Samsung's new Galaxy S8 phones could make the future of headphones messier

After a slew of leaks this week, it appears as if we know just about everything there is to know about Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S8 phones. Citing “several well-placed sources,” The Guardian dropped a batch of details on Tuesday. That was largely corroborated by VentureBeat’s Evan Blass on Thursday.

Blass, who has a long history of accurately leaking phones, also included the first purported photos of the new devices. They show two phones with curved screens, thin chassis, fingerprint scanners on the back — and, lo and behold, 3.5mm headphone jacks.

That last bit is significant. For the past several months, the common wisdom in the tech world has been that the traditional headphone jack is living on borrowed time.

Apple famously ditched it with the iPhone 7 in an effort push people toward wireless pairs. The move upset a lot of people, and it hasn’t magically fixed Bluetooth’s issues, but Apple devices live in their own world. If the break had to happen, at least it was relatively clean. If you’re a headphone manufacturer, you can make wireless cans or Lightning cans, and you know you’ll have all iPhone users covered from now on.

With Android, though, the situation is sloppier. Intel and others have been pushing USB-C, the do-everything port that’s replacing all older USB ports on more and more devices, as the 3.5mm jack’s replacement for the past several months. USB-C is a digital connection, so it could bring the same enhancements as Lightning, but it’s also an open standard, so nobody has to pay Apple a cut to use it. Over the past few months, the likes of Motorola, LeEco, and HTC have jumped on the bandwagon.

Samsung Galaxy S7 EdgeFlickr/Răzvan BăltărețuThe Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Being open, though, means a higher chance of fragmentation. And if the flagship phones from the world’s most popular smartphone maker are sticking with the 3.5mm jack, that’s going to stunt USB-C’s chances of being a replacement for a little while longer.

While the Galaxy S series doesn’t outsell the iPhone on its own — Samsung’s market share is high because it sells many phones at many price points — it’s still Android’s biggest high-end device. Without it, and with the bulk of Android’s affordable phones keeping the jack as well, there’s simply less incentive for headphone companies to make USB-C pairs. Motorola and HTC aren’t setting the world on fire sales-wise.

Yes, the Galaxy S8 is expected to have a USB-C port for charging, so it could still technically support USB-C headphones. But if the headphone jack is still there, it’s hard to see people choosing something that’s generally pricier and makes it so you can’t charge your phone and listen to music at the same time.

LeEco LePro 3 Phone 3Hollis JohnsonThe LeEco LePro 3 is one of a handful of Android phones that have ditched the headphone jack entirely.

Ultimately, if Samsung sticks with the jack, it will probably be a good thing. Nobody enjoys using a dongle. And again, to truly hear the benefits of a USB-C connection, you’ll likely need to pay a bit more than you would for a simple, good-enough analogue pair. The move would also give Samsung a very easy selling point in its ongoing war with the iPhone.

On a higher level, the headphone world is still moving toward wireless pairs and so-called “hearables.” The Galaxy S8 keeping the jack may not expedite that process, but it won’t stop it. And by 2018, it may ditch the jack regardless. But for now, giving people the option to adapt USB-C without banning the alternative is a friendly move. Just don’t expect to see many more headphone makers go all-in on USB-C because of it.

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