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Killing off the iPhone 7 headphone jack is Apple's gift to copyright holders

Steve Hogarty
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A 3.5mm headphone jack

The audio jack was invented in 1878 for use on manual telephone switchboards, making it the oldest audio standard still in use today. This tiny piece of hardware owes its unmatched longevity to its near perfect design.

That same design was later adopted by the 3.5mm headphone jack, a globally accessible standard that you rarely think about, because it’s the most compatible and least fussy piece of technology you own.

Apple’s decision to ditch the jack from the new iPhone 7 is the hardest it’s ever pushed back against a standard design, and it should concern consumers that Apple is replacing something that works all of the time and for everybody with something that works exclusively when and how Apple decides that it should. There are merits in moving to Lightning, USB-C and wireless alternatives, but by shifting to purely digital output Apple has placed a powerful set of tools in the hands of copyright holders.

There’s a precedent for this, a direct parallel in fact. The introduction of HDMI video cables enabled the use of HDCP, an overreaching form of digital copy protection that arbitrarily blocks the (perfectly legal) playback of video content on devices that copyright holders feel might be a risk. HDCP came into use almost immediately after the keys to it were in the hands of the industry. Blu-Ray players will refuse to display on certain TVs, for example, and the Netflix app on PlayStation can switch itself off if it even suspects you might be plugged into something capable of recording. This misfiring DRM harms legitimate consumers and leaves determined pirates largely unfazed.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the iPhone 7

That Apple has thrown open its doors to the same anti-consumer coalition of the record industry and copyright holders is no accident. Besides an imperceptibly thinner telephone, the powers Apple grants itself are of zero benefit to the customer. At worst, Apple can now decide which headsets are allowed to connect to your phone. It could even demand that a manufacturer’s device work only with the iPhone, and not with the phones of its competitors.

It's doubtful Apple will do this, but in stripping out the unregulated analogue port they’ve crippled accessibility and handed an unprecedented degree of control to copyright holders who’ve proven themselves not to be working in the interest of consumers.

But hey, in return you get a cool looking pair of wireless in-ear headphones that you’ll definitely lose within hours of buying them.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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