As you've heard ad nauseam, Apple appears extremely likely to remove the headphone jack from its next iPhone. This hasn’t gone over well! Apart from forcing some people to buy new wired (or wireless) headphones, it’s likely to raise the cost of the average headphone, and make many learn to live with dongles.
Still, there are some potential benefits to adopting a digital audio connection like Lightning — noise-cancelling could become standard, for instance, and higher-end Lightning cans could provide better sound. Plus, if Apple makes jack-less iPhones the norm, it’d at least do so in one fell swoop. Lightning replaces 3.5mm, and that’s that.
Where things get messier is on Android. There, USB-C makes for a natural headphone jack replacement: It has all the same digital capabilities as Lightning, works with various types of devices, and can still pass analog audio, meaning its headphones wouldn’t necessarily have to cost more, the way Lightning pairs tend to.
The problem is not everyone’s making the switch. While Lenovo’s Moto Z has (with little immediate benefit), other Android manufacturers are drawing a line in a sand. After Samsung openly mocked Apple over the rumor earlier this month, LG not only confirmed its upcoming V20 will keep the jack late last week — it used that decision to help sell the phone as a whole.
More specifically, it promoted how it’s partnered with audio firm ESS to put a 32-bit “quad-DAC” in the device. That means it uses up to four digital-to-analog converters, which in turn means it’s capable of stronger audio — so long as you’re using wired 3.5mm headphones.
This could complicate things. There’s less risk in creating Lightning headphones if the next few iPhones only have a Lightning port. If Android phones are on both sides at once, that gives headphone makers less incentive to make USB-C pairs, which, again, seem like a legitimate successor to what’s available today. They still could, since most Android OEMs are adopting USB-C anyway, but people will buy traditional pairs if the jack is available.
Right now, all of this in limbo, both for buyers and manufacturers. “In general, I feel that about 30% of flagship brands are considering dropping 3.5mm, such as Motorola just did,” V-Moda CEO Val Kolton told Business Insider. “I think they are also waiting to see what Apple will do with Lightning.”
Indeed, it’s still early. If the current hysteria turns out to be hot air, you’d think more than 30% of Android OEMs would be comfortable turning to USB-C. The rise of wireless headphones would negate things, too. For the near future, though, it looks like Android has found yet another way to feel fragmented.