2013-10-29

Co.Labs

Can We Ditch The Headphone Jack Already?

The standard 3.5mm headphone jack found on most phones and devices right now won’t allow them to become much thinner. Can we do without it?



It’s so universal that it’s often overlooked: the port where you plug in your headphones. Today, it’s a necessity on your portable electronics. Like the VGA port on laptops, the 3.5mm jack need to be phased out as devices get thinner. Motorola, for example, wants to build modular phones, but looking at the initial images, there doesn’t appear to be any headphone jack because there just isn’t room.

There are a few obvious solutions including wireless, but nobody wants to deal with headphones that require charging. Designer Jon Patterson has created a magnetic concept device called POGO that uses standard 3.5mm headphones, but provokes ideas about moving beyond a circular hole in your phone.

POGO acts like a Mac’s MagSafe connector and uses a magnet along with pogo pins to attach and transfer audio. I asked Patterson a few questions about the headphone jack and what he sees for its future.

Is there a reason the headphone jack is still around or is it just in so many devices that no one wants to get rid of it?

From my experience, I've been told it is possible to change the jack, but will cost a lot of money, because every part that has been widely adopted, even production methods of producing it, would need to change. It also should be noted that most "innovations" around the jack involve decorating or styling the pieces rather than truly altering the working pieces, and if you alter the working pieces, then everything else may not be as universal to use with it.

Will a new headphones connection ever be invented or are we past that and it will be some kind of wireless solution?

Of course it will change over time, I think as technology and interfaces try to become "invisible," so will hardware such as cords/jacks. I feel that the next transition will be Bluetooth wireless charging, which eliminates cords. If [we] could forget the current limitations on wireless charging--if we [could] eliminate the cords and use signals--we would remove a lot of clutter and waste.

Are any OEM manufacturers already headed in this direction?

Absolutely! Look at how the Microsoft Surface connects to the keyboard of the Surface tablet. That thing is completely flush, eliminating the need for an obtrusive pin jack or cord. Integrating would highly eliminate bulk, but it goes back to question one, which is the widespread adaptability with this widely used piece. If you change the parts, you may eliminate the universal use.

[Images courtesy of Jon Patterson]






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41 Comments

  • brianknoblauch

    As a sidenote, my radio watch from way back in the '80's had a 2.5mm headphone jack so they could get it slim enough.

  • CapnCook

    cant wait to not have to have cords and wires dangling around me if i want to listen to music.
    cant wait for sub dermal audio implants behind the ear to become viable.
    its going to be awfully hard for processing to go the way of water an electricity and disappear into our environment otherwise.

  • John

    It’s so universal that it’s often overlooked: the port where you plug in your headphones. Today, it’s a necessity on your portable electronics. Like the VGA port on laptops, the 3.5mm jack need to be phased out as devices get thinner.

  • niico100

    Rapid changing is interesting - but ultimately what problem is this solving?!

    It would fall out ALL THE TIME by accident.

  • John

    I'm all in favor of replacing dated standards for new and better ones, but it has to be a very significant jump to overcome all the losses that ditching the current standard would present.

  • John

    careful apple might still this and say they invented it...lol but to be serious no I feel the headphone jack is here to stay anything else requires charging

  • Joshua Keys

    careful apple might still this and say they invented it...lol but to be serious no I feel the headphone jack is here to stay anything else requires charging
    PLUG AND PLAY...then I am off, is what makes the 3.5mm jack great no sync required

  • monkeyboy1861

    Does the author of this article realize that all current methods of transmitting wireless audio signal work well in a lab & out in the country, but once you get to a suburban or urban environment, there is a lot of different types of interference that make wireless transmission really a mixed bag for audio? If you were to multiply whatever frequency band you use by the amount of people currently with devices that currently use wired listening devices, that frequency spectrum can get pretty jammed up pretty quick or prone to cross talk & interference. Add to that the wireless charging that you are talking about, and you have a recipe for a poor listning experience and possible long term health effects from transmitting even nominal charging power wirelessly in a crowd. Also, what kind of signal compression will be needed for a wireless solution? Are we going to take a step back in audio quality again?

  • Imran

    there is a lot of different types of interference that make wireless transmission really a mixed bag for audio?

  • Brook Stevenson

    Interesting design exercise... but what problem is this solving? I'm not even convinced that magnetic keyboard he cites is worth the hassle.

  • Imran

    you have a recipe for a poor listning experience and possible long term health effects from transmitting even nominal charging power wirelessly in a crowd.