Thursday, 18 August 2016

Intel explains how USB Type-C will make you forget about the 3.5mm audio jack

Upcoming smartphones might not have a 3.5mm headphone jack. It all still hangs on a rumor that Apple's iPhone will shun all connectors but its proprietary Lightning jack (some Android models out this year already did it). Still, this is a harsh reality for many consumers who likely aren't crazy about buying a dongle just to connect their headphones to a phone. 

But there might be a silver lining. And Intel, at its annual IDF show, is doing its best to persuade the public that USB Type-C is a better alternative to the 3.5mm connector. 

SEE ALSO: The secret reason Apple might be killing the iPhone 7 headphone jack

Cnet has the scoop from Intel architects Brad Saunders and Rahman Ismail, who had described a new USB audio standard that will hopefully come with a future iteration of USB Type-C. The details from the presentation can be found here. 

First, the obvious: A 3.5mm headphone jack and the necessary circuitry take space inside a phone — space which could be used for other things like a bigger speaker. The circuitry could also cause interference with the already crammed electronic guts of a phone
More importantly, the 3.5mm headphone jack is an analog connector, meaning it can transfer sound but is otherwise quite dumb. In contrast, a USB Type-C connector can deliver preprocessed sound (so you could get noise cancellation or virtual surround even on regular headphones). It can also control how much power it sends (by disabling the microphone when it's not needed, for example). On the other hand, it can charge your noise-cancelling headphones while you're listening to music. 

The drawbacks, of course, are still there. You won't be able to charge your phone and listen to music at the same time (except with a special dongle). You'll also need a dongle to connect your old headphones with new phones. And you'll likely have to say "dongle" a lot. But the tradeoff might just be worth it. 

The updated USB Type-C specification will also include the ability to transfer video, as well as an authentication standard that should prevent connecting rogue or tampered-with devices from wreaking havoc on your system. 

Note that in the world of phones, all of this only pertains to Android devices, which manufacturers have largely committed to the USB Type-C standard. Samsung's new Galaxy Note 7 uses it, as do LG's G5 and Huawei's P9. But Apple will likely stick with its Lightning connector on the iPhone, which is also a digital connector that offers a variety of advantages over an analog jack. That said, Apple does use the USB Type-C connector on its latest MacBook. 

Intel says the specification for the new standard should arrive later this quarter. 


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