Business

Counterclockwise: the rise (and impending doom) of the 3.5mm audio jack

The Siemens SL45 from 2001 was the first phone to have a card slot for storage and also the first to feature an MP3 player. It came with a 32MB (megabyte) MMC card and a pair of stereo headphones.

Unfortunately, those used a proprietary COM port to connect to the phone (as did many phones later on). The familiar 3.5mm audio jack didnt arrive on the scene until 2005 and it wasnt alone.

We picked the Top 50 phones (by user interest) for each year and counted the number of audio connectors. Between 2007 and 2009 there was a brief challenge by the smaller 2.5mm jack, but that fizzled out quickly.

By 2009, the 3.5mm jack had established itself as the clear winner for hooking up wired headsets. And from 2010 to 2015 all fifty of the Top 50 phones had the jack on board.

It was such smooth sailing, what happened? Apple started rocking the boat, thats what. Of the top phones of 2016 exactly two lacked the old school analog jack the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. This year only 39 of the Top 50 use the formerly ubiquitous jack.

We also plotted the rise of USB-C/Lightning ports. As they say correlation does not imply causation but look at that chart. And with Apple leading the way, manufacturers had plenty of excuses to drop the 3.5mm connector and reroute the headphones to the USB port.

Its a pretty steep drop in popularity as you can see. At this rate, the 3.5mm jack will be gone as quickly as it came to dominate the scene.

Of course, theres one thing not included in this chart the number of people using wireless headphones. Bluetooth has had several additions to enhance its normally poor audio quality and theres a rich and varied market for Bluetooth headphones.

Will wired headphones be they 3.5mm or USB go extinct entirely? Certainly not, at least not until phones switch over exclusively to wireless charging. Which may never happen.

As for our hero, the 3.5mm jack, things are not looking good. Between USB-C headphones and Bluetooth ones, its days may be coming to an end.