The 3.5mm headphone jack is a decades-old standard on all sorts of audio-transmitting gadgets, so lots of our devices—including our cars—are made to accommodate them. But now Apple is getting rid of that ubiquitous jack on their iPhone 7, and that’s a big deal. Here’s what that means for your car’s audio system.
One of major downsides of Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack is that it leaves only a single port for both charging and audio output—that’s a problem for anyone who doesn’t have a Bluetooth head unit in their car and who likes listening to music on road trips, especially since smartphone battery life isn’t where it needs to be (even if the new iPhone 7 gets an hour or two better than its predecessor.)
Here’s what you’re looking at:
Cars With Cassette Players (1980s and 1990s)
If you’ve got a car with a cassette player, chances are you’ve been using a cassette-to-aux adapter like this one to listen to the tunes on your iPhone. Adapters like these are actually fairly good (when they’re not getting jammed in your cassette player), offering solid sound quality.
With the new iPhone, you won’t have an aux jack to plug that adapter into, but Apple says the new iPhone 7 will ship with a Lightning-to-aux adapter (see topshot), but you can expect there to be aftermarket versions as well, like this one:
So it looks like you’ll likely be able to continue using that cassette to aux adapter, except now it will be a cassette-to-aux-to-lightning adapter. That’s not too big of a deal, since you won’t have to carry this now-honkin’ adapter around: you can just keep it in your car hooked up to your cassette.
But what is a big deal is that if you use that adapter, now your lighting port—the port used to charge your phone—will be occupied if you’re listening to music.
It’s not yet known if the phone can accommodate an aftermarket adapter that splits the Lightning Port’s signal into both an aux output and also a voltage input from a cigarette lighter, but the adapter that comes with the iPhone 7 will not allow for simultaneous charging and audio transmission.
That means you’ll have a hard time keeping your phone charged if you’re listening to tunes on a long road trip.
Cars Without Aux Jacks Or Cassettes (1950s-1980s, 1990s-2000s)
For those of you with cars from the early 2000s, you may be stuck with a head unit that has just a CD player and no other audio input capability. Great for that Gnarls Barkley album you bought a decade ago, but not for much else.
That really sucks, because—as is also the case old with cars that lack cassette players or other audio inputs— it leaves you with one option if you want to listen to your iPhone’s tunes: you’ve got to use the dreaded FM transmitter. I say dreaded, because audio quality from those things tends to thoroughly suck.
You plug the FM transmitter’s auxiliary cable into the phone’s input jack, set the channel on the FM transmitter, and then go to that channel on your radio. You will begin to hear a very grainy, muffled version of the music from your phone.
You could totally still use this with the aux-less new iPhone 7 and the aforementioned adapter, but—again—you won’t be able to charge your phone, and I don’t even want to think about how bad the audio quality will be with both a digital-to-analog adapter and an FM transmitter.
Cars With Aux Jacks (2000s)
If you’re lucky enough to have a car with an auxiliary jack, you’ve had it good. All you’ve had to do was buy an aux cord, plug it into the radio and into your iPhone, and boom: you’ve got great-sounding music, plus you’ve still got the Lightning Port to charge with.
This will still work since the iPhone 7 comes with a Lightning-to-aux adapter. But again, without simultaneous charging and audio transmission capability, you won’t be able to play music for long road trips.
But there’s good news: even if that adapter won’t let you charge your phone and play music, you’ve got other options. One really good one is a third party aux-to-bluetooth adapter like this one by Kinivo. Just plug that thing into the cigarette lighter and into the aux port of your head unit (you could use this with a cassette adapter), and you’ll be able to stream music from your phone to your car’s speakers via bluetooth and use the Lightning port for charging.
Better yet, because the Kinivo has a built in microphone, you’ll also be able to make calls while driving.
Cars With Bluetooth (2010s)
Most new cars these days come with Bluetooth capability, meaning if you want to stream music or talk over the phone, you can just pair your device with your car’s radio, and all sound from your phone will now play through your car’s speakers. And if you want to talk over the phone, you can just speak directly into your car’s built in microphones.
It’s a nice system, and Apple’s deletion of the 3.5 millimeter headphone jack won’t change that. If you have a newer car, you’re in the best shape of all, because you can charge and stream at once.
The good news is that most old cars from the ‘50s until present will still be able to play music via their various audio input methods, but the bad news is that, unless you’re using Bluetooth, you’re going to have to cut off the music to charge your phone.
What do you plan on doing about this change?