Last week when Google announced the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL would include the headphone jack, I nearly pulled my hamstring jumping for joy. While the news is still good, Google’s official reasoning is dubious. When interviewed at Google I/O 2019, product manager Soniya Jobanputra said “We really felt that consumers at this price point and this tier really needed flexibility [for the headphone jack].” This insinuates only those with limited funds want a headphone jack.
On a surface level, her logic makes sense. After all, the Venn diagram of people considering budget phones and people who buy cheap wired earbuds — rather than costly wireless ones — presumably has plenty of overlap. That, however, is where the rationale peels away.
Just because a consumer can afford wireless earbuds, doesn’t relinquish the desire for choice. Assuming it does benefits Google in the immediate future since Pixel users are more likely to just buy the Pixel Buds or proprietary dongle. Ultimately, consumers will flock to flagships that feature more not less. This whole debacle is silly given how the headphone jack was an industry before Apple removed it.
Affordability aside, it’s been said ad nauseum how wired audio outperforms wireless audio. Audiophiles spend the most on headphones and are willing to pay a premium for what’s being billed as a budget feature. Dongles may seem a passable alternative, but they’re not. They eliminate the option to charge a phone while listening to music and introduce a host of compatibility issues across Android devices.
Being able to afford more expensive audio accessories doesn't relinquish the desire for choice.
Although it’s nice to see Google bring the headphone jack back for budget consumers, Jobanputra’s statement is worrisome. The phrasing “… at this tier …” alludes to the real possibility that the Pixel 4 will release sans-jack. Doing so will only continue the headphone jack whiplash we’ve been experiencing the past two years.