Why OnePlus Will Not (and Really Should Not) Drop The Headphone Jack Anytime Soon
In recent days, two images that allegedly show a prototype of the upcoming OnePlus 5 have appeared across the internet. The first image – if real – gives us a view of the back of the device adorned with the customary OnePlus logo and a dual camera set up, while the second image shares a view of the bottom of the device complete with dual speaker grills and charging port. Given that the OnePlus 3 & 3T had headphone jacks on the bottom, many people have taken to claiming that the images are proof that OnePlus has removed the jack… however, there are a few problems with this theory.
The idea that OnePlus would remove a hardware feature that for many is a necessity seems like a worrying prospect. Thankfully, it is not likely to happen anytime soon. The first and simplest reason is that even if these images are real, it’s also entirely possible that the headphone jack has simply been moved back to the top of the device as seen with previous OnePlus devices — to jump to the conclusion that it has been removed entirely would be sensationalist at best, and utterly fallacious at worst.
Who asked for it, really?
The leaks themselves come courtesy of Priceraja, which while not necessarily instilling trust, does not allow us to outright dismiss them either. In fact, a regional OnePlus Facebook page shared the article, suggesting there is at least some sort of veracity to the leak of this prototype, even if it just means there are coincidental design similarities. But still, these images do not lend support to the idea that the headphone jack will be removed. OnePlus’ Carl Pei commented on the conundrum to much fanfare, given he somehow (and perhaps unintentionally) managed to obfuscate the question further with a simple question, “Why did the headphone jack cross the road?”.
— OnePlus (@oneplus) September 7, 2016
While many OEMs provide a pair for free in the box, OnePlus relies on their customers purchasing a pair of “Silver Bullets” (either variant) separately which currently retail on their website for £15.99, (OnePlus’ icons launched alongside the OnePlus X in late 2015 and initially retailed at a much higher $49), and this latest price point certainly help OnePlus’ bottom line, benefitting from the idea of an integrated ecosystem.
Essentially, OnePlus is confident that their exceptional OnePlus 3/3T would then convince users of the quality of the brand, organically leading them to purchase OnePlus swag or accessories, which they market hand-in-hand with their smartphone. They almost treat such accessories like OEMs treat phone releases, hyping them up on social media and investing in advertising, marketing and web design to produce enticing introductions to their newest products.
They don’t appear to be planning on stopping producing earphones any time soon either, with community builds showing audio tuning options for Golden Bullets listed alongside the previous earphones OnePlus have offered, including Silver Bullets V1 and V2. The fact that such calibration options specifically tailored to OnePlus headphones exist at all should already give you an idea of their commitment to their Bullets brand and earphone business, as well as general attempts at building a OnePlus ecosystem. While it could be argued that OnePlus would simply make the transition to selling Bluetooth earphones, they would loose customers through either a drop in quality as they become more expensive to produce, or an increase in price to ensure that their margins do not vanish. The possibility of Type C earphones would be possible but greatly reduce cross-device compatibility. This is a problem when you consider OnePlus’ success in India and other emerging markets — removing the headphone jack from an affordable flagship following up on the success of the OnePlus 3 and 3T is certainly not a bright idea.
Serial flagship buyers in the first world have been complaining about the anti-consumer industry shift in regards to the 3.5mm headphone jack, including mainstream publications like The Verge. If predominantly-Western media spheres and markets have shown such response to the inconveniences introduced by a transition towards bluetooth audio (or dongles!), how could OnePlus expect some of its most crucial markets in countries like India to adapt to, or even welcome, such switch? In these markets the 3.5mm jack is still a requirement and a staple of mobile devices for its simplicity, availability and affordability after decades of adoption and manufacturing, and to demand your users make such a significant a change could be too much for a company the size of OnePlus to handle, especially given it’d immediately throw a wrench into their accessory ecosystem and compatibility of their products.
Finally, OnePlus has built a niche around enthusiasts that they do not want to let go off, at least not for now. They have been nicer than most when it comes to device openness, and certainly kinder than most to ROM developers. They’ve also marketed their phones precisely on the items power users in particular have cared about, they take great care of their forum community and offer many avenues for users to send feedback on OnePlus devices. What I am getting at is that they OUGHT to know this would be a generally-unwelcome move that nobody asked for, and that would undermine the foundations of their image as an enthusiast-friendly manufacturer, that listens to feedback and caters to a userbase that other OEMs often ignore or simply don’t know how to satisfy. If anything, featuring a 3.5mm headphone jack in 2017 is a marketing advantage which allows OEMs to capitalize on the grudge users hold towards companies like Apple and HTC, and as shown in the embedded tweet above, OnePlus has even taken advantage on this in the past, positioning itself as anti user-hostile. To walk that back would be unwise, particularly if it’s just to establish a new accessory business selling adaptors or Type C/Bluetooth headphones.
You Either Die a Hero…
Of course, these are all the arguments against dropping the headphone jack that we see as rational, but we ultimately do not have a way to accurately predict what the company will do with its flagship, or its accessory business going forward. For example, it is possible that they’ll be offering Bluetooth or USB Type C headphones in the future, switching away from the wired Bullets they’ve been so fond of. If we look at the competition in the Android space, it also doesn’t instill a lot of confidence — even companies that do target emerging markets, like Xiaomi, Huawei and LeEco, have been moving away from the 3.5mm headphone jack. While their decisions weren’t met with positivity, it might pressure OnePlus to follow suit, and there is a case for starting a new USB Type C or Bluetooth accessory/adapter/earphone business.
At the same time, we should consider OnePlus is a smaller company than Huawei and Xiaomi, and while these two saturate the market with variants in all price brackets, OnePlus releases one phone at a time (though, perhaps, multiple a year, but no more than two, or two variants of the same phone). These other companies might be better poised to absorb the negativity and lack of sales produced by abandoning the headphone jack given they offer plenty of alternatives, some at cheaper price brackets that better-target those who want a phone from them, but with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Finally, there’s also the argument that these major players do find a primary market in China, where “copying” Apple is par for the course.
What Will OnePlus Do?
All of these arguments lead us to adamantly believe OnePlus has no reason to, and in all likelihood will not, drop the 3.5mm headphone jack. The company continues to diversify, selling not just phones but other products such as cases, backpacks, messenger bags, shirts, and USB OTG cables. With such an effort well under way it simply does not make sense for them to limit their choices and alienate those customers who value them the most. But if for whatever unfathomable reason they do decide to release a device without a 3.5mm headphone jack, we’ll make a killing in our digital pitchfork investment.
Would you still buy the OnePlus 5 without a headphone jack? Leave a comment below!