The Carter Crater: Apple Killing the Headphone Jack, and Leaving Gamers Behind

Congratulations if you like playing games with headphones: your life is about to become more difficult with new changes that Apple is going to introduce. Rumors have it that Apple is going to kill the headphone jack, and possibly make the included EarPods connect via Lightning, or just go with a separate adapter for headphones. Even wireless EarPods are a possibility. Rumors can be wrong, but there’s a lot of smoke when it comes to the death of the headphone jack. I always thought that was annoying with the Game Boy Advance SP, and well, gamers, that’s your new future.

GBA SP Headphone Adapter

Getting headphone audio through the Lightning port is possible – there are accessories that do it right now, though few that do so in a super-slim way, though it’s not impossible. An adapter for 30-pin devices supported headphone audio through the dock connector’s analog line out, and the digital-to-analog converter that turns digital data into sound waves can be really small. For example, the Lightning-to-30-pin connector has a DAC in it. You can even fit the setup in a headphone cable. So the adapter will likely not be too bulky, but it’ll be another adapter to use, and while rumors of wireless charging sound promising, that’s still just another annoyance to deal with.

Wireless could be one solution, but I’ve complained before about how Bluetooth stinks for gaming, and in general it’s a convenience over functionality feature, though codecs like aptX Low Latency do a good job at alleviating these issues, but Apple doesn’t implement it in their hardware. While it’s quite possible that Apple’s going to introduce their own low-latency Bluetooth or other wireless codec, there’s a few problems. One is that Apple hasn’t exactly shown a lot of love for low-latency audio. I mean, if you use AirPlay from your Apple TV to use another device as speakers, the video is set on a delay so that it can sync up with the video. Apple knows AirPlay is a high-latency codec, and they’d rather work around it than develop something low latency for TVs, despite it being technically possible.


The other problem is that you’re either going to have to buy new headphones to support this new wireless codec assuming Apple introduces it, or new Lightning-capable headphones if you want to use something with as little difficulty as possible. Wired headphone adapters will exist, whether Apple makes them or a third-party does, especially the latter as those basically exist already. But the time will come when you forget it or misplace it when you really want to listen to music. Or you’ll have to buy multiple of them for different situations or pairs of headphones. It’s hard to see any change as favoring Apple and their quixotic desire to make phones thinner when I think more people would appreciate better battery life. And this is all especially annoying considering they’re trying to kill off the headphone jack, the most universal standard we have in technology right now.

Apple eliminating the headphone jack and putting the necessary components in an offboard adapter is something they’ve done before – Lightning iOS devices got rid of internal components for rendering video and now handle it through the external adapter. The experience has noticeable latency for games. Try playing Wayward Souls ($7.99) through the HDMI adapter, and you’ll see. Granted, for audio latency through wired headphone adapters shouldn’t be an issue, but having an adapter will be a new annoyance. And if the new iPhone doesn’t support wireless charging or have multiple Lightning ports, or the headphone adapter doesn’t have a charging passthrough port? Well, that’ll be a problem if you’re playing a particularly battery-intensive game.


The thing is, Apple can get away with these changes if they’re to be believed. Much like the downfall of paid games, a vocal minority that cares passionately about this issue isn’t powerful enough to actually cause anything to change. There’s a decent chance the Venn diagram between “cares about good quality, low-latency audio" and “cares about mobile games" is possibly just the villainous Carter Dotson. People are quite fine with their included earbuds or maybe a pair of Beats. Gamers are often sold on expensive gaming headsets, which are subpar audio for the quality if you bought good headphones and used an external microphone of some sort, even something like the V-Moda BoomPro or ModMic to turn your headphones into a makeshift headset. But only those curious to look beyond the obvious even know these options exist. It’s all confusing and hard to decipher, I don’t blame people for going for the simplest options available.

And gamers are historically always on the short end of the stick when it comes to gaming audio. This reddit post talking about the history and demise of 3D audio on PC talks about how great things once were, and how they’ve fallen since then. And it’s a situation right now where if you want quality audio for your money, you generally don’t buy gaming headsets or peripherals. But I’ve learned that high-quality audio equipment is meant for music fans, not for gamers necessarily. Gaming hardware always comes with compromises, such as the high output impedance causing subpar sound from most headphones, and gamers have either just always accepted it because what are they going to do about it? Manufacturers don’t care about it, and people haven’t shown enough resistance to say “we demand better." So Apple making moves with audio changes that are bad for gamers has some real precedent.

Cardboard Spatial Audio

It will matter how the general public would take to losing the built-in headphone jack. It certainly wasn’t something Nintendo kept eliminating. I’d probably stay away from the iPhone 7 generation of hardware to see what they do with the 7S. After all, Apple is only trying to dramatically change the most universal standard we have into one that promotes device lock-in, and maybe this is what causes people to revolt, not using the headphones they know and love with ease. But no matter what, it’s easy to see where gamers are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to audio changes. You should care: great audio can play a major role in gaming, and it’s a significant part of the future of VR. But for everyday, ‘normal’ games? Apple’s making moves to make it irrelevant.