3.5mm Audio Plugs, iPhone 7 and the Impact to Audio People

I'm an iPhone customer. I'm on the "upgrade every 2 years" plan with phones. I've been pretty happy with my iPhone 6+.

I have an iPhone 7 on order which should arrive later this week. You are probably aware that Apple removed the 3.5mm TRRS jack used for audio accessories starting with iPhone 7. Instead, they offer Bluetooth for wireless audio input and output or the proprietary lightning connector for wired audio input and output.

The first question that came to my mind was, "Ok, does that mean that the lightning connector feeds a digital signal or can it send an analogue audio signal? Is there still an digital to analogue converter in the iPhone? Or are the separate headphones, speakers, or microphones responsible for conversion from now on?"

Why does it matter which device does the conversion?

Digital to analogue and analogue to digital conversion is easy to do but it is difficult to do really well. The iPhone's converters have historically been quite good for a consumer device.

For wireless audio, the iPhone will, of course, send a digital signal. So any wireless audio devices will need to do the analogue to digital or digital to analogue conversion (A/D D/A) themselves, always communicating back to the phone with a digital signal.

But what about devices connected to the Lightning connector? I suspect that the Lightning port can actually provide an analogue audio signal and that the iPhone 7 still has an A/D D/A converter. I assume this because the little adapter Apple includes with the phone and will sell separately is priced at $9.99 USD. This likely means that it does not include a converter. It would likely be impossible for Apple to sell the adapter at that price if it did.  And I expect that if it did include a converter, Apple would want more than the entry level, lower quality converters it would have to use to keep the costs down low enough to sell the dongle for $9.99.

Hopefully I'm right because I have two devices for which I rely on the iPhone: Tentacle Sync timecode clock and the RODE VideoMic Me.

Of the two, the Tentacle Sync has become critical to my workflow. I connect it to my phone to change the settings such as framerate, output level (line vs. mic level), and set user bits. Without the phone, things could get dicey. On the job, you've got to double check that these things are set correctly. I hope and pray that this will still work with the adapter dongle included with the iPhone 7.

 **Edit 2 October 2016: The iPhone 7+ arrived and I tested and confirm that the Tentacle sync works without any problem with the phone's included lightning to 3.5mm adapter.

The RODE VideoMic Me was my go-to, inexpensive mic for corporate video projects where we could send individuals off with their phones to shoot little insert shots and hope to get better audio than they would with just their phones. Because this relies on the 3.5mm port on the iPhone to hold the mic in place, this one pretty much becomes obsolete with Apple's change. Yes, you could hook it up via the dongle, but since it no longer has the jack to hold the mic in place, it isn't really useful for the purpose it was originally designed (unless you rig up some other way to keep it in place).

Is this decision to remove the 3.5mm headset port a good idea? 

There's plenty of debate about that. My stance is that yes, it makes sense at some level, but I'm not 100% convinced that what Apple is suggesting, wireless audio, is a better replacement. I'm not convinced that a wireless future is the best option for all people and all circumstances, not because Bluetooth is flaky, though in many cases, it is. That will improve. I'm pretty confident of that.

I have some concerns about all of the radiation we already subject ourselves to and adding more, particularly right into our heads, is especially concerning. Maybe it is fine, I don't know, but it isn't a risk I want to add to my daily routine until we have a little more scientific evidence on that question.

I understand why Apple removed the floppy drives and later, the optical drives, from its computers. That all makes sense, especially in retrospect. Same with Adobe Flash being left off of iPhones and iPads. That was perhaps controversial at the time, but makes a fair bit more sense today. And perhaps wireless audio isn't a risk to our health. Maybe I'll say, in 10 years from now, "Wow, Apple really had it right again..."

But for now, it looks like I'll be using a dongle to connect my timecode clock, headsets and headphones to my phone. Hopefully it all works well.