Headphone Jack Theory

There’s been a lot of talk about the potential removal of the next iPhone’s headphone jack. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it has been overtly negative and has focused on the reasons why Apple shouldn’t make the change. But I thought it was worth while to share my theory on why Apple might be removing this ubiquitous hardware feature.

I get it, if you’ve spent a lot of money on high-end headphones, use standard audio cables to run music into your car, or frequently charge your device while listening, there’s going to be an annoying period of adjustment. But I don’t think it’ll last too long and I bet we’ll look back at the headphone jack and see it in the same way we do the parallel port. We’ve all lived through changes like this in the past — whether it be the transition to optical discs, USB, or Wi-Fi. In hindsight, all of these moves have been for the better and I think the end of the headphone jack will be no different.

I suppose the biggest concern about this move is that no one’s been able to come up with a good reason as to why users should get on board. They all talk about external digital-to-analog converters, simplifying the device with fewer ports, slightly bigger batteries, and so on. But until Apple actually announces an iPhone without a headphone jack we’re left to speculate about what it could mean. And unfortunately, in the words of Doc Brown, we’re just not thinking fourth dimensionally.

I have a theory, though, about why Apple would want to remove the headphone jack. I think they’re going to make a big push towards waterproofing their devices and I think removing the headphone jack is all part of their master plan to do it the right way.

There have been waterproof handsets on the market for years, but there’s always been problems with them. You can’t use the touchscreen while underwater — which limits its use as a waterproof camera — and they can only go to a certain depth for a given duration. Waterproof electronics are typically given a rating, which tells you how deep and how long it can be submerged.

As an example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is rated IP68, which means it’s safe up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. That’s great for accidental spills, but nothing I’d trust to take with me while swimming. I think Apple’s going to go bigger. I think Apple’s building a device that is designed to be taken swimming and the marketing will reflect that.

What if Apple is removing the headphone jack to further improve its potential waterproof rating and to make room for a brand new sensor? A sensor that’s capable of telling when you’re device is underwater and how deep it is from the surface. This would allow your iPhone to offer a warning when it’s going too deep or when it’s been submerged for too long. It could even automatically shutdown the device if it’s in danger — potentially saving it from harm after a few hours of drying.

This sensor would serve a similar role to the temperature sensors that iPhones already include — which allows the iPhone to display a warning if it’s too hot to operate.

But Apple wouldn’t stop there. Traditional touchscreen displays don’t function when they’re submerged in water, even if they’re waterproof. When water sits against a capacitive touch screens the device thinks that the entire screen is being touched at once — there’s no way for the device to differentiate between the water and your finger. As it turns out, Apple built technology into their iPhone displays last year that could help solve that problem — 3D Touch.

When you add 3D Touch to the conversation, things start to get interesting. The 3D Touch technology adds pressure sensitivity to a standard capacitive touch screen and Apple could pair it with the new water sensor to let users interact with their device while underwater. When the sensor determines that the iPhone is submerged it could begin treating 3D Touch presses as simple taps. This would turn your iPhone into an incredible underwater camera that could be used in your backyard pool or during trips to the beach.

Imagine the advertisements Apple could create showing a group of kids jumping into a pool holding case-less iPhones. Or one that shows parents photographing their child while learning to swim. These are the kinds of moments Apple wants to create with their devices and would be a huge selling point to help spur upgrades and lure new customers from Android.

Make no mistake, the ability to use your iPhone underwater isn’t something that you’ll use everyday. But I don’t think there are many features left to add that fit that bill. Apple has to do something to continue moving hardware forward and this is the type of feature that would demo incredibly well and would be difficult for other handset manufacturers to replicate. But more importantly, I think a lot of iPhone owners would be willing to give up their headphone jacks in favor of a waterproof device that they could take with them to the pool without fear of water damage.