Death Of iPhone Headphone Jack Forces Rethink On iConnectivity In Cars

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As Apple ditches the headphone jack, it's time to consider how the new iPhone 7 will play nicely with your audio gear — especially when you're behind the wheel.

Love it or hate it, Apple's decision to ditch the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 isn't as straightforward as some people like to paint it. They spruik the merits of Bluetooth but wireless audio is a battery killer, plus it involves upgrading to expensive Bluetooth headphones (which also rely on batteries) as well as Bluetooth-enabled speakers and car stereos.

If you're not prepared to leap into the expensive, battery-sucking Bluetooth ecosystem then you'll need to think about how you'll get audio from the iPhone's Lightning port – which is a hassle considering it's also the phone's charge port. Access to power is essential if you're using your iPhone in the car as a sat-nav device, as GPS is also a battery killer, so you need a plan B for your audio.

Back in the days of the iPhone 2/3/4 and 30-pin iPhone connector, TomTom sold an excellent iPhone car cradle which could both charge the phone and run a 3.5mm line-out to your car stereo. To take advantage of this cradle I upgraded the radio in my old Mazda to a cheap car stereo with a CD player and a 3.5mm input, back in the days when Bluetooth car audio and USB iPod support were still quite new and expensive.

With a 3.5mm line-in on the Mazda's dashboard I no longer needed to depend on an RF transmitter to broadcast the audio signal from my phone or portable music player so I could tune in via the car radio (which produced mediocre sound quality). Before that I'd relied on one of those old-school dummy cassette tape adaptors to trick my old car stereo into talking to portable music players – plus I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time.

If you haven't guessed by now I'm a bit of a tight arse, which means finding different ways to do things rather than simply jumping on the upgrade cycle.

When my Mazda went to the big wrecking yard in the sky I pulled out the stereo with the 3.5mm line-in and installed it in my new Mitsubishi wagon. Now that Mitsubishi is on its last legs but if its replacement doesn't come with a Bluetooth-enabled stereo then I'll probably pull out the car stereo and shift it across again.

Getting back to the iPhone, the iPhone 5's shift from a 30-pin port to Lightning connector was a major hassle for people who'd invested in 30-pin accessories like car cradles and iPhone/iPod speaker docks. It was an expensive reminder not to get too attached to proprietary connectors and instead stick with universal constants like the ubiquitous 3.5mm audio jack.

Even in the 30-pin connector days I always bought audio gear with a 3.5mm line-in so it could work with anything. The old Phillips 30-pin speaker dock in my bathroom is still going strong thanks to its 3.5mm line-in and I'm not thrilled about the thought of being forced to buy a Lightning adaptor for it to work with the iPhone 7.

When TomTom refused to release a new Lightning-compatible car cradle with a 3.5mm line-out for the iPhone 5, I didn't want the hassle of relying on separate power and audio cables in the car. Instead I cobbled together a solution using a Lightning to 30-pin adaptor, connected to a 30-pin Y-cable which featured a USB plug for charging the iPhone from the cigarette lighter, as well as a 3.5mm line-out for connecting to the car stereo.

Now I could sit the iPhone 5 in any car cradle (like the impressive Strike Alpha) and connect it to a single Lightning cable for both power and audio, although the Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) is the 30-pin Y-cable wasn't as good as the DAC in the TomTom cradle so I had to tolerate a drop in sound quality – like those mediocre 3SIXT digital lightning buds I tested last week.

If you don't want to embrace Bluetooth with the iPhone 7 then you're probably looking at some kind of Y-cable or splitter so you can access power and audio simultaneously. Belkin has already unveiled a Lightning double-adaptor which will come to the rescue of some people. You might also find a Lightning to USB/3.5mm Y-cable, rather than relying on a 30-pin port to Lightning connector like I do in the car.

There's more than one way to skin this cat, you'll need to find the solution that fits best with your personal tech ecosystem. How do you listen to your favourite tunes in the car and how will you cope with the demise of the headphone jack? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald


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