Junk that audio jack!

25th April 2016
Junk that audio jack!
End of an era.... The 3.5mm audio jack is being replaced by the USB Type C, on headphones and speakers

TECH TREND: They're killing the  grand daddy of all electrical connectors, the  audio jack.  Get set for  phones  with just one port for all jobs:  the USB Type C.

Bangalore, April 25 2016:Sometimes one size does fit all.  We are used to phones and tablets with two ports on the edge:   a micro USB slot for  charging the phone  and a round hole to fit an audio jack  and connect headphones or speakers. Prepare  to say good bye to the audio port.   Industry is all set to ditch the audio jack and  let the USB port  do double duty:  charging devices  and providing an audio path.    Not the micro USB port  as we know it now -- but the newer Type C USB which is symmetrical, ie you can push  a cable without bothering about the right way.|
This is a sad end for the audio  jack  --   which adheres to the oldest electrical connector standard  ever -- created  in 1878   and first used in manual telephone exchanges  to plug in calls.  The audio jack  we now use is smaller,  known as the 3.5mm jack, which became popular in the mid 1970s  with the  Sony Walkman   music player.
Last week, in Beijing, the Chinese   consumer electronics company LeEco,  launched the industry's first  smartphones-- Le 2, Le 2 Pro and Le Max 2 --  which killed the audio jack  to provide  just one Type C port. The phones will soon be available in India, headphones  with a Type C jack will also be offered.
There is more to this shift than  an Alladin-like  'new jack for old'.  LeEco showed  how this can radically alter the audio experience:
Once you use a USB connector to  attach a headphone, it allows makers to embed electronics  in  it without having to include batteries -- because USB  draws  power from the phone.   A noise cancelling headset  -- similar to the one pioneered by Bose --  neutralises outside noise using  special circuits, but the on board penlight cells tend to make the headphones heavy to wear. 
In Beijing, LeEco showed some  Type C headphones made by a partner, Fiil, with advanced active noise cancelling -- yet very small and light  and costing the equivalent of just Rs 1500.  
The innovation doesn't end there.  The Audio jack  is inherently lossy. Between phone and headphone or speaker, 70 percent of the sound quality could be lost.  Now that they could dispense with the audio jack,  LeEco engineers  exploited the change to create a whole new standard --Continual Digital Lossless Audio or CDLA ,  which they claim, will dramatically improve the audio quality.
Other developments  too indicate that  Type C  will soon be the Swiss Army Knife of connectors.

  • In the US  audio leader JBL,  unveiled the  "Reflect Aware C"  noise cancelling Type C sports  earphones which work with the HTC 10 smart phone. 
  • Last week the US  Patent Office released details of an application by  Apple  for  a headphone  which also ditched the Type C  for a USB-type  jack  to provide enhanced  listening experience. But a product may be months away.

So, let's get set for  phones in the second half of 2016  -- and matching headphones or speakers -- which sport a USB Type C connection.  What happens  if you need to charge your  phone and listen to music at the same time?  Clever people have thought of that too : you can buy Type C splittters, that plug into your phone and offer two sockets, one for charger, one for headphone.

Last week, one person who was quietly relishing the creative use  of the Type C  connector on a phone, was India-born, US-based  scientist    and Intel Fellow   Ajay Bhatt,  who 20 years ago,  created the standard on which the Universal Serial Bus or USB was made.  He was  also  involved in the development  of the Type C standard and  while it was not primarily designed to replace an audio connector, he had a hunch that it could be used like that.
In a mail  with his reaction, Dr Bhat writes: "During the definition of the USB Type-C , I had conceived this idea ( of using it  an as audio connector)  and talked about it with quite a few people. Yes, this is a very compelling use case and I am glad to see it deployed!"
Let's say  jai ho to that,  as we  plug and play, the Type C way.