Relax, Apple’s not dumping the Lightning plug for its iOS devices (yet).
A report from 9to5Mac stoked fears that Apple might once again switch to a new smaller, 8-pin “Ultra Accessory Port” (UAC) for iPhones and iPads after the company gave a preview of the new plug to accessory manufacturers.
But make no mistake: The UAC is not a port/plug Apple will force on users or accessory makers. Apple only added the 8-pin connector to the MFi program at the request accessory makers, ArsTechnica reports. Do not — I repeat — do not throw your Lightning cables away in a fit of rage.
So what’s all the fuss about this new port, which isn’t, in fact, even new? It has to do with wired headphones.
If you look at the smartphone landscape right now, you’ll see it’s an ugly mess for music listeners. Here are your wired headphone options:
Lightning (iPhone 7/7 Plus (and presumably all future iOS devices)
USB-C (Moto Z, HTC U Ultra, and many new Android phones)
3.5mm (Pretty much every phone)
The problem is your wired Lightning headphones won’t work with USB-C phones (and vice versa) and headphones with the trusty ol’ 3.5mm jack won’t work with either. Sure, you could get a dongle, like the one Apple includes with the iPhone 7, to convert headphones with a 3.5mm jack to Lightning, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of all the different aforementioned conversions, of which there aren’t any dongles for.
With UAC, headphone makers would get a solution that (sort of) fixes the problem. Instead of making headphones specifically for each type of port, companies would be able to make headphones with a female UAC port on the earcup. With UAC, a company like Bose or Beats can sell the same wired headphone model to all customers, simply subbing out the cable to make it compatible with a specific kind of device.
It’ll be up to individual manufacturers which cable to offer — a male UAC-to-Lightning, UAC-to-USB-C, or UAC-to-3.5mm headphone jack — or simply offer all three, so users can switch devices easily. That would be especially useful to users who often switch between a phone and laptop or PC, which still tend to offer 3.5mm jack connectors for audio.
But what about earbuds? UAC probably won’t work so well for those, due to obvious size constraints, though earbuds also tend to be cheaper and used mostly with one device. For those reasons, manufacturers will likely continue to offer earbuds that work with only one type of connector.
Of course, you could bypass all of this wired cables/port nonsense with wireless headphones — but don’t tell that to audiophiles or they’ll have a field day explaining to you the advantages of wired over wireless.