The AudioFile: Jacking Off the iPhone

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The iPhone drops today. If you didn’t know, you’re probably dead and aren’t reading this anyway. If you did know, hopefully you’ve been reading our roundup of early reviews. One thing in particular has caught my eye but has been the subject of very little gratuitous blathering speculation: the iPhone’s headphone jack.

Think you’re going to use the iPhone as an iPod with your fancy aftermarket headphones? Think different(ly). But is this a missed moneymaking opportunity for Apple, or a sign of hidden secret just beyond the horizon?

The iPhone is first and foremost a phone. I don’t care what else it can do. But it is also an iPod, and as such, it should be satisfying to listen to even if it doesn’t replace your regular ol’ iPod. In fact, it supports the ultra-high-quality Apple Lossless audio format, so it’s more than likely someone will want to plug in a set of $450 earbuds from Ultimate Ears or Shure to hear all that sparkly musical goodness.

But they can’t. For some reason, Apple decided to set the headphone jack so deeply into the iPhone’s body that many high-end headphones won’t fit in the jack even though it’s a standard eighth-inch plug.

A red flag went up in my mind, and I immediately thought this was going to be some licensing scheme along the lines of the Made for iPod program, whereby Apple would sell companies licenses to make headphone adapters or headphones with iPhone-compatible plugs. But a conversation with Mindy Harvey, head honcho-ess of earphone maker Ultimate Ears, revealed that there’s no licensing fee involved at all in making either accessory.

So let’s recap: The headphone jack is recessed, requiring an adapter or a straight plug with a small enclosure. But Apple isn’t making any extra money off this design. So I must ask, in all seriousness: WTF?

I put in a call to Apple’s PR team asking why the company might have designed the iPhone with such an inconvenient headphone jack, figuring I’d get no response as the team prepared for the product’s launch. So imagine my surprise when Apple PR rep Simon Pope returned my call yesterday to talk about it! Granted, he’s not actually on the iPhone team–he works primarily on iTunes.

Of course, he said that he couldn’t really say much about it until after the official product launch, and that he’s not even aware of the reasoning behind that particular aspect of the Jesus-phone. But he did say two extremely tantalizing things: First, he said “Apple does not make designs like this lightly.” In other words, there’s a method to the madness. Second, he said that next week, he’d be able to clue me in to what’s up Apple’s deeply recessed sleeve.

Sure, adapters are beginning to pop up from the usual suspects like Belkin, and companies are working furiously on iPhone-specific headphone models. But what could possibly be the purpose behind a headphone jack design that merely seems to defeat the purpose of having a standard eighth-inch jack?

Besides, have you seen the Belkin adapter? Do you really want something like that hanging off your sexy iPhone? At least <a href="http://www.macnn.com/articles/07/06/26/shure.music.phone.adapter/"Shure's adapter is more practical (includes a mic) and a lot better looking…

For the life of me, I just can’t see why Apple would risk making the iPhone even just a little bit inconvenient–or at least without making money off that inconvenience via licensing fees. Stay tuned for an update as I hear more from Apple!

And of course, if you have any ideas about why the iPhone’s jack seems a bit off (sorry, couldn’t resist), please let us know in the Comments section below.

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