It’s been years since we’ve had to discuss the advantages of analog headphone jacks. But whether you like it or not, we’ve all gone from there in our smartphones, accepting the fact that wireless earbuds, USB-C (or Lightning) headphones, and the occasional dongle will suffice. Even the iPad Pro has moved on from the beloved headphone jack.
But in 2022, the problem came back – and this time with laptops.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus is the company’s new flagship laptop, a device that explodes at the seams with new ideas and new innovations. Among those features are an invisible touchpad, an edge-to-edge keyboard, and even a row of capacitive touch buttons to replace function keys.
However, the extremely compact and refined design left no room for the traditional audio jack. It’s not that the device is too thin to have a headphone jack — after all, even the ultra-thin M2 MacBook Air has one.
Instead, it’s about how the designers at Dell choose to use the space available to them. The keyboard on the XPS 13 Plus runs all the way to the edge of the chassis, giving the device a very efficient design. No space is wasted, allowing extra-large keycaps to extend to the edge of the laptop. It’s a great look.
Dell showed how some designs were off the table due to the need for a headphone jack.
But it also means that the only location available for including ports is in the small area between the keyboard and the hinge. Without wanting to get rid of one of the two USB-C ports, he left the headphone jack on the cutting room floor. In other words, removing the headphone jack is what allows this kind of design innovation.
This is much more justified than was made when the iPhone first abandoned the headphone jack. We were told it would allow for thinner devices, bigger batteries and more features — but we didn’t get proof. With the XPS 13 Plus, Dell showed how some designs were off the table due to the need for a headphone jack.
This cannot be true for every laptop that decides to cut this port in the future. Some manufacturers will undoubtedly jump on the bandwagon just to appear edgy or trendy. But who knows what other innovations some extra space inside the chassis could allow? Every millimeter counts, and sometimes a smaller port can make all the difference.
And since smartphones have led the way in the rapid adoption of wireless audio, we’re more than willing to leave the headphone jack behind. Wireless earbuds are cheap and widely available, even as connectivity standards like Bluetooth 5.2 continue to improve.
Personally, I’ve found myself using the headphone jack on laptops less and less – and I bet you do too. Do not believe me? Just go ahead and count how many times you actually need to use it over the next week. I bet it’s less than you realize.
In my time with the XPS 13 Plus, I’ve only had one situation when I wish I had a headphone jack. My wireless headphones are dead, and I wanted to listen to some music while I was working. Lo and behold, there was nowhere to plug in my spare pair of wired headphones. The thing is, the Dell adapter included in the box fixed this problem within a few seconds. Before I knew it, I was back at work. It’s a bit clumsy solution, but it showed me how small my perceived “need” for a headphone jack really is.
I’m not saying that every laptop of the future needs to get rid of headphone jacks.
Now, I know what you’re saying. You love the old wired computer speaker set that you use in your office. Or maybe you enjoy easy access to the entertainment system in your living room. Or maybe you just hate bluetooth.
I’m not saying that every laptop of the future needs to get rid of headphone jacks. The sheer strength of the huge diversity of designs in the world of PCs and laptops is their sheer strength, and that means there will always be room for devices with older ports. Heck, even Apple reversed course on MacBook Pros to bring back ports like HDMI and the SD card slot. There are certain use cases for laptops that certainly make sense to include a headphone jack.
But don’t get too creative. I agree that removing features in order to remove them does not help anyone. But Dell has already demonstrated that there are advantages to taking the lead — and I, for example, am ready to embrace what the future of a headphone without a jack has in store.
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