10 Jan 2016

Phones Shouldn’t Come With Earphones

(Disclosure: I work for Google, but these are personal views.)

Every phone I bought came with a bundled set of earphones, usually with bad or mediocre sound quality and an uncomfortable fit. Even the Apple “EarPods” suck.

Maybe phone manufacturers should stop bundling low-quality ones, and instead offer better-quality ones for a price, like ₹3000, as an accessory when you buy a phone. This price is high enough that you’ll get good quality. At the same time, it’s low enough to have broad appeal, unlike ₹10K headphones, which appeal to only a few people and are a major purchase by themselves. Around ₹3000 is the sweet spot.

Earphones could come in a few different models, like in-ear, over-ear, Bluetooth, and noise-canceling. Just as other phone accessories like cases come in different models, so should headphones. You’d buy whichever model works best for you, rather than being given one that may or may not be what you want.

Further, headphones sold as an accessory to a phone can solve compatibility problems. Rumor has it that the iPhone 7 won’t have a headphone jack, instead using the Lightning port. That’s a problem if you buy earphones separately. But less so if they are sold with the phone, as an accessory, at a moderate price like ₹3000. Earphones sold with the iPhone 7 would use the Lightning port.

This is important for noise-canceling headphones, which need power for noise-cancelation. Most noise-canceling headphones today require a AAA battery, which is a hassle to keep replacing or recharging. Or the headphones have an internal, rechargeable battery, which is yet another device to keep charged all the time. Get this wrong and your headphones can run out of power at the wrong time, like the beginning of a long flight. It makes more sense for noise-canceling headphones to power themselves off the phone. That way, you won’t have to keep swapping or recharging batteries, and they’ll never run out of power. It’s less hassle that way, one less thing to worry about. But availability of power rules out the 3.5-mm jack, instead requiring USB type-C or Lightning. But this in turn causes another problem, which is buying headphones with the appropriate connector depending on which phone you use. This is a problem when buying headphones by themselves, but less so when you’re buying headphones as an accessory for a phone. Noise-canceling headphones sold as an iPhone accessory will use the Lightning port, and Android accessories will use the USB type-C port.

Low-quality headphones are a waste of money for the company to manufacture and sell, which ultimately gets passed on to the customer. And when a costly phone like the iPhone comes with crappy earphones, it hurts Apple’s brand. Better to sell great earphones for ₹3000 or so. You’ll also get the type of headphones you want, whether over-ear, Bluetooth or noise-canceling. It’s time to stop bundling earphones with phones.

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