Wednesday, 26 October 2016

On the matter of the iPhone and the headphones

A lot of ink, mostly of the virtual type, has been spent on Apple's removal of the headphones jack from the iPhone 7. I already stated that the underwhelming nature of this phone's release - the fact it's actually an iPhone 6S-S, and the removal of the headphones jack being its most notable feature - has cured me of any will to invest in this new phone despite my current phone being a 4 year old brick masquerading as a smartphone.
However, in my opinion, Apple hasn't been dealt justly with regards to the headphones jack's removal. In my opinion, things are much worse than what we have sort of been stabilised to agree about with regards to Apple's headphones enforcement agenda.
Sure, we can use Apple's supplied adaptor in order to continue using our wired headphones. We can't listen to music while the phone is charging, at least not without the help of yet another dongle, but let us assume for now that is manageable.
Where I think matters are much worse is with the microphone. Most of us use our headphones not only to listen to music, but also to answer calls. My particular noise cancelling headphones come with the added bonus of cleaning out the phone call for both sides, making it a true pleasure to use the headphones for this particular purpose. But no more, says Apple!
The problem is, the iPhone's Lightning connector is digital while our headphones are analog. In order to deal with that, Apple has stuck a digital to analog converter in the dongle it supplies us so we can continue listening to music on our "old" headphones; what it did not do, however, is stick an analog to digital converter in there, too, so that our headphones' microphone can continue working. For that matter, it did not include measures so that the volume and other controls our headphones tend to come equipped can continue working.
Technologically speaking, the compromise is understandable. It has been a major achievement for Apple to cram a digital to analog converter in that tiny dongle it is already providing. But the begging question is still very much - why did Apple decide to bring us down that path in the first place?

iPhone 7 Plus

I can hear the Apple fans arguing the time is ripe for wireless headphones. If you believe that, I have some hot air to sell you.
As the owner of a couple of Bluetooth headphones, I can tell you life is not that glamorous on that side. Using the headphones proves far from "switch it on and they'll just be there"; more often than not there are pairing problems, especially at busy locations. Similar frustrations creep when the headphones just stop working. Or, for that matter, when their battery runs out.
Then there is the matter of sound quality. Bluetooth headphones are more or less limited to a bandwidth of 256kbps, which is nice and dandy for most but not for an audiophile. Even Spotify provides me with music at 360kbps, not to mention Apple itself selling lossless, better than CD, grade music. Sure, you can argue you don't feel the difference and I will empathise. I, however, can feel the difference; not always, it takes good headphones and a quite environment, but I have plenty of both, thank you very much, to consider sound quality vital.
And last, there is the matter of price. The better Bluetooth headphones out there cost $400 or more: I am talking about the Bose QC35, the latest generation of the Parrot headphones (or, for that matter, previous generations), and the Sennheiser Momentum 2. By the way, none of which can compete, sound quality wise, with wired headphone of the same price or even half the price.

I will therefore state the following without prejudice: screw you, Apple, for what you have done.


Image by Kārlis Dambrāns, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

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