Apple faces a battle to convince consumers to switch to wireless headphones after controversially scrapping the headphone jack on the new iPhone 7, analysts have warned.
Electrical shops are enjoying an increase in wireless headphone sales after Apple’s announcement on Wednesday, but the market has been dogged by concerns about the sound quality, price and durability of products.
The removal of the jack means iPhone users must buy wireless headphones or use an adaptor to connect wired headphones to the battery port. The company will sell its own wireless headphones, called AirPods, at $159 (£119)
Analysts said Apple had failed to make its wireless headphones attractive enough to consumers and many would simply use the adaptor that comes with the iPhone 7 to connect their wired headphones to the battery port.
Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at price comparison service uSwitch, said: “The loss of the headphone jack is likely to divide opinion. The pricey AirPod earphones are part style statement, part practicality, but Apple just didn’t seem to land a persuasive justification for the bold move. The headphone adaptor helps bridge the gap, but suggests a lack of commitment to something touted as a courageous step.”
Neil Saunders, chief executive of retail consultancy Conlumino, added: “The removal of the headphone jack is, in our view, not much of an issue. The adaptor may make connecting traditional headphones fiddlier but for most consumers this will not be a significant barrier to purchase.”
However, Saunders warned that Apple, which releases the new iPhone later this month, had made a mistake by not releasing the AirPods until October.
“What is more of an issue is the late release of the Apple AirPods which will not be available until October. In our view this is something of a misstep by Apple as these should have been released alongside the iPhone to encourage cross-purchasing.”
The decision to scrap the traditional headphone socket prompted anger on social media and among analysts.
More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition criticising Apple for scrapping the headphone jack, claiming it will create “mountains of electronic waste” as people throw out their old headphones. Nilay Patel, the editor-in-chief of technology magazine The Verge, said the move was “user-hostile and stupid”. However, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, said the company had shown “courage” to move its technology on.
Wireless headphones have met with a mixed reaction from consumers so far. Although they are practical and comfortable, they are more expensive than traditional headphones and the quality is mixed. Some models, such as the Bose SoundSport wireless, have been dogged by technical problems.
Bose has been forced to develop a fix for the wireless headphones and send out free replacements after users complained of static interference when wearing them while jogging. Wireless headphones typically use Bluetooth technology to connect to phones or other electrical devices, but require a rechargeable battery for this to work.
Despite the teething problems, retailers expect the market to boom as the technology improves. John Lewis said sales of wireless headphone were already 60% higher than last week after Apple’s announcement, while Currys PC World said its sales of wireless headphones were up 163% compared with last year.
Katrina Mills, an audio buyer at John Lewis, said: “Wednesday’s announcement will drive the biggest sales in wireless headphones yet. Ahead of the news, we had already seen an increased demand for wireless headphones, with noise cancelling functionality and sport models proving popular.”
Sales of Bose headphones were up 260% on the same period last year, John Lewis said. Other popular brands included Sony, Sennheiser, Bang & Olufsen and Beats, which is owned by Apple.
Wireless headphones account for three in five of the headphone sales at John Lewis, compared to one in five last year. Currys PC World said wireless headphones were by far the fastest growing type of headphone.
Rob O’Murphy, assistant category manager for headphones at Currys PC World, said: “We’ve noticed wireless headphones have been becoming more and more popular over the last year, especially with our customers in Dixons Travel, but following last night’s announcements we are expecting a particular spike in sales and will be looking to fill demand accordingly.”
City analysts said wireless headphones could eventually be a lucrative market for electrical retailers such as Dixons Carphone, which owns Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse.
George Salmon, equity analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The group [Dixons Carphone] will be rubbing its hands together after the launch of the iPhone 7, and the introduction of wireless headphones opens up a whole new market.”