The iPhone 7's setting headphone trends, and it isn't even here yet

Apple isn't in Berlin for IFA 2016, but the iPhone 7 headphone jack is still talk of the town.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read

Even before we got on the plane to fly to Berlin, we knew something was up.

This week we're at the technology trade show IFA in Germany, where manufacturers and other industry types gather each September to show off their coolest new kit. With so many tech companies in one place, you get a sense of shifts and trends in the industry. This year, while chatting to manufacturers, one trend became clear before the show even started: wireless headphones.

A lot of this is due to a company that isn't at IFA and hasn't announced its plans. You guessed it, Apple.

I know, I know, Apple didn't invent wireless headphones. Bluetooth headphones are always improving, and we'd probably all be wearing them in a few years anyway. But few things accelerate the arrival of a new technology in the mainstream like the Apple stamp of approval. Like it or not, in today's age of the smartphone as a hub controlling and connecting to myriad other devices, the popularity of the billion-selling iPhone means entire industries move to Apple's beat.

In this case, rumours that the next iPhone will appear on 7 September with only Apple's Lightning connection and no traditional 3.5mm headphone jack have pushed manufacturers toward wireless headphones. Not to mention the fact Motorola also left the 3.5mm jack out of the new Moto Z phone.

It seems that under the clear blue skies of Berlin, the moment has come for cordless cans.

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"3.5mm isn't dead, but there are new technologies to move towards," said a diplomatic Damien McGrath, regional director for UK and Ireland at Libratone.

Libratone is leading their IFA announcements with two sets of Q Adapt headphones, a Lightning pair and a wireless pair. Sony announced the noise-cancelling, wireless MDR-1000X. Monster has three new iSport wireless earbuds for the gym. And the 3.5mm cable of AKG's new N40 headphones can be removed. Who knows, in the future perhaps you could swap in a Lightning cord instead.

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The iPhone 7 is set to ditch the traditional 3.5mm jack in favour of Lightning headphones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The clincher is the Griffin iTrip Clip. Remember the iTrip? Before a car was essentially a smartphone case with wheels, you plugged an iTrip into your car's FM radio -- groovy! -- so you could use your new-fangled "i-Pod" to blast your favourite songs through the car's speakers. At IFA 2016, the iTrip Clip is a Bluetooth dongle with a 3.5mm jack to turn any old-fashioned cans into wireless headphones.

See? Even wired headphones want to be wireless!

So if you don't own an iPhone, how does this move to wireless affect you?

It doesn't. Your 3.5mm headphones won't spontaneously combust. Manufacturers will still make 3.5mm headphones for the millions of traditional jacks in iPhones, Android devices and, oh yeah, every piece of audio equipment made in the past 50 years. Wireless headphones will come with a spare 3.5mm cable just in case.

You can, however, take Apple and Motorola's ditching of 3.5mm as a sign that wireless headphones are finally something worth looking into.

Sound quality is much improved. The battery life is better.

Bluetooth in-ears are now small and light enough to wear in the gym. Wireless cans have clever extras like the touch-sensitive earcups to control your music or momentarily mute your tunes with the wave of a hand.

Best of all, they're becoming more affordable. As my esteemed colleague and headphone expert David Carnoy puts it, no headphone jack, no problem.

I recently started using wireless headphones regularly -- a pair of Jabra Move on-ears, since you ask -- and they've fixed problems that I had encountered in previous brushes with cordless cans. I can walk all the way to the bathroom with nary a glitch in the connection. I can leave them on the entire workday.

I literally never have to hear my colleagues' voices ever again. Thanks, Apple!

Watch this: Should Apple kill the headphone jack?