Skip to main content

Intel wants USB Type-C to replace your headphone jack

intel usb type c replace audio port headphones girl smartphone
The ultra-thin USB-C standard is looking like the future of data, video, and even power at this point. It’s already the only port on Apple’s MacBook revival, for example, and if history is anything to go by other computer makers could follow. Sometime soon, laptops and phones may do away with any port thicker than a millimeter or two.

Intel, it seems, wants USB-C to replace the headphone port. The firm is working on a standard that could replace the analog audio port on your laptop and phone. It’s an uphill battle: the 3.5mm port has been around since the 1960s. But as Anandtech is reporting, it’s important that an industry-wide standard is established. USB Type-C’s seemingly inevitable ubiquity makes it a strong possibility.

There have been attempts at digital audio before. For a time in the early 2000s, USB speakers were available if not common. Around the same time, Motorola used the same USB port on some phones for audio, charging, and data transfers. In that case, however, Motorola users were severely limited in their choice of headphones. They could basically only use something specifically designed for the phone.

That’s the scenario Intel is trying to avoid here. They want the USB-C protocol to become the standard that all headphone and speaker makers agree on, so that consumers who buy a headphone for their iPhone can use it with their PC — just like they do now. Think of it as a sort of HDMI for audio, but using an existing port.

The change could also bring digital features to headphones, which are right now largely analog. For example, headphones could include equalizers, such as a thermal sensor for fitness tracking. On-board amplifiers are also a possibility. It could also serve a copy-protection purpose: it’s currently superficial to use a headphone jack to copy audio, but a digital standard would change that.

Of course, in the short term any computer that lacks a headphone port is going to face an uphill battle in the marketplace. But USB-C is already becoming common, so in the short term USB-C headphones could gain a foothold, giving laptop and phone makers time to ditch the analog port.

In the 90s, USB ports replaced all kinds of things that previously had dedicated plugs. Keyboards and mice come to mind, as do printers and gamepads. Replacing the audio port with USB-C is far from a sure thing, but if Intel can establish a standard things could get interesting. And we’ll be watching.

Editors' Recommendations

Justin Pot
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Justin's always had a passion for trying out new software, asking questions, and explaining things – tech journalism is the…
This gadget could turn your M1 Mac into a productivity beast
An Apple MacBook with four extra displays added.

If you own an M1 or M2 Mac and you've been wishing you could add a few extra screens to it, you now can. A new USB-C dock lets you add up to four external displays, which is a lot more than the Apple chip supports by default.

That number of displays comes at a price, though -- it may not be optimal for every kind of work or entertainment.

Read more
Apple confirms USB-C is coming to iPhones, but it’s still bitter about it
The Lightning port on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Apple is going to embrace the USB-C port for iPhones, ditching the Lightning standard that it has held on tightly for years. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Greg Joswiak, confirmed that Apple is going to comply with the EU’s decision of mandatorily putting a USB-C port for a wide range of electronic gadgets, including iPhones.

“Obviously, we’ll have to comply,” Joswiak told Joanna Stern when quizzed about the transition away from Lightning to the eventual USB-C destiny for iPhones. “We have no choice as we do around the world to comply to local laws. But we think the approach would have been better environmentally, and better for our customers to not have a government be that prescriptive,” he added.

Read more
Does the Apple iPad (2022) have USB-C? What you need to know
The yellow iPad (2022) lying face-down on a green bush.

The Apple iPad (2022) comes with a plethora of upgrades. It has a landscape front-facing camera, a new keyboard, upgraded cameras, and more. But you don't get these upgrades for the affordable price tag of $329 that the base model has been for years.

The iPad (2022) ramps up the price to $449. You would expect the Lightning port to be gone, as the base model was the only iPad without a USB-C port. So, does the iPad (2022) feature a USB-C port? Here's the answer.
The iPad (2022) comes with a USB-C port

Read more