Opinion: Apple’s Back to School 2016 promotion is latest signal for future without headphone jack

Earlier today Apple announced the start of their annual Back to School promotion for 2016. This year eligible purchases of a Mac, iPad, or iPhone will come bundled with a pair of wireless Beats headphones. This is reminiscent of last year’s Back to School promotion, save for the fact that during this year’s promotion for the wireless headphone is the default and doesn’t require an extra $100 expense. The small, but obvious connectivity choice signals a new direction in which Apple wants its customer to think.

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This year’s Back to School promotion gives customers the opportunity to receive a pair of Beats Solo2 Wireless On-Ear headphones or Powerbeats2 Wireless with an eligible purchase using their education discount. While Beats has gotten flak in the past few years for being overpriced, receiving a free pair of wireless “pro-sumer” headphones isn’t an offer most would turn down.

The headphones themselves are more than good enough for most use cases, and I honestly believe most consumers would be happy to receive them alongside their Apple products. Zac Hall said it best in his Beats Studio Wireless Headphones review: “…they’re certainly the best headphones I have owned, and I think that’s the point. I’m not an audiophile and I’m really not certain I would know how to recognize and appreciate something more high-end.”

This introduction into the higher end headphone market also allows Apple to push more users onto one of its biggest acquisitions yet. More importantly it validates that Apple is taking a serious push in the wireless headphone demographic, and this is what makes this Back to School promotion so interesting overall.

After receiving a tip today (thanks Jason Kaplan) pointing out that all the offered headphones in the promotion are wireless, I realized that Apple is serious about wireless headphone connectivity, or at least attempting to push customers into that mentality. In the comment section of our Back to School 2016 post, kaplag also noticed this change and believed it could be done to clear out past inventory for a potential refresh in the fall. None of which is out of the ordinary or unexpected for Apple products, but how significant a refresh to the Beats headphones could be is important too.

Back to School 2016 Hero Image

If a company like Apple can seemingly give customers “free” wireless headphones that are above their expectations, then their expectations for all competing headphone manufacturers may rise too. Pushing out past inventory before a refresh in the fall makes great sense business-wise. This is all accounting for the fact that a potential refresh wouldn’t be too significantly different from what is currently present and available to all consumers. If the refresh introduces significantly different technology in headphones (unlikely), then many of the Back to School promotion customers won’t have much to feel except for cheated.

Regardless of the potential in a wireless headphone refresh, this all helps lay the precedent for all the rumors we’ve discussed lately regarding Apple removing the headphone jack from their next iPhone. Despite the evidence, I personally don’t believe Apple is willing to remove the headphone jack in their next iPhone release just yet. It would feel too rushed and abrupt for something that so many user’s have become accustomed to. This holds especially true if a viable replacement option hasn’t yet come to fruition. An AUX to Lightning adapter feels like a definitive cop-out to solving a problem, and not one I’d be happy with.

I do believe the headphone jack will eventually be removed, and most likely with next year’s iPhone release. This gives Apple the appropriate amount of time to push the idea of wireless connectivity in their listening experiences without pulling the rug away from anyone.

iPhone Mockup with no headphone jack

iPhone Mockup with no headphone jack

Then again, Apple pulled the rug out from so many people when they removed the FireWire ports out of the MacBook, and then the optical drives from the MacBook Pros. In the case of the former, Apple didn’t follow up with a technology to replace it because in Steve Job’s words, “Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.” In the case of the removal of the optical drive, Apple signaled their beliefs on it long before the removal. Apple’s Mac App Store push made it evident that they believe apps no longer belonged on discs, but rather on the Internet where they were more easily distributed.

If a push to hand out free wireless headphones with the Back to School promotion isn’t at least some sort of sign in the tea leaves, then I don’t know what could be. It’s entirely possible that in 5 years we’re strictly using wireless headphones, and not even Bluetooth ones at that. Bluetooth could just be the technology Apple decides to start with, and once users are acclimated to it, they could introduce a better and newer wireless technology even more suitable for audio.

What do you think? Do you think Apple’s wireless headphone push means anything at all? Would the removal of the headphone jack mean a “war on the wired”? Let us know in the comments below.

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