The End of the Smartphone Headphone Jack Is Near
Last week, Andy Rubin, former Google employee and father of the Android operating system, unveiled his new project, a $699 smartphone. Set to debut later this year, the phone—manufactured by Essential Products, where Rubin serves as CEO—is called, creatively, Phone, and is positioned as a high-end competitor to the iPhone. It is made from high-end materials (titanium and ceramic) and boasts top-of-the-line specs. It's marketed as a premium product from one of the industry's true innovators.
And it doesn't have a headphone jack.
The Essential Phone, as it's known, is hardly the first phone to do away with a physical headphone jack. Apple did it with its iPhone 7. And while fans and tech blogs greeted that move with much consternation, you wouldn't know it from the sales figures—Apple posted record numbers in the quarter following the iPhone 7's launch. HTC and Motorola also released phones sans headphone jack, with the same backlash from consumers but considerably less success. Still, their attempts show that major smartphone makers aren't afraid to go that direction. Everyone wants to kill the headphone jack, it seems.
Well, not everyone. Samsung, LG and Google have yet to make the move in their devices. And Samsung happens to be the biggest device maker on the planet, with a 26.1 percent share of the international market—a full nine percentage points ahead of Apple. As long as Samsung holds strong, the headphone jack—and, by extension, the peripherals and accessories that use it—will remain in fashion, by default.
But how much longer will that last? Apple is not going back to a physical headphone jack after the success of the iPhone 7. And there were rumors aplenty that the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone's primary competition, would do away with the jack as well. Those rumors ultimately proved false, but it's no secret most smartphone makers, Samsung included, want to get slimmer and make room for bigger batteries. And, as Apple discovered, removing the bulky 3.5mm headphone jack is the easiest way to do both of those things.
That brings us back to the Essential Phone. As mentioned, Rubin created Android, the world's most popular smartphone operating system. He also designed the Sidekick, now remembered as a kitschy piece of early 2000s nostalgia but actually a massive tech breakthrough that essentially ushered in the era of mobile internet. His name may not be well known outside of tech circles, but Rubin is the closest thing the smartphone industry has to a rock star. If he's betting on the end of the headphone jack, there's reason to believe he's right.
Rubin's pedigree earns him the benefit of the doubt. It also gives the Essential Phone a legitimate chance to succeed in an arena that has been notoriously tough on smaller manufacturers. Apple and Samsung own the U.S. market. LG and HTC are drops in the bucket. Even Google, with its massive reach and name recognition, has managed to make only minor inroads with its Pixel phone, despite rave reviews for the hardware.
But the Essential Phone may have an ace up its sleeve. Via The Verge:
Essential is clearly planning on releasing a very well-made phone: The screen looks promising, it has no annoying logos, and it is built with a combination of titanium and ceramic so it can survive a drop test “without blemish, unlike the aluminum competitor devices.” (Those would be Samsung and Apple, if you’re wondering.)
Users routinely cite durability and battery life as two top problems with modern smartphones, and while most big device makers are doing everything they can to address the latter issue (as Apple and Essential have in removing the headphone jack), few have solved the durability problem. If you've ever shelled out $500 for a sleek, shiny new phone only to immediately place it in a $50 protective case, you know what we mean. The Essential Phone aims to be the first to solve both problems, or at least take major steps toward doing so.
That could give Essential the edge it needs to make a serious play for smartphone market share. It won't topple Samsung, by any means, but it might convince Samsung that the headphone jack is no longer a necessity for future iterations of the Galaxy phone.
For the promotional products industry, such a scenario would bring big changes, though it's tough to tell what, exactly, they'd be. There would suddenly be a much bigger market for branded headphone adapters and dongles, sure. But would Bluetooth headphones become more popular than their corded counterparts? And, if Essential finally solves the durability problem—and shows other manufacturers how to do it—will the smartphone case be next to go?
Of course, the Essential Phone could flop altogether. If it does, the end is likely still near for the headphone jack. If Essential succeeds, that end may come sooner. Get your tech accessories ready.