If Apple removes the headphone jack from the next iPhone, we’re going to need some new headphones. Let’s explore the possible options Apple has for pairing and charging to see if we can come up with the best strategy before Apple tells it to us.
It is possible the new headphones will be wired and will plug into the Lightning port on your iPhone. This will work great for your phone, but ideally you would still be able to plug into your Mac.
I don’t know the technical aspects of how thick the wire between the earpieces and the iPhone would need to be, but if it were as thick as the standard USB-Lightning charging cable, that would be pretty obnoxious. On the plus side, it would not tangle easily.
The iPhone 7 box contains the iPhone, the USB-Lightning charger, and the headphones. The headphones can only be plugged into your iPhone. Nothing else.
Perhaps Apple has data that shows the current EarPods are plugged into a Mac for 2% of all EarPods usage, and Apple is ok with those people carrying around an old pair of EarPods to listen to their Mac.
Apple provides a female-female Lightning adapter (same one that is shipped with the Pencil) with the headphones. This allows you to listen to your Mac by plugging the headphones into the adapter, and the standard USB-Lightning cable between your Mac and the adapter. Apple has already shown it is willing to ship an adapter just like this, but there will be much complaining about how easy it is to lose. This also assumes you’ll have a USB-Lightning cable on you when you want to listen to your Mac, but that seems like a reasonable assumption on Apple’s part.
Apple does not give us an adapter, but the next generation of Macs will have a female Lightning port. Certainly possible, but I don’t see this happening. Unless a female Lightning port on the Mac has some other use, it’s hard to see it getting added.
The biggest challenge here is being able to quickly pair the headphones with the device you want to use. Gruber makes some good points thinking through the Pencil pairing and charging strategy.
Headphones have a male Lightning plug. Charging and pairing to your phone are a snap with this option. Charging via anything else is going to require the female-female adapter mentioned in the Wired Option 2. Pairing will require that same adapter or the old-fashioned method of going through System Preferences. This option seems the most likely to me. Apple should prioritize the ease of connecting/charging to an iPhone more than any other device.
Headphones have a female Lightning port. This is the best option for easy charging. Plug them into the wall or a Mac with the USB-Lightning cable everyone already has. Apple could then provide a male-male Lightning cable to support charging via an iPhone. If that cable is long enough to reach from your pocket to your head, listening while charging is now possible. Pairing works by plugging them into whichever device you want to listen to.
Headphones include both a female and male connection. This solves the charging and pairing problems with no additional adapters or cables, but it’s so inelegant. I don’t see it happening.
@joshuamarino envisioned a unique approach:
But that introduces a new problem. If each side acts independently, and either the male or female side can be used to charge and pair, one now has to charge/pair both halves.
I may be mistaking @joshuamarino’s intent here and he’s only try to show off a way to get a male Lightning plug into the headphones. If that’s the case, this is more reasonable.
Charging base. This would provide inductive charging for the headphones like the Watch. As long as the headphones are resting on the base, they are charging. The base itself would probably feature a female port like the Magic Mouse.
This option makes pairing the most difficult. Do the headphones pair with whichever device the base is plugged into? I doubt it. If someone has a base, it will often be in the same place on their desk, plugged into their Mac to provide a consistent charging location. This means pairing is done manually via System Preferences.
If the base does provide pairing to whichever device it is plugged into, it will either need a male Lightning plug, or a male-male cable to enable pairing with your iPhone.
I’ll tell you in September! I’d love to see wireless headphones from Apple and Option 1 looks to be the most likely. I love my Jaybird X bluetooth headphones, but I’ve stopped trying to pair them to my laptop because un-pairing and re-pairing is such a pain. If Apple can make pairing as simple as the Pencil, I’ll be very happy, and I promise not to lose whatever adapter I’ll need to make it happen.