Lightning Connected Headphones: A New Untapped Market?

I’ve always been fascinated by those fish that suck onto the side of big blue whales and follow them around as they swim across oceans. In the pictures they look small, like tiny little sucker fish, however when filmed by people, with a human body next to them for comparison, they are pretty big sized fish!

And so is the accessory market to everything Apple makes. From phone cases (probably the biggest) to laptop covers to keyboards and little tiny adapter tips, there is a multi-billion dollar industry of companies that just make things solely for Apple products. So when Apple makes a big decision, like the removal of the headphone jack on its flagship smartphone, it sends massive ripples throughout the sea of accessory makers.

Headphone companies, for the most part, have been immune to Apples changes. Case makers have it the hardest, updating their case designs every time a new model of the phone comes out. App makers have to update whenever an operating system is released. Headphone companies though, so far, haven’t been forced to adapt since the introduction of the iPod 15 years ago in 2001!

Finally though, on September 7th of 2016, all that finally changed. The 3.5mm analog port that all headphone makers, equating to multi-billions of dollars, used for so long, was completely removed from the iPhone 7. It was shocking to say the least and very daring on Apples behalf, as it essentially resulted in a big “F-you” to headphone companies. “Either play our game or lose money” seemed to be Tim Cooks message to audio component manufacturers.

A few companies were looking ahead of the curve and were prepared for the announcement. Companies like Philips had the Fidelio on market for almost a year before the iPhone 7 was launched. Audiophile company Audeze had the Sine and EL-8 on market for a while too. All three of these headphones use a smart Lightning cable to connect to Apple devices like iPads and now iPhones as well.

What some are now calling “smart headphones”, that is, lightning-cable headphones, are predicted to be “the next big thing” in terms of Apple-dependent sub-industries. Analysts are expecting a fresh crop of Lightning-tipped headphones to be popping up from all major players, including longtime Apple friends and now owned brand Beats. It’s only imaginable that other consumer headphone companies like Sony, Harman and Kardon, and Bose will follow suit.

This may take time, but it seems only inevitable as wireless technology still seems a long ways off in terms of standing up shoulder-to-shoulder with wired audio quality.

Android makers are also watching closely as USB-C specific headphones are also probably being made to contend with their Lightning counter parts in the battle for top smart-headphone title.

Makers will have to be careful not to overly fragment the market, as needing a different type of headphone for every brand of MP3 player or smartphone would be a real headache and make jumping between Android or iOS a real nightmare as headphones can command prices north of $200 for a good pair, making them an investment that would be hard to render useless just because a user may want to try a different platform (Android vs Apple).

One thing is certain though, and that is Apple is the whale in this industry, even though they started as a computer company, now they are like giant blue whales swimming in the ocean of tech, and some other massive fish like audio companies, are now having to swim in their wake or go it alone in a big and sometimes hospitable world.

 

David Smead
 

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