If recent rumors are to be trusted, the Google Pixel 2 won’t feature the common 3.5mm headphone jack. It won’t be the first to rid of it – the iPhone 7, HTC U11 and the Moto Z were among the more popular models to lop it off in the last year. And it certainly won’t be the last.
It’s difficult to excuse any company for leaving out such a trusty port. But unlike other smartphone manufacturers, the Google Pixel 2 might have the best reason for cutting the cord so far: Android O. Specifically, the new operating system’s support for a plethora of high-quality Bluetooth codecs, including aptX, aptX HD and LDAC.
A codec, by the way, is a data compression standard. Many of today's popular Bluetooth codecs, like AAC and SBC are highly compressed and if you're a discerning listener, these typically don't result in a great listening experience.
Typically, the onus to include support for one of these low-compression codecs has been on the side of the device manufacturer. To name a few examples from the past, we’ve seen the LG G5’s support for aptX HD, as well as the many, many Sony Xperia smartphones that support LDAC, the company’s own Hi-Res audio codec. If you want solid wireless performance, only a few Android phones can suit those needs.
But given what we’ve seen in the Android O developer preview, this practice seems to be shifting away from the currently fragmented per-device basis to potentially encompassing each and every device running the latest Android software.
While one company cites “courage” as the inspiration behind leaving out the legacy port, and others offer up nary a reason for doing the same, the Pixel 2’s total shift to wireless might be the most encouraging nudge for those who are hesitant to make the switch to wireless headphones due to the warranted worry of reduced sound quality. Additionally, the lack of headphone jack in Google’s next flagship could actually be the one to push the wireless headphone industry forward.
Still, it’s hard not to consider that Google could be making the same strides in wireless all while keeping the headphone jack. Why does one have to come at the expense of the other?
Wireless: still tangled, but less so
Ditching the headphone jack in the Pixel 2 will likely deter the many people who prefer wired headphones. But Android O’s support for the aforementioned codecs (not to mention the millions who will eventually use it) will ideally incentivize headphone makers to make the move to high-quality wireless audio and, better yet, offer it up for less cash than we’ve seen.
There’s nothing on the market that’s as handy and trustworthy as wired headphones. But I’ll go on a limb and say that we’ve already seen a lot of awesome products that fill the 3.5mm-sized gap nicely (and on the cheap), like the and the –both of which utilize the aptX codec.
On the more expensive side of things, Sony’s LDAC-compatible wireless headphones start at $ 199. The next step is the $ 349 –a bit too costly for some, but worth it for the quality-conscious. Here's hoping that if LDAC becomes ubiquitous, Sony will make more affordable options and perhaps, other companies might license the codec for their own use.
If Google drops the 3.5mm jack and fills the void with high-quality wireless codec support, it will ideally create a surge of high-quality, lower-cost wireless products.
Obviously, Google hasn’t officially shown off the Pixel 2 yet, so we don’t know if it will feature the 3.5mm jack or not. Heck, Android O hasn’t fully launched either, so who knows if this broad codec support will make it into the final version. All we have to go off of are rumors and hopes that the omission will bring about some positive change instead of no change at all.