of which may not be immediately noticeable. I took a deep dive on what a world of jack-less smartphones might look like last week, but here are a few additional side effects that were brought up in those interviews.
Headphone companies would have to figure out how many Lightning, USB-C, Bluetooth, and 3.5mm (since there'd still be some old-school devices) headphones to make, even as those markets are developing.
This is how it works with most 'paradigm shifts,' and logistical problems are far from uncommon in consumer tech, but it'd still be a challenge for each company to ensure they have enough of each type out there. (Or make sure they don't spend too much on one.)
A company like Apple, meanwhile, would likely focus on making Bluetooth and Lightning cans made for its own devices.
This gets more complicated for groups that make headphones for specific niches. 'We have to look at use cases as well, which makes it even more complicated,' V-Moda CEO Val Kolton told Tech Insider. 'Because DJs can't use Bluetooth, for instance. Gamers can't use Bluetooth. It makes it infinitely more complex in our product roadmap, for sure.'
Some companies said things could be particularly constrained with Lightning headphones, as the number of approved suppliers for that connector is relatively low.
More specifically, a couple of company execs noted that wireless headphones haven't taken off in certain Eastern markets like Japan the way they have in the US and the UK.
Would this be a huge burden? Probably not. But again, since the move would seem to make Bluetooth headphones more prominent, it'd be another new issue to contend with.
The common assumption is that moving headphones to Lightning and USB-C would make current 3.5mm headphones obsolete. That will probably wind up being true for most of the mainstream, but in the meantime, some companies might position those older devices are 'purer' than their replacements.
'People are going to say, 'are you worried about your older products are just going to go away?' No, it's like vinyl,' Jonathan Levine, CEO of premium headphone maker Master & Dynamic, told Tech Insider. 'If you love material, if you love design, if you love heft, and you love sound, you're still going to want us. And there's plenty of people who will just want that original design -- but now we'll provide them with the ability to use all the technology and all the devices they want seamlessly.'
One of the beautiful things about headphones is that, sometimes, a group you've never heard of can put out something that competes with the big-name brands. Today, everyone's working with the same standard.
In this case, Apple isn't coming down to each and every company and telling them what its plans are, so people with less resources and inroads would likely need more time to actually develop and ship a quality product using a new connector.
That said, they are smaller, so they'd at least be able to change tacts without having to deal with much bureaucracy.