Yes, it is Courage, even as little as 3.5mm! 7 rationales behind removing the iPhone headphone jack


It’s been a few days since Apple has announced the new iPhone 7. It is no surprise that the removal of the headphone jack has upset a number of people who would like to continue using their old audio accessories. It is also no surprise that a number of headphone manufacturers are having a hard time coping with the fact that they would have to switch to Apple’s proprietary lightening port soon. Having said that, what is surprising is the majority of analysts, bloggers and the so called tech journalists, who have chosen to walk in the same directions as the consumers and OEMs, by echoing the opinions of those folks as expert analysis.

During the announcement of iPhone 7, Phil Schiller referred to the removal of the analog headphone jack as an act of courage. That has since become the bottom of every joke around the Apple event. Apart from a small group of clueless jokers who have created numerous video clips (in particular mocking Johny Ive’s British accent) for entertaining their Youtube followers, it is rather depressing to see so much criticisms from the experts of the field. It is always useful to remind ourselves of some of the similar moves Apple had taken in the past and only time proved them to be the right solutions, leading to immensely successful products. Moreover, it is worth noting that, how quickly the market decided to make a u-turn and follow Apple right in its foot steps.

As a reminder, inclusion of the USB ports and Firewire in the Mac, removing disk drives (Floppy, CD, DVD) from iMac and Macbooks, excluding keyboard and SD card storage on the iPhone, not including USB port on the iPad, excluding support for Flash on iOS and etc are all examples of bold moves by Apple.

Here I would like to share my thoughts on why Apple have taken such a courageous step by being the first one to remove the headphone jack.

1. It’s all about Sensors and Healthcare

Ear is one of the best spots to measure heart-rate and body temperature. In addition, adding activity recognition sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers to the ears will highly optimise and fine-tune the measurements taken by sensors on the wrist or elsewhere. After all tracking the head movements is a very important factor in activity recognition. With an analogue interface it is impossible to transfer all those sensory data back to the phone in a synchronised and lossless manner when audio is passing through.

2. Siri and AirPods

By introducing the AirPods, with no buttons, Apple is pushing people to use Siri for very simple tasks such changing the audio volume. This not only helps Siri to capture audio commands in different environments from 2 points around your head, but also builds a very good database of the user’s vocal properties to fine-tune its operation. Users will also start getting into the habit of using Siri and voice control for even greater set of tasks, which they normally tend to do on their iPhone these days

3. Apple Watch and AirPods

Most smartwatch manufacturers are toying with the idea of making a smartwatch as a standalone device that would not need a companion phone. That is an important factor to increase the marketshare of smartwatches due to the added benefits of comfort and practicality. Apple watch already supports Siri, but the whole of notion of raising the wrist and speaking into the watch creates a lot of discomfort. By moving the voice control to the AirPods that work in pair with the Apple Watch, users will be trained to easily switch back and forth between the iPhones and Apple Watch using the same set of AirPods. After all, pairing with multiple devices is already supported on the AirPods. When talking about a fully-funcational smartwatch that replaces the phone, SIM card is a must-have.  Apple have already experimented with the Apple SIM in iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. Apple SIM will most likely be included in the next generation of Apple Watch to create a fully functional wearable phone.

4. Wireless Charging

Out of all Apple products, Apple Watch is the only one coming with wireless charging capability. Apple is silently pushing people to use their wireless headphones rather than the their wired ones, mainly by combining the power and audio ports into a single one. For the iPhone 7, it is not possible to charge the phone and at the same time listen to music through the wired headphone, unless of course using an adaptor. Eventually people have to use wireless headphones or totally give up on wired headphones whilst the phone being charged. That is even a more serious issue when wireless charging is used. mainly because the phone needs to be aligned with wireless charging dongle for optimal efficiency and energy transfer, as well as the minor health issue that could cause, by radiating the electromagnetic waves around your body if kept in close proximity.

5. Digital Audio and Interface

Headphone jack was one of the oldest and yet widely-used analog interfaces in the iPhone. Now it’s all about fully digital audio experience. Apart from that, in terms of circuit design, using analog components come with a number of cons that affect other parts of the iPhone in terms of the induced noise and power efficiency. Also the analog jack is a single-function interface (versus multi-function Lightning or USB-C interfaces), which on its own takes a considerable amount of space compared to the size and thickness of the iPhone.

6. iPhone 10-year Anniversary

I should say Apple kind of hurried into removing the headphone jack, mainly in order to avoid the issue being widely highlighted at the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone, which is next year. Rumours have it that Apple has a big plan for next year.

7. Waterproofness

Last and least, waterproofness also had a small impact on that decision. 3.5mm port with nearly 4cm length, is literally the longest passage for potential leakage of any liquid. That was a small factor, because speaker grills are actually the widest shaft. More importantly, in the current design, there are 3 sets of holes, which some people mistake them for three speakers. Yes, the audio is fully stereo now, but not on the bottom. One set of holes in the bottom is for the altimeter to sense the air pressure inside the device for when it is dropped in water.

Great Course on Real-time Embedded Systems

One of my favourite authors in embedded system design is Prof Valvano at the University of Texas at Austin. His popular embedded design courses on his UT webpage and edX are fantastic learning materials for anyone interested in this field. 

In fact he was the author of one of the very first books I’ve read on embedded systems back in 2000 (Embedded Microcomputer Systems).

I’ve recently purchased the entire series of his embedded design books for ARM Cortex M. The first volume starts with a comprehensive introduction to the very basics of digital design and MCUs. The 2nd and 3rd volumes dig deeper into the details of Cortex M4, MSP430, TI Launchpad boards and RTOS. If you’re a fan of TI MSP430 series and looking for practical examples based on Launchpad development boards, the 2nd and 3rd volumes are must-haves.

mbed OS 5 with integrated RTOS is out!

mbed OS now incorporates an RTOS in the core of the operating system, which can be summarised into the following enhancements: 

  •  Native thread support to the OS and applications
  • Simplifications of the networking stacks and components integration
  • Enabling blocking and non-blocking execution mechanisms 
  • Reduced overhead required by the RTOS
  • Event-driven model can be integrated into threads as libraries

This integration brings together the original mbed OS 2 and mbed OS 3 codelines, re-basing and merging the two development lines into one platform. It is worth mentioning that mbed already contained an RTOS, which was/is based on RTX implementation of CMSIS. However, the integration of CMSIS, peripherals and user code was too complex. 

More information can be found on mbed website

ArcelorMittalOrbit in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

ArcelorMittalOrbit in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the UK’s largest sculpture, which also hosts the world’s largest and longest slide.

This iconic symbol is 114.5 meter tall and was designed by the legendary artist Anish Kapoor.

At the very top of this looping red tower there is a double-decker platform for visitors, offering bird’s eye view of the park, some mind-boggling concave mirrors, interactive screens and most interestingly a panoramic view of London.

This sculpture is the very heart of Intel’s LPWA network in the QEOP and that is why I’ve been a frequent visitor for quite some time now. It’s always very exciting to see London from this height.

For me it’s more like being on top of the Eiffel tower in London 😜

SoftBank’s acquisition of ARM

After a series of tense negotiations, the Japanese firm SoftBank has acquired UK’s ARM Holdings for £24b. Certainly Brexit played a significant role in this deal, as the Japanese Yen is worth nearly 30% higher than UK’s Sterling compared to the pre-referendum era. This acquisition is a huge game-changer for IoT since majority of SoCs and combo wireless and sensor chips house cores based on ARM architecture. The good news is, given certain legally binding conditions in this deal, such as maintaining its headquarter in the UK as well as doubling its staff head counts over the next 5 years, there won’t be any major strategic diversions over the next couple of years. That’s a pretty long time having witnessed the breathtaking pace of the IoT market.