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What You Need to Know About iPhone 7 and Headphones

By Daniel B. Kline – Sep 12, 2016 at 9:32AM

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People are up in arms over a big change, but it may not be what they think it is.

You would think that Apple (AAPL -2.63%) dropped the number 8 from the new iPhone's dial pad based on the level of outrage directed at the new smartphone.

Instead, the company has gotten rid of the headphone jack -- a bold move certainly -- but one that's not nearly as big a deal as many have made it out to be. That's at least partly because many people do not understand what Apple has done.

Yes, the iPhone maker has gotten rid of the traditional 3.55 mm headphone jack, but it has not -- as many people are assuming -- forced its customers to use much-more expensive wireless headphones including its own $159 Earpods. Instead Apple has actually made a very measured move to wean people off the headphone jack and push them toward a wireless future.

Apple's new wireless Earpods are an optional accessory. Image source: Apple.

What did Apple do?

The new iPhone 7 will not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Instead, it will come with a set of Apple earbuds designed to plug into the phone's Lightning connector port. And for people who already own headphones that plug into the the traditional jack, the company has also included an adapter with all of its new phones.

In addition Apple has introduced its new wireless headphones, which can be used with the new models or any phone that has Bluetooth. This is not new technology and Bluetooth headphones have been available for years.

Apple has made a big change in dropping the headphone jack, but it hedged its bets and gave its customers a fair chance to adapt by offering them a set of headphones that connect via the Lightning port and including an adapter. It's also worth noting that the company sells additional Lightning-to-3.55 mm adapters for $9 on its website -- a price that third-party providers (both authorized and illicit) will almost assuredly beat soon.

Is this a big deal?

There are two major negatives to what Apple has done for people who use the headphone jack. The first is that if you have your headphones plugged into your Lightning port, you cannot use that port to charge your phone. That's a concern that may be somewhat overridden by the fact that, according to the company, the base model iPhone 7 has two extra hours of battery life compared to its predecessor.

Of course, for some this will still be an issue, and while there are adapters that allow for charging and listening at the same time, not having separate ports may sometimes be annoying.

The second issue -- and this may be the bigger one -- is that many people lose their headphones a lot and buy cheap earbuds. For those people, this change might be a bit expensive because using cheap headphones will require holding onto (or buying more of) the Lightning-to-3.55 mm adapter.

Sub-$10 3.55 mm headphones can be had at pretty much every convenience store or rest stop. Lightning headphones exist, but they are much less prevalent and prices start at around $29.99.

That essentially means that Apple dropping the headphone jack will be an annoyance for people who like to charge their phone while listening to headphones and an expense for people prone to losing earbuds and/or adapter dongles.

Change needs to come

There was a point when dropping the disk drive and later the CD/DVD drive seemed like an outrageous move that people would never put up with. Over time, however, we have become used to not having disks, CD, or DVDs and the idea of including one in a computer seems as out of date as buying a VHS player.

Apple may be ahead of the curve here, but the headphone jack's days are numbered across all top-tier smartphones. Somebody had to lead the way and Apple has done so in as painless a way as possible.

Consumers aren't losing something here. They're gaining a little bit more space in the phone for Apple to cram other technology in at the expense of a jack that no longer serves a purpose.

Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He has ordered an iPhone 7 Plus. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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