When it launched the iPhone 7 a year ago, Apple confidently declared the headphone jack obsolete technology that we could learn to live without. I disagreed with the necessity of its removal then, and I disagree with it now, but with Google joining the ranks of jack-less phone makers, I think it’s time to accept the inevitability of the 3.5mm port’s demise.
According to the two towering US giants of mobile tech, the future is wireless (or, in emergencies, dongle-shaped) and even though that will make our lives less convenient and our tech less compatible, we should all just come along for the ride.
“The primary reason [for dropping the jack] is establishing a mechanical design path for the future,” Google product chief Mario Queiroz told TechCrunch after the event. “We want the display to go closer and closer to the edge. Our team said, ‘if we’re going to make the shift, let’s make it sooner, rather than later.’ Last year may have been too early. Now there are more phones on the market.”
Perhaps this is the resignation stage of grief that I’m going through. I just can’t summon the passion to be enraged by Google omitting what I consider to be one of my favorite things in the world. Plugging in a new pair of headphones is, to me, part of the ceremony of discovering great new sound. It’s a tactile and auditory preamble to the enjoyment of music.
But the truth of headphone jacks on phones is that not all of them were made equal. A lot of them have actually served as portals to hellishly bland, flat music reproduction that let the user down. The original Pixel was among the number of phones with really underwhelming headphone audio.
If Google were removing truly awesome sound, such as you’d get from the quad-DAC LG G6 or LG V30, I might have been more upset. If Google were one of the top two smartphone makers in the world, as Apple is, I might also feel like it’s rushing in too quickly with a change it could probably make and justify better in future models.
But the fact is that LG will still be out there offering high-end integrated audio in its phones for audiophiles like me, and Google’s Pixel ventures remain on an almost experimental scale relative to the broader phone market. That being said, we shouldn’t mistake the small beginnings of Google’s time as a hardware maker and its comparatively puny Pixel phone sales for a lack of influence.
In the wake of the Pixel 2 event, I got word from Libratone and AIAIAI, a couple of Danish consumer audio brands, both annoucing that they’ve developed “Made for Google” models of their headphones and cables. These are tailored to work well with Google’s Pixel lineup of phones and Chromebook and include new “fast pairing” functions.
Libratone and AIAIAI are just two of 25 partners that Google has already signed up as it seeks to emulate Apple and its famous “Made for iPhone” label.
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The difference between Google’s currently small-scale efforts and those of previous mobile contenders like BlackBerry and Microsoft is the direction of travel. Others have had control over their operating system and hardware before, but they weren’t in the position to capitalize on that in the same way that Google, purveyor of the world’s most popular mobile OS, is.
Google has openly declared that its hardware business is no longer a hobby, and its future is only going to be more influential and impactful. Accessory companies are falling in line and cooperating early with a company they’d be foolish to doubt.
Before the Pixel, Google’s Nexus line served as the prototypical best Android device that Google could envision. It was supposed to guide Android hardware partners in the development of their devices to best match Google’s intended direction for the software. That Nexus streak still remains in the Pixel smartphones of today, and what they signal is that Android is headed down the same path as iOS, leaving the headphone jack behind.