Why Apple Has Been Able to Get Rid of the Headphone Jack; While Samsung Hasn’t

Lightning EarPods

When we compared the tech specs of iPhone X and Samsung’s all-new Galaxy S9, we had pointed out that Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ feature headphone jacks.

Many have expected Samsung to follow Apple given their track record when it comes to controversial design decisions. For example, just last week, we reported that Samsung Galaxy S10 may feature a 3D sensing feature like Face ID.

While Samsung took a dig at Apple for not including the headphone jack at the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch event, John Gruber of Daring Fireball provides some interesting insights about why Samsung hasn’t followed Apple in removing the headphone jack.

Gruber points out that Apple is a company that does what the customers will want in the future, whereas Samsung is a company which does what the customers are asking for. After using the AirPods and seeing its popularity, there is no doubt that the future of consumer headphones is wireless, so whether we like it or not, the headphone jack is going away sooner or later.

Apple has managed to get rid of the headphone jack because of two reasons: Apple’s W1 Bluetooth chip and Lightning port.

Apple’s W1 Bluetooth chip enables the seamless pairing of AirPods with the iPhone. We are yet to see a competitor for Apple’s AirPods for Android devices.

But the bigger factor why Samsung hasn’t removed the headphone jack is because the USB-C headphone market is a mess, and they are quite expensive. For example in the case of Pixel 2, owners need to buy the right kind of USB-C headphones. Gruber explains:

So the gist of it is that it’s not enough to have USB-C headphones. Pixel owners need the right kind of USB-C headphones — only those that support digital audio, and they seem to be far from common today. And the ones that do exist seem to be quite expensive. The cheapest Pixel-compatible USB-C headphones in Google’s store are the Libratone Q Adapt earphones, and they cost $149. That’s a lot more than $29, and a lot of money for headphones from a brand I’ve never heard of. They’re also the only earbud-style USB-C headphones Google offers. The even more goofily-named Aiaiai TMA-2 MFG4 on-ear headphones cost $180.

So with the Pixel, the recommended options start at $149, and the unrecommended options — as explored by Havlak in her aforelinked Verge piece — cost about $50 and are of questionable quality. No wonder Google didn’t include earbuds in the box with the Pixel 2. (Essential doesn’t either, and they charge $99 for their earbuds.)

The other issue is that USB-C to 3.5mm adapter is incredibly hard to find. While some OEMs bundle one with their device, buying a replacement can be quite difficult.

Apple meanwhile has been shipping a pair of Lightning EarPods with the iPhone along with a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter since 2016 with the introduction of iPhone 7. It costs just $29, which is quite cheap to replace, unlike the USB-C headphones. So even though AirPods has received a lot of attention, it is the Lightning EarPods that has enabled Apple to get rid of the headphone jack and pursue a wireless future. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Samsung and other Android manufacturers to catch up and get rid of the headphone jack.