Apple fans know that the company is obsessed with thin, possibly to a fault, and there's one pesky little thing (aside from that darn camera) that is keeping Apple from further reducing the thickness of the iPhone: the 3.5mm headphone jack. The introduction of the Lightning port and its ability to send digital audio directly to compatible headphones, along with the ever increasing practicality of Bluetooth audio devices, have led many to speculate that the analog 3.5mm headphone port is not long for this world, and new supply chain rumors out of China this week suggest that the end could come as early as this fall with the introduction of the iPhone 7.
Chinese tech sites Anzhuo.cn and Wei Feng released reports this week supporting earlier rumors out of Japanese site Mac Otakara that the iPhone 7 will lack a 3.5mm headphone port entirely, with Apple asking users to instead rely on a combination of wireless headphones, Lightning-compatible headphones, and Lightning-to-3.5mm adapters. Although Apple-owned Beats already offers a number of Bluetooth wireless headphones, Anzhuo and Wei Feng also report that Apple will release its own Apple-branded Bluetooth headphones as well as offer a Lightning-compatible wired version of the company's EarPods.
While Lightning-equipped headphones are already a reality, the rumored removal of the iPhone's 3.5mm headphone port does present a few technical and practical challenges. First, in order to support traditional headphones via an adapter, Apple would need to integrate a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) at some point in the chain; either in a revamped Lightning port itself or as part of the rumored adapter cable, the latter of which may make the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter a relatively pricey accessory.
Using the Lightning port for headphones would also present a problem similar to that faced by owners of the 12-inch Retina MacBook: how does a user accommodate both data and charging via a single port? Some have suggested that the iPhone 7 could see Apple adopt wireless charging, which would solve the power issue, but a solution like a Lightning Y-cable could also suffice, even if it adds a bit of complexity to wired headphone options.
For now, there's no confirmation from Apple or more reliable sources, although we expect that history will repeat itself with part leaks giving us a good idea ahead of time about the fate of the 3.5mm headphone port as Apple ramps up production of the iPhone 7 later this year.