Google's Pixel 4a appears to have become a sensation — even though no one has one yet. It's only open for pre-order, and already it's become the best-selling unlocked smartphone at Amazon and Best Buy. And that makes sense; it's a pretty great phone. But you know what else is great? It has a goddamn headphone jack.
I know, it's a dead horse, but I'm beating it. When Apple gave up the headphone jack to double-down on selling overpriced Bluetooth headphones, the end was nigh. By its example, other companies started doing the same, coincidentally launching their own branded Bluetooth headphones if they hadn't already jumped into the market. By the time Samsung — long known for following a kitchen-sink approach in smartphone design — made the same switch on its Galaxy S phones, the slow descent into stuttered audio, signal issues, and dead headphone batteries was complete. We live in the future now.
Woe for the forgotten port.
I'm not here to praise Google for making a rational decision on its mid-range Pixel 4a by keeping the headphone jack last year's Pixel 3a had. The company would have been misguided to take it away now. But I still frankly resent the loss on the higher-end Pixel series — and all my phones.
"...some phones have serious problems with Bluetooth audio."
At its very its worst, a headphone jack is just superfluous. If you're all in on Bluetooth headphones, you just aren't using it. And with phones still ballooning in size and tossing in useless stuff like macro cameras, I don't buy the space argument, either — at least, not anymore. The only motivation that makes sense to me is the chance to upsell every purchase with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, since now you have to have them. And it's a nightmare.
The Pixel 3a was refreshing for a lot of reasons — but it also marked the return of the headphone jack to Pixels.
When you get to use as many phones as we do (tech blogger privilege), you start to realize some phones have serious problems with Bluetooth audio. Plenty of early Pixels had issues, and lots of Samsung phones run into trouble. Problems like stuttering during playback or random disconnections will happen with certain device combinations, and you just can't predict it. Unlike a cable, Bluetooth audio doesn't "just work," so many other factors come into play. Over the years, companies can't seem to fix it, and I'm frustrated and tired of dealing with it.
But, the jack's persistence in the Pixel 4a is a Good Thing, and I have a proposal.
Based on leaks, Google is making a curious decision to move its higher-end flagship Pixel line slightly downmarket, giving it a lower-end chipset (which I don't think is an issue). It's probably not too much to hope that move also signifies a (small?) drop in price. It's a little part of a pretty messy-sounding product arrangement, but I think it's actually an opportunity. Smartphone manufacturers are insisting that a headphone jack is only a requirement in lower-end devices, and, well, the Pixel 5 — and, potentially, later Pixel flagships — appear to be moving slightly downmarket. Maybe it's time to bring the headphone jack back, Google?
"...maybe I'm just that desperate."
I know that it's too late for any drastic revisions to the Pixel 5's hardware; if we have an October launch to look forward to, then the details for that phone have been written in stone for months. But in a lot of ways, I think it would make sense in the Pixel 6. (Or maybe I'm just that desperate.)
Google's newer Pixel Buds "2."
Google's first-party Bluetooth audio efforts have been so-so. While the more recent Pixel Buds 2 are okay, they don't quite stack up to the competition, and I honestly doubt they're selling very well. And folks that are interested have already participated in the forced migration to Bluetooth headphones on their own. Since I think cutting the jack was primarily meant to upsell customers, it doesn't seem to me that Google would lose any business if it brought it back, and this isn't a market that Google is very likely to win with new products at this point.
Furthermore, it sounds like Google's actively interested in taking a step back in the Pixel line, anyway. The Pixel 5 is rumored to give up on a ton of the new technologies Google bent over backward to develop, like Soli and face recognition. If Google's trying to turn back the clock as it turns down the price, and if this is a larger change in product strategy and more than a one-time stopgap measure, why not bring back the much-loved legacy audio port, too?
From a certain perspective, 2020's been a year of anachronisms already, so why not? I think Google should seriously consider bringing the headphone jack back in the higher-end Pixel line, even if it can't happen until the 2021 Pixels. At a minimum, I am absolutely sure that Reddit will like it.