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No headphone jack on Pixel 2? The case for and against

Will the next Pixel phone go the way of the iPhone 7 and ditch the headphone jack? Here's why that does -- and doesn't -- make sense.

There's a rumor floating around 9to5Google that the 2017 version of Google's Pixel phone will drop the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

To its credit, 9to5Google specifies that the story comes from a single source, and that its staff hasn't been able to verify it with any degree of secondary confirmation. In fact, the site didn't even publish it as a news story -- instead, it's really just a post in its comments section. In other words, take the report with a grain a salt.

When asked about the story, a Google spokesperson told CNET, "We don't comment on rumors or speculation."

Nevertheless, the story prompts the question: Would removing the headphone jack from the next Pixel be a good idea or not?


The 2016 Pixel includes a standard headphone jack. But will the sequel retain it?

Josh Miller/CNET

Why Google would want to ditch the headphone jack

Until the iPhone 7, headphone jacks were a standard feature on all smartphones. But pulling the 3.5mm jack from a phone's body does offer some advantages.

Easier waterproofing. The biggest knock against the Pixel is that it isn't water-resistant, as nearly all other flagship phones at that price range are. Plugging a literal hole in the body is one way to make waterproofing a whole lot easier.

A denser design. While a standard headphone jack isn't exactly huge, when phone thickness is measured in millimeters, every bit of space counts. Pulling the jack would would allow a bit more space for a slightly bigger battery or more electronics. (Unlike Apple, Google seems less interested in going superthin: the current Pixel tapers wider at the top to accommodate the camera lenses.)

The world is increasingly wireless. Sales of wireless headphones are going nowhere but up. At some point, wired headphones are going to feel as old-fashioned as Ethernet cables, wired keyboards and wired mice.

Why keeping the headphone jack makes sense

The problem with the reasons above? They pale next to the reasons to keep the jack.

No dongles needed. The 3.5mm headphone jack offers backward compatibility with decades worth of headphones and other audio devices without the need for clumsy dongles. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Keeping the headphone jack distinguishes the Pixel from iPhone. Google touted the continued inclusion of the headphone jack when it launched the Pixel. A lot of iPhone 7 owners have adjusted to the #donglelife, but few of them actually seem happy about losing the default wired headphone option. If Google kills the Pixel's headphone jack, it loses a key bit of feature differentiation from the iPhone.

Unlike Apple, Google isn't in the headphone business. Not coincidentally, when Apple killed the headphone jack on its iPhone line, it also introduced a fancy new wireless headphone, AirPods. And Apple owns Beats, the no. 1 headphone brand, which also has a nice assortment of wireless headphones. One could say that killing the headphone jack was good for Apple's business. Google doesn't have its own headphones to offer. So there's little business incentive to drive users to wireless headphones (so far, anyway).

Which way will Google go?

At some point in a phone's development process, you can bet that all sorts of design changes are on the table. In other words, I have no doubt that at least one Pixel 2 prototype doesn't have a headphone jack. But at some point, the design team needs to sync up with the marketing team to "tell the story" of the new device.

If it were me, the story I'd want to tell is, "The Pixel 2 is just like the original Pixel everyone loved, but with water resistance and a sexier design."

That's a much better story than, "Ready or not, you need to carry around some dongles or buy some wireless headphones."

A phone of Google's own: From CNET Magazine: We go behind the scenes of the design of the original Google Pixel.

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