Wireless headphone sales jump threefold after Apple drops the headphone jack

When Apple launched the iPhone 7 and announced that it was dropping the headphone jack, controversy erupted and criticism rolled in from consumers and industry experts alike.

The fact that people were willing to believe drilling a hole in the base of their expensive new iPhone was a solution shows just how hard this change hit.

Regardless, one year on Apple has now launched the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X and once again there’s no headphone jack in sight.

Whining over wireless

So, does that mean we’ve just stopped using our iPhones to listen to music? 

No, it likely just means we’ve adapted, and adapted rather quickly at that. In fact, according to recent sales data collected by market researchers GFK, the number of Bluetooth headphones sold has jumped 343% in the last year.

This is a huge increase and even if you still stand by your belief that Apple made a grievous error in dropping the headphone jack, Bluetooth headphone manufacturers are probably inclined to disagree.

According to Dean Clarke, technology accessories buyer at UK retailer Argos, it’s these changes in the mobile market that “have driven a huge – and incredibly rapid – shift in the way that people listen to music.” 

According to Clarke, “this has been one of the fastest adoptions of a technology that we’ve ever seen – the rate at which consumers are adopting wireless headphones is a remarkable transformation in purchasing habits.”

Clarke credits Apple with the switch, stating that “the iPhone 7 was one of the first top-selling UK flagship smartphones to ditch the headphone socket and the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X following suit this year has confirmed that wireless is likely to be the standard going forwards.”

When it first dropped the headphone jack, Apple asserted that it was because the future is wireless. 

More at play

While Apple has arguably played a large part in ensuring that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s worth noting that other smartphone manufacturers from Motorola to HTC have also opted to drop the 3.5mm port which suggests the mobile industry as a whole has caused this shift, rather than just Apple.

That said, we’re not in Apple’s vision of a totally wireless future just yet. Sales may be rising, but Qualcomm’s recent 2017 State of Play report on consumer attitudes towards wireless and Bluetooth audio technology found that not everyone is cutting loose. 

In fact, around half of the 4000 consumers surveyed (44% of 2000 Americans and 54% of 2000 British consumers) still don’t own a pair, suggesting that not only is there much more room for the area to grow, but also that the loss of the headphone jack hasn’t changed the purchasing habits of as much of the population as the rise in sales figures might imply. 

It could very easily be the case that those already buying wireless headphones have simply opted to buy more pairs for different uses as the range of functions on offer grows. It’s a small market but a highly invested one.

For example, a set of commute headphones is likely to be drastically different to a pair you use in the gym or relaxing at home. 

Indeed, Qualcomm found that consumers are looking for much more range in terms of features, quality and price points from their wireless headphones and that 20% of those surveyed who did own wireless headphones owned more than one pair of wireless headphones for this very reason. 

Interestingly, Qualcomm expects true wireless earbuds will really soar in popularity (just as well Apple got off to a good start there, then, isn’t it?). We definitely noticed a jump in the number of true wireless offerings at this year’s IFA in Berlin.

Overall, it appears that though Apple has played an undeniably big part in the rise of wireless audio sales there are factors at play other than our need for the latest iPhone. That’s almost a relief.

Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.