I've often thought of the 3.5mm headphone jack as one of the most impressive wins for open standards.  Everything I've used to listen to music portably since I was listening to a tape of my Falco album during runs as a kid to my iPhone today has had one, which means that there's one type of hardware with the potential to last even longer than my monitors -- my headphones.

There's really only one company that has the proven ability to kill a hardware standard, and that's Apple.  Sure, Microsoft has killed a few software specific standards, and pushed forward others, but nothing quite as powerful as a physical connection.  I can't think of any move as bold or successful as the iMac's killing serial ports for USB.  Maybe Napster and CDs?

You can say it's just a barrier to entry thing, and you wouldn't be wrong.  But Apple's standing in the music player space -- and that includes every iPhone-qua-glorified-iPod -- is quite a bit more substantial than even their psychological footprint with the iMac.  Given enough push, they could establish a new headphone connector.

But why would they?  That is, if you make the audio port proprietary and keep shipping the same serviceable but not great Apple earbuds on the other end (and I have probably eight pair sitting around that I don't use), that's a huge negative for prospective music-loving buyers (aka, "Those that care enough to buy 3rd party 'phones").  If I like serious, quality sound, I'm not buying an iPhone with a limited headphone selection any more than digital serious comic consumers are buying an iPad now that Amazon has pulled Comixology's (sp!) impulse buy feature.

So how do you keep what we'll call the popular-audiophile (that is, people who don't need "neutral" sound, and enjoy bass-heavy dance/rock tunes) interested and still allow yourself to make an ever-thinner player/phone?  Bluetooth headphones haven't played out as an alternative.  You can't expect everyone to settle for crappy white Applebuds.  So you buy someone who makes popular headphones.  If the new connector isn't licensed, then Beats users have to be iPhone users.  Win.  Though not win-win.

So I'm going to go way out on a limb and say that Beats doesn't just mean great 3.5mm sales and industry connections, it also means Apple would like to kiss the 3.5mm jack goodbye.  If so, I'm really going to miss it.  In five to seven years, when I'm thnking of upgrading my iPhone 5s, which replaced my Optima V (look it up; it stunk).  Maybe.  And only if I buy another iPhone.

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