USB Type-C Could Kill Your Headphone Jack

- Aug 18, 2016 -

One venerable computing technology, USB, could be about to help kill off an even older standard, the 3.5mm audio jack.

The 3.5mm audio jack was popularized as the way to plug headphones into Sony's portable Walkman tape player and got a new lease on life as a way to handle audio on virtually every mobile phone and PC. But if Intel and its allies get their way, the new USB Type-C connector that's spread to some high-end PCs and phones will replace it in coming years.

One big problem with removing the 3.5mm jack is that countless sets of earbuds and headphones suddenly become useless unless you buy an easily misplaced adapter. Another is that it's harder to charge a phone if you have headphones plugged into its sole port.

But at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel architects Brad Saunders and Rahman Ismail sketched out a coming USB audio standard that could help push the 3.5mm jack aside. The new specification, due this quarter, adds features to ensure a USB headphone doesn't drain too much battery power and defines how buttons for pausing music or lowering volume work.

The work "will really make USB Type-C the right connector for audio," Saunders said.

Technology standards arrive all the time, but the 3.5mm audio jack is a surprisingly contentious issue. Rumors that the upcoming iPhone 7 won't have one have worked the tech industry into a lather -- with some people hoping the jack will stay and others more sanguine about its possible departure.


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