July 08, 2016

This article was written by Meenakshi Iyer & originally published in Hindustan Times here

Remember the floppy, the pager, the Walkman, CDs and the Discman? When was the last time you used one of these? Perhaps a decade ago. Yet, there was a time when owning a pager was considered to be a mark of success, and all the cool kids walked around with a Discman strapped to their waist. Life without these gadgets was unthinkable. But technology evolves, and so do our needs.

What’s the next to go? Wires?

Apple’s latest iPhone 7 coming out this fall is believed to be doing away with the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack. While iPhone is known for ditching ports and slots, retiring something so inherent to phones and music players – the 3.5mm jack has been in use since 1878 – is sure to have a significant impact. Does this move point to the end of wires in our lives?

“In the emerging technology market, all products are going to run with the help of wireless technology,” says Ameen Khwaja, CEO, LatestOne.com, an online accessories seller. “We’re moving to 5G communication to make browsing quicker, Bluetooth technology is moving from V4.2 to V5, which will double the speed and increase the data broadcasting capacity by eight-fold. And there has been significant development in wireless charging technology,” he adds. Case in point: Google’s Nexus 6 comes with wireless charging as a standard.

Though these innovations are significant in the wireless space, there is a long way to go for gadgets of the future to perfect wireless technology. In fact, even Apple is not ready to do away with wire just yet.

“With Apple’s move, the wireless headphone category may get a boost. But I don’t think wires will be entirely on their way out. Apple may choose to launch its own line of accessories, considering they also own Dr Dre-backed Beats electronics now,” says Ankit Vengurlekar, who runs GadgetWalla.com, a tech website.

Audeze launched world’s first headphones that can connect with the help of a Lightning connector (Photo: Headphone Zone)

Wireless vs lightening connectors

Rumours surrounding iPhone 7 suggest that the company may opt to connect headphones through its proprietary Lightning charging port instead of the standard headphone jack. Apart from making it possible to launch thinner phones, this tweak will also help the company offer better sound on a decent-quality headphone

“The quality of DAC (Digital-to-Analog Convertor) makes all the difference. iPhone doesn’t have a good DAC, which means that even if you plug in a quality headphone, the sound suffers,” explains Raghav Somani, CEO, Headphone Zone.

His company retails high-end headphones by brands like Sony, Skullcandy and Jays, among others. “But when you connect the headphone with a lightening connector, it will bypass the phone’s in-built DAC. It will also allow for sound to be controlled from the phone directly, through an app,” he adds.

Though many wireless headphone makers have started taking note of this development, few have launched accessories that support lightening connectors. Audeze -- US-based premium audio maker – launched world’s first headphones that can connect with the help of a lightning connector. “It’s only a matter of time before other headphone makers start finding ways to fit into this category,” says Somani.

Headphones for generation Y

High-end audio makers like Bose, Sony, Skullcandy and Panasonic have already dived deep into the wireless category. At Skullcandy, there is a greater push to introduce newer models in the wireless segment. “We have seven wireless models right now. And the number of units sold in the wireless category has increased ten-fold in the past year,” says Amlan Bhattacharjya, CEO, Brandseyes, sole distributors for Skullcandy in India.

LatestOne.com is planning to expand its affordable (Rs 499 to Rs 1,599) wireless earphone range to appeal to Indian customers. Bose, known for its noise-cancelling technology, is now taking it to the wireless segment. Recently, it launched four headphone models with Bluetooth technology.

“When we started three years ago, 1 in 15 headphones sold were wireless. Today, it’s 1 out of 3,” says Somani. With so much activity in the wireless space, are we ready to go completely wire-free? According to Vengurlekar, purists will always opt for wired technology for their headphones instead of wireless as it offers better sound fidelity. “Plus, going wireless means there’s an additional gadget to charge,” he adds.

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