The iPhone's headphone jack and world domination
Sunday, Jul 01, 2007
The iPhone's recessed headphone jack is genius I tell you. Maddening, apparently nonsensical, but pure genius. As those of you who have already bought iPhones know, most headphones don't fit the iPhone due to how far the plug is recessed into the case, meaning that unless a headphone plug has a very narrow flange behind the plug it won't fit. A lot of people have commented that this was short-sighted or uncaring of Apple, but I think it's a calculated move toward world domination.

How can a wonky headphone jack have such an impact? It's simple: Apple has become Mohamed and the mountains must now move to it. While a lesser company would have to fix their jack to fit the world, the iPhone has significant enough mindshare that Sony, Bose, Shure, and everyone else would rather retool their headphone plugs in order to be 'iPhone ready'. In fact they'll privately welcome it because new iPhone customers will end up buying another set of headphones specifically for their iPhone when they find their existing headsets don't work.

Works with iPhoneHeadphone manufacturers will definitely want to let their customers know that these retooled headphones will work with the iPhone, and what better way to do that than by applying Apple's 'Works with iPhone' logo on your headphones? Suddenly every pair of headphones sold carries an advertisement for a product and a use-case that only applies to perhaps one in a thousand people.

Headphones are one of the most commoditized pieces of electronics on the planet. They epitomize compatibility and 'plug and play'. You could never get away with making a truly proprietary headphone jack, and there's no other company that could modify the headphone jack in such an unimportant way and still get headphone manufacturers to scramble getting their revisions to market. You won't see a 'Made for Zune' or 'Works with Walkman' badge on headphone packaging (unless it's brown or made by Sony, respectively), but companies are more than willing to hitch their wagons to Apple's marketing train.

Of course, none of these companies have 'Works with iPhone' badges right now, because almost none of them do work, so with Apple's heads-up Belkin made a headphone adapter in time for launch. The item sticks straight out of the top of your iPhone, is stiff and about two inches longer than it needs to be, and is clearly a stopgap solution until revised headphones make it to market. Griffin Technology's iPhone headset adapter looks much more flexible but is not yet available.

Expect to see a whole slew of 'Works with iPhone' headphones wherever you buy electronics stuff within a few months, making even those unfortunate folks who live in one of the 13 states without Apple stores wonder, 'What's this iPhone thing? It sounds pretty important.'

As for me, I'm lusting after a 'Works with iPhone' product of my own. This August Shure is slated to come out with a headset+microphone adapter that will let you use any headphones (like my beloved Sony MDR-V6) for both listening to music and making phone calls. Judging by the headphone jack visible in the promotional photo I'm guessing it would have been to market already if they didn't have to redesign it to fit the iPhone jack. Irony.
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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
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