It’s always something. In fevered pace to stay ahead of the ravenous packs of cheaper smartphone manufacturers, Apple may be giving up a key feature relied upon by many of its customers — and it’s not what you might expect.
Apple, as the rumor mills have blabbing about for months now, may be planning to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from the bottom of the iPhone. Ostensibly, this move is meant to make the phone even thinner and possibly free up space for some additional speakers.
In normal use, this approach might make sense, although there is a case to be made that an even thinner iPhone is just ridiculous. We already have to put cases on these things and the thinner they get, the more annoying they’ll be to hold and the thicker the cases will need to be to keep them protected.
But I digress.
For many people, the headphone jack is an anachronism. Many of us have moved to Bluetooth for speakers and for earbuds. While some folks have those Lt. Uhura dongles sticking out of their ears, I’ve gone to an over-the-head Blue Parrott headphone that works really well for professional work conversations.
So there really isn’t much of a downside to removing the headphone jack if all you want to do is talk on the phone and listen to music. But that’s not all people do with the jack.
You don’t know jack
Not by a long shot. And here’s where, if this rumor is true, Apple may have a blind spot. iPhones are often used for filming video.
Apple went out of its way to promote the “Shot on iPhone 6” series of commercials to prove how capable the iPhone camera is. Personally, I’ve shot all my 3D printing shop videos using my iPhone 6s Plus, with a little $20 lavalier mic that I plug into that headphone jack.
And that brings me to the key concern over dropping the headphone jack. The headphone jack is the primary external microphone input port for iPhones. Whether it’s for a simple lav mic or something more fancy, if you want to bring in quality sound to match the quality video, you need a headphone jack.
This may be counter-intuitive to those who use Bluetooth headsets, but remember that we’re going beyond conversational audio to recorded production audio. The typical Bluetooth ear piece or even headphone like my Blue Parrott won’t do. First, of course, they don’t fade into the background. Second, they’re just not up to the audio quality.
Some of you may be familiar with a series of more professional microphones that purport to be Bluetooth based. Well, yes, they are. But they connect a remote user wearing a mic to a dongle, and that dongle has a mini headphone jack at the end
The professional Bluetooth wireless mics don’t talk to the phone, they talk to the dongle. That dongle will no longer work if it can’t plug into the phone. This video demonstrates how that works. Here’s another example, again with a dongle that plugs into your phone.
As it turns out, the Lightning adapter may prove our savior in this regard, at a price both metaphorical and monetary. There are a number of microphones that plug right into the Lightning adapter so that your iPhone becomes the mic body and the add-on mic is the mic head.
One such mic, the Blue Microphones Mikey, is a popular digital recording solution.This works well in handheld interview situations, but is clearly not a body micing solution.
For lav-based microphone use, microphone elder statesman Sennheiser comes to the rescue with the clipMic, a complete lavalier solution using the Lightning port instead of the headphone port. It’s not cheap at $199, but with Sennheiser, you do always get your money’s worth.
These are good answers to the dropped headphone jack, except for small possible problem: latency. Many of us have been quite satisfied using USB mics and have only experienced the very slightest of latency issues. But the analog to digital conversion in the mic must be fast enough to prevent lip sync and other tight sound-to-visual issues.
There is one more problem with using the Lightning adapter and that’s power. The other day, I was recording 4K video using my iPhone 6s Plus (which normally gets almost two days of operation on a single charge). It was out of juice in just a little over an hour while doing the recording.
Those using Lightning-based mics may have a power management problem until or unless we see power splitters that can also handle live mics. This may prove difficult because power is “noisy” and may disrupt mic recording, so a more robust battery in the iPhone 7 or an add-on battery may prove to be the solution.
Jack be nimble, jack be quick
Today, there are no really good pro mic solutions using Bluetooth and just a few using Lightning.
There is no doubt that if Apple eliminates the headphone jack, there will be a huge surge in Bluetooth and Lightning mic innovation, if only because so many people use these devices and it’s such a huge market. But there will definitely be a time lag between the release of the new iPhone and more good recording solutions.
And what if Apple dumps the Lightning adapter in favor or USB C at the same time it dumps the headphone jack? As improbable as that is, there are USB C to USB 3 adapters, and while there would likely be a jumble of connections, it’s doable.
Keep this in mind when you look at the question of whether or not going jackless is right for you. Personally, I’m on the annual iPhone upgrade plan, but I don’t intend to swap out my surprisingly beloved iPhone 6s Plus until I’m sure I have a recording solution that will work for me.