Phones

Apple's 'wireless' iPhone 7 future still has a lot of wires

Commentary: Apple called its move to ditch the headphone jack courageous. But in a quest for a wireless world, the iPhone maker doesn't go nearly far enough.

Apple's new wireless AirPods headphones for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus make a statement. Two, if you count internet backlash over their unusual design. But the main statement is Apple's alleged embrace of a wireless, cord-free world.

The iPhone 7 headset jack is gone, daddy, gone. So these new wireless headphones, which pair over Bluetooth, are presented as the perfect solution to overcome that inconveniently dropped port. Because plugging in a wired headset is now impossible without a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adaptor (mercifully, included in the box with the new iPhones), going wireless is an easy and elegant fix.

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Yes, wireless Bluetooth headphones have been around for years, and they work with every smartphone out there -- not just the iPhone 7. And yes, wireless headphones already generate more revenue for the industry than wired models, even though wired headphones outsell wireless models by about 7 to 1. But leave it to Apple -- which bought top headphone brand Beats in 2014 for $3 billion -- to go the extra mile to make its new AirPods the perfect show pony for our cable-free future.

Indeed, the AirPods (and three new wireless Beats models) include a bit of special sauce beyond standard wireless Bluetooth. The Apple-only W1 wireless standard is said to automagically -- er, automatically -- pair with the new iPhone models if you simply place them nearby. That pairing data is then shared with your other compatible Apple devices through iCloud. And, these standalone left/right AirPods ($159/£159/AU$229) only play music when they detect that they're in your ear.

But even if you do invest in a set of AirPods, cords will still play a starring role for at least the next year. Both new iPhones get a pair of free wired, Lightning EarPods headphones in the box, along with the aforementioned adapter for Apple's Lightning port -- you won't have to go out and buy your own. That's a nice benefit for buyers, and also a double dose of plugs.

Sadly, no wireless charging

Wireless charging on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 is super simple.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's another big way Apple is hanging on to cables, too. Rumors that the iPhone 7s would include wireless charging capabilities got us dreaming of being able to top off the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus battery by dropping the phone directly on a charging disk or pad, as you can do with certain Samsung and Lumia phones.

Alas, the new iPhones charge the usual way -- with yet another wire. That's doubly weird when you consider that Apple has offered wireless charging on its Apple Watch since last year. Apple is a profit machine, so it's hardly a surprise that the company didn't throw a set a wireless earbuds in the box along with its latest, greatest phones. Why give away something for free when you can charge an extra $150 to $300?

But if Apple really wants to show "courage," I'd like to see the company grab the bull by its metaphorical horns and really take us to the wireless promised land. 2017's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus -- or whatever the 10th-anniversary iPhones are called -- need to at least deliver wireless charging. Getting to a truly wireless, or wireless-optional place, won't happen overnight. It'll be a transition, and the more companies that jump on board, the greater selection buyers will have.