Headphone plug and jack on phone

Microsoft files patent in attempt to save 3.5mm headphone jack

Image credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft’s patent suggests different approaches to creating an expandable headphone jack which could be fitted into slimmer smartphones.

When the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were revealed in 2016, the main topic of conversation centred on the removal of the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which has been around since 1878 when it was used in telephone switchboards.

According to Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of marketing at Apple, removing the jack was a courageous decision.

“Some people have asked us why we would remove the analogue headphone jack,” he said during a presentation. “It’s been with us a really long time and it comes down to one word: courage. Our team has tremendous courage.”

Removing the 3.5mm jack allowed Apple to continue making flatter smartphones while saving space inside for other electronics, such as camera modules or larger batteries. Other phone manufacturers followed suit in excluding the headphone jack, including the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, launched in October 2017.

Now, Microsoft has been awarded a patent for methods for fitting a standard 3.5mm connecting plug inside a much smaller input jack which could expand to accommodate the plug, like opening up a flat pocket to fit a bulky object inside.

This was described in its patent application as “receptacle housing, having a passage configured to receive at least part of a plug connector”. Such an input jack could fit inside even slimmer phones, solving the main problem threatening the 3.5mm jack.

Diagram showing expandable headphone jack


Image credit: Microsoft

Diagram showing a hand heated by a conductive glove


Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft proposed a handful of different approaches that could be taken to creating an expanding jack which is partially external, either using a soft material that stretches around the plug, or a rigid folded material which opens along its creases when a plug is inserted.

When the plug is not inserted, these collapsible jacks would effectively disappear.

The plug could either bulge out of both sides of the device, which, while practical for ultra-thin devices, would risk ruining their streamlined, elegant appearance. Alternatively, the jack could bulge out of one side of the device, with electrical connections on just one side of the plug and the other side of the jack only securing the plug.

With Microsoft recently confirming that it will no longer be developing Windows Phones, however, it may require another party to turn this patent into a usable technology.

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