The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus does not have a 3.5mm headphone port.  In its replacement, it uses the Lightning port.  Everyone must be wondering why did Apple remove a 50-year-old industry standard from its Smart Phone?

According to the Apple Senior VP, Mr Phil Schiller, the removal of the 3.5mm headphone port was an act of courage.  However, we think that it is more progress than courage (well, perhaps there really was some form of courage *smile*).

The 3.5mm headphone port is over 50-years-old and carries only analog audio signal.  The iPhone, and all Smart Phones, uses digital signal for music and audios.  And the 3.5mm headphone port, carrying analog signal, requires a built-in digital to analog (DAC) convertor in the iPhone.  Since the audio signal is analog in nature, it degrades as it travels along the cable.  On the other hand, Lightning-connected headphones uses digital signal.  As such, the audio quality does not degrade as it travels up the cable.

You may say, what is the big deal?

It is a big deal for high resolution audio, where any amount of data loss (in this case, audio loss) can completely affect the benefits of large-bitrate tracks.  Furthermore, as the signal does not need to be converted from digital to analog via the DAC, the Lightning headphones are not limited by the quality of the iPhone’s DAC.  This gives headphone manufacturers more leeway to build their own digital signal processor, DAC and amplifier, into their headphones.  In order words, the manufacturers have more control over the sound quality produced.

There are also other benefits using the Lightning port to deliver audio too, as listed below:

  • Removal of the 3.5mm headphone port and its relevant circuitry, which is one of the biggest component in the iPhone, frees up a lot of space.  This means that there are more space for other components, for example, larger battery, thinner built iPhone etc.
  • Using Lightning cable for audio allows it to transfer power as well as data.  This means that active noise cancellation would not require an additional battery and the power can be use to power other features in the headphones.
  • Apple has also patent for Lightning headphones to be equipped with pressure sensors built into the bud.  This would allow audible frequencies to be dynamically changed based on the seal between the ear-bud and the ear.  This allows for customized audio experience.

Let us wait and see how all these will develop if other Smart Phone players will follow suit.