Apple has removed the traditional headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus and opinion is, naturally, divided. What's the point of removing the audio jack? What's so good about the Lightning connection? Why should you have to use an adaptor or go wireless? All fair questions.
Even if you're not an Apple fan, the change is sure to have a knock-on effect on the rest of the consumer electronics landscape. Where Apple goes, the rest often tend to follow.
So why has Apple removed the iPhone headphone jack, and what will it mean for using the iPhone 7, for Apple headphones and for the rest of the headphone market? Allow us to explain.
When did Apple introduce the Lightning port?
The Lightning port was first introduced with the iPhone 5, replacing the 30-pin connector that had been used on every previous iPhone and iPod. It meant the industry had to instantly adapt, most notably by releasing new speaker docks and accessories to accommodate the smaller connection.
Apple did release an adapter (sound familiar?) that allowed you still to use your 30-pin device, but only with a Lightning dock or speaker.
When Apple quietly killed off the iPod Classic in September 2014, it took with it the last Apple device to use the company’s 30-pin connector.
While it may have been a big story at the time, slowly but surely, everyone adjusted to the change. Apple will no doubt be hoping for the same thing to happen now the 3.5mm jack has gone from the iPhone.
Why has Apple removed the 3.5mm headphone jack?
The 3.5mm headphone connector has been on portable devices since 1964 when it launched on the Sony EFM-117J radio, and subsequently became popular in 1979 with the release of the Sony Walkman.
The loss of the 3.5mm port will mean you will have to either use an adaptor to connect standard headphones, or use headphones that connect via the Apple Lightning port or wirelessly.
One key benefit of removing the port was said to be that it allowed Apple to make the iPhone 7 thinner - but in fact the new iPhone is no thinner than the previous model, both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6S measuring 7.1mm thin.
MORE: iPhone 6 Plus review
A rumour that did prove true was that space once taken up by the headphone socket would make room for a second speaker. The iPhone 7 has stereo speakers, which Apple claims deliver much better sound when not using headphones.
Ultimately, Apple simply thought the 3.5mm headphone jack wasn't doing enough for the iPhone to justify its space in the sleek new iPhone 7 - and of course it's a good excuse to get everyone to move towards Lightning or wireless headphones.
Will using the Lightning connection mean better sound quality?
The Apple Lightning connection already allows you to play hi-res music on your iPhone - but the iPhone can't currently play the source code at full native resolution via the headphone jack.
Apple’s internal DAC is a custom-built Cirrus Logic DAC that handles 24-bit/96kHz, and while the company won’t confirm the specifics, Apple’s software limits music coming out of the 3.5mm headphone socket to 24-bit/48kHz. However, if you access the digital output via the Lightning socket, you can receive hi-res audio.
Apple's removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 will mean more people using the Lightning connection to listen to music, so it could mean more people exploring higher-resolution audio. Emphasis on 'could'...
The iPhone 7 seems unlikely to support the format natively, despite some rumours suggesting Apple Music would support 24-bit/96kHz hi-res audio some time soon. We will find out in our full iPhone 7 review.
Will the iPhone sound quality be better on the iPhone 7? Based on previous iPhones, we wouldn't rule it out generally.
Wireless earphones, such as the new Apple AirPods, are always likely to sound worse than similarly priced wired models, but Lightning headphones, which take digital rather than analogue audio from your device, have the potential to sound better than their analogue counterparts. Apple has a new pair of Lightning EarPods, too.
More after the break
What Apple Lightning headphones are on the market?
Since the rumours suggesting Apple would remove the 3.5mm headphone jack first surfaced, we've seen a few headphone manufacturers release or announce new Lightning and Bluetooth models.
Philips was well ahead of the crowed when it released the M2L headphones way back in 2014. Since then, high-end headphone brand Audeze has released the Sine and EL-8 Titanium, both of which are over-ear pairs, and has announced the iSine 10 and 20; in-ears that come with a Lightning cable.
There's plenty more pairs of headphones that use the Lightning connection in the pipeline too, such as the JBL Reflect Aware and Libratone's first range of headphones, which includes a pair of Lightning in-ears.
And now we also have the new Apple Lightning earphones, which will come bundled free with the iPhone 7, plus new Beats wireless models, that also sport the Lightning connection.
What about wireless headphones for the iPhone 7?
Of course, it's not just Lightning headphones that will work with the iPhone 7, but wireless Bluetooth ones as well. There are plenty of excellent pairs already on the market, such as the AKG Y50BT and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless, but many more are on the way, including some completely wireless in-ears.
The Jabra Elite Sport were announced at IFA 2016 and follow in the completely wire-free footsteps of the Onkyo W800BT. A pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones that are sure to prove popular with iPhone 7 users are the B&W P7 Wireless.
There are also the new wireless Apple AirPods (£159) and new Beats wireles headphones; the Beats X, Beats Solo 3 Wireless and Powerbeats 3 Wireless.
What are the disadvantages of Apple Lightning headphones?
The most obvious problem with ditching the 3.5mm headphone connection is that your existing headphones won't plug straight into the iPhone 7. Nor will you be able to plug the iPhone 7 straight into your hi-fi system, or anything else, with a simple aux cord. This affects plenty of other accessories, too.
Apple will provide a Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor free with every iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, however, but it doesn't look particularly neat. The adaptor will cost £9 sold separately.
If you often found yourself listening to music via the headphone jack while you charging your phone via the Lightning cable... this is no longer possible with just the one Lightning connection. Again, you'll need adaptors or a dock, or to use wireless headphones to free-up the Lightning port for charging.
Any active noise-cancelling headphones that draw power from the phone could cause problems, too. While the iPhone does have a relatively good battery life, it’s not class-leading.
Again, all this and more will have to wait for our full iPhone 7 review.
Does the iPhone 7 come with wireless headphones?
Much like the change from 30-pin to Lightning paved the way for wireless speakers, a change to the headphone connection could be a serious boost for wireless headphone manufacturers.
The iPhone 7 doesn't come bundled with wireless headphones but there are a new pair of Apple wireless earphones, the AirPods, which were given plenty of air time at the Apple launch event.
Much like the the Onkyo W800BT earphones, the AirPods are completely wireless, and come with a neat carry case. Already people are concerned about losing the small buds - and about how they look - but we're equally eager to hear how good they really sound.
There are plenty of good Bluetooth headphones on the market already, but we could soon see plenty more - including potentially more affordable pairs and perhaps more truly wire-free models.
MORE: Best headphones 2016
Will I be able to use my existing headphones with the iPhone 7?
But what if you’ve invested a lot of money in a high-end pair of headphones? You will no longer be able to use them with your iPhone via its Lightning connection, unless you use the adaptor or connect via a DAC such as the Chord Mojo.
Of course you could get a dedicated hi-res audio player from the likes of Astell & Kern, Pioneer or Sony. So, could a surge in dedicated players persuade Apple to release a dedicated player? Not that we're still mourning the passing of the iPod or anything...
MORE: Apple Music review
Love it or hate it, there’s no ignoring the fact that Apple has a huge influence over the smartphone and portable audio market.
Could the iPhone 7 mark the beginning of the end for the 3.5mm headphone jack? We shall see...
MORE: iPhone 7 hands-on review
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