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Thursday, October 05, 2017

Bluetooth won’t replace the headphone jack — walled gardens will

"... So, here’s the problem: headphones, as we have understood them for decades, were once terrifically simple. You could plug any headphones from virtually anywhere into virtually anything, and they would just work. Anyone could make headphones, anyone could sell them, and all of those people could address the entire market of people who wanted to listen to things.

As the headphone jack disappears, the obvious replacement isn’t another wire with a proprietary connector like Apple’s Lightning or the many incompatible and strange flavors of USB-C audio. It’s Bluetooth. And Bluetooth continues to suck, for a variety of reasons. Newer phones like the iPhone 8, Galaxy S8, and the Pixel 2 have Bluetooth 5, which promises to be better, but 1) there are literally no Bluetooth 5 headphones out yet, and 2) we have definitely heard that promise before. So we’ll see.


To improve Bluetooth, platform vendors like Apple and Google are riffing on top of it, and that means they’re building custom solutions. And building custom solutions means they’re taking the opportunity to prioritize their own products, because that is a fair and rational thing for platform vendors to do.

Unfortunately, what is fair and rational for platform vendors isn’t always great for markets, competition, or consumers. And at the end of this road, we will have taken a simple, universal thing that enabled a vibrant market with tons of options for every consumer, and turned it into yet another limited market defined by ecosystem lock-in... "

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