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]