Nearly a year ago executives from Google stood on a Silicon Valley stage and touted the future of Android: a phone designed entirely in Mountain View. Of the many things the company boasted about that day, including the highest rating ever for a smartphone camera from DxOMark, was the fact that the Pixel retained the 3.5mm headphone jack, which had been used as the primary audio transfer connector for decades.
It wasn’t a throwaway line. It wasn’t Google mentioning in passing that the Pixel had a headphone jack, because of course it does, all phones have headphone jacks. The timing was important, and the mention was purposeful.
Shortly before Google unveiled the Pixel, Apple launched its latest iteration of the iPhone, which introduced a new idea to the world. Not the removal of the headphone jack, Lenovo beat Cupertino to the punch a few months earlier in 2016 with the release of the Moto Z. No, what Apple introduced to the world was labeling the concept of removing a standard form of connection, whose days as the standard are not soon to close, as an act of “courage.” Others would be quick to call the move premature, foolish and downright hostile. All of those monikers were far more accurate than “courageous.”
Google was not shy about using the spotlight provided by Pixel unveiling to prod its opponent. It celebrated the Pixel’s headphone jack, as though it were a relic lost to time that engineers deep within Googleplex labored intensely to uncover.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
Not so much for the downfall of the headphone jack. Despite other companies hopping on the removal train, and an uptick in production of wireless, lightning and USB-C headphones, the 3.5mm jack remains the gold standard. What changed, apparently, was Google’s opinion.
Render via Android Police
Rumors have been swirling about the follow up to Google’s first smartphone, and many of them to this point have been positive. Renders suggest the Pixel 2 will sport a cleaner, more modern design that is on trend for 2017 with a near bezel-less display. Other hardware improvements, like waterproofing, are likely to come as well. Those two upgrades, along with the newest, cleanest version of Android, and a camera at least equaling the performance of last year’s device, would easily catapult the Pixel 2 into contention as the best Android phone on the market and perhaps the best smartphone, period.
But a new rumor began circulating this week, thanks to noted insider Stephen Hall, managing editor of 9to5 Google, who suggests Google’s latest handset will ditch the headphone jack. The company’s swift about face, if true, is puzzling. Nothing in the last year has made the removal of the headphone jack a more palatable choice by OEMs. After Apple ditched the jack, Samsung was rumored to follow suit for the S8 and was instantly chastised across the tech community. The Korean giant’s latest flagship retained the 3.5mm connection, though it’s unclear if the backlash caused Samsung to change its mind, or if the leak was merely smoke to drum up intrigue.
We can hope that Google is pulling a similar ruse with this information, but it seems unlikely, and with the Pixel 2 set to launch in just a few months, it could be too late for Google to change its mind anyway. That doesn’t mean we can’t collectively throw out one last beg to the powers of Mountain View: please don’t kill the headphone jack.
There are myriad reasons why companies should continue to use the 3.5mm connector, and very few reasons why they should remove it. There are still vastly superior options of headphones that use the traditional connector versus those with lightning or USB-C. There are still a vast number of other products, tablets, laptops, cars (!) that only have a headphone jack for audio transfer. Living a #donglelife is inconvenient and a chore. Simply put, there is no sound reasoning for Google to remove the headphone jack, unless the geniuses in Mountain View have something incredible up their sleeve that will shock us all, but I seriously doubt it.
Perhaps Google just doesn’t care. Honestly, why should it? Apple removed the headphone jack and the iPhone 7 still sold in record numbers. Certainly, the iPhone is a singular case, and no phone is going to sell in similar numbers unless it comes with a Galaxy moniker, but the fact that the most popular phone in the world not only remained the most popular, but increased sales after removing the headphone jack might be the boon Google needed to make the leap. That doesn’t mean it’s not a mistake.
With the original Pixel, Google showed a surprising interest in pushing against the norms of the smartphone market. Aside from the similarities in design to the iPhone, Google’s handset had its own set of features that made it stand out from a crowded marketplace. It even lacked the customary camera bump. Now, the company appears all too willing to join the hot trends of the industry, both good (less bezels) and bad (no headphone jack).
Provided the company can actually properly stock and ship its flagship this time around, which is a big if for Google, the Pixel 2 is primed to seriously shake up the smartphone market in the way many hoped the original would have, and put a wedge in the Apple-Samsung duopoly that continues to dominate. It could deliver on the promises of a smartphone designed entirely by Google. If the headphone jack is nixed, the dreams of the smartphone market becoming a three company race will be too.