Audio Jacks: Past, Present, and Future… if there is one

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Duke Smith, Rottweiler’s co-founder and CEO, has seen a thing or two in the telephone business. With over 30 years of experience in many industries, he has seen telephony grow from the days of manual switchboards to modern VoIP platforms. Since Apple has announced that the new iPhone will not have a headphone jack, we thought it would be interesting to take you through the history of the jack: where it came from, where it’s going, and if it will ever disappear completely.

Where Jacks Came From

In the 19th Century, the 3.5mm headphone jack appeared as a miniaturised version of the quarter-inch jack (6.35mm), which was invented in 1878 for use in manual telephone exchanges, making it possibly the oldest electrical connector standard still in use.

Image result for old operator boards

Each pair of plugs was part of a cord circuit with a switch associated that let the operator participate in the call. Each jack had a light above it that lit when the telephone receiver was lifted (the earliest systems required a generator on the phone to be cranked by hand). Lines from the central office were usually arranged along the bottom row. Before the advent of operator distance dialling and customer Direct Dial (DDD) calling, switchboard operators would work with their counterparts in the distant central office to complete long distance calls. With the development of computerised telephone dialling systems, many telephone calls which previously required a live operator could be placed automatically by the calling party without additional human intervention.

Modern uses for these audio jacks include microphones, headphones, computer audio, electric instruments, and CCTV cameras.

Where Jacks Are Going

Apple has made it clear that it does not believe that traditional audio jacks will be part of our evermore wireless world. They are not alone. Motorola announced in June that it would be removing the audio jack from its Moto Z.

In his article, “Apple Is Right, Get Rid Of The 3.5mm Headphone Jack”, Forbes contributor, Curtis Silver, says:,  

When it comes to mobile, though, the landscape is constantly changing and certainly not tied to decades-old technology. There is a reason we’re using USB 3.0 and tiny SD cards now instead of floppy disks.

Most of the writers that concern themselves with technology have a pretty simple message: It sucks, but it isn’t that big of a deal. Audio jacks have remained untouched for so long that we’ve assumed they are an imperative. This is not the case. Wireless headphones and Bluetooth technology have given us the ability to cut the cord.

Will the headphone jack disappear?

Not likely, but Apple does tend to set trends. More and more cellular device manufacturers will probably make the bold step to do away with the old jacks in favor of wireless technology.

To those that love their jacks: fear not! We’ve seen time and time again that old technology doesn’t die overnight. Physical fax machines could have been kicked to the curve when email and scanner technology became widely available and affordable, but there are still organisations that cling to the fax machine. It will probably go the way of the physical switchboard, but not for a very long time.

That leaves us with wireless headphones and sub-par sound quality, but how many of us will really notice? Apple doesn’t seem to think that too many people will be upset by this.

Will wireless headphones get better? Of course they will, especially as they enjoy the influx of cash as millions of iPhone users flock to purchase new headphones and replace lost or stolen sets. Even though some 200,000 Apple fans petitioned the company to revisit its decision claiming it will “singlehandedly create mountains of electronic waste” as those old wired headphones get trashed (#SaveJack).

Will everyone calm down about this lack-of-jack? We’ll see…

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