The biggest surprise when Apple introduces the new iPhone in September won’t be the phone itself. Expect that thing to be pretty boring.
Instead, I’m more interested in how Apple will justify removing the headphone jack, which has caused the most passionate debates and controversy since the company’s decision to replace Google Maps with its own inferior service back in 2012.
Here’s one argument Apple could use: Wireless Bluetooth headphones are more popular than ever, and they’re growing faster than wired headphones.
According to the research firm NPD, Bluetooth headphone sales surpassed wired headphone sales for the first time ever in June. To be clear, that’s dollar sales, not unit sales, but NPD notes that the Bluetooth headphone category is growing at a faster pace than the overall headphone market.
Part of the reason for the growth is that Bluetooth headphones are getting a lot cheaper. You can still spend several hundred dollars on a pair of high-end, noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones, but there are plenty of options in the $50 range for those who don’t obsess over audio quality.
Oh, and guess what the top-selling Bluetooth headphone brand is, according to NPD? Beats, which is owned by Apple.
More than any other change to the iPhone, Apple is going to have to do some serious verbal gymnastics to justify why it’s killing off a port that’s been standard for decades. Now it has the data to back up the decision. We’re increasingly moving toward a wireless world, and in order to jumpstart that and push wireless forward even faster, Apple is going to remove the headphone jack now.
Remember when Apple switched from the old 30-pin connector to the Lightning connector we have now? There was a brief uproar, followed by a flood of new accessories and products compatible with Lightning. A change to a single port in the iPhone can build an entire new hardware ecosystem around it. The same will happen with the headphone jack-less iPhone 7 this fall.
There’ll be a lot of complaining, but before you know it you’ll see manufacturers start pumping out even more Lightning compatible headphones and cheaper wireless options. Plus, Apple will ship the new iPhone with a pair of Lightning EarPods. There’ll be an inconvenience for a relatively small sliver of iPhone owners that are forced to use a dongle with their traditional headphones, but that will be trumped by an ecosystem that shifts towards Lightning and/or Bluetooth.
But for the vast majority of new iPhone owners this fall, wireless or Lightning headphones will be their only options, and Apple has the data to prove that’s the right choice.
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