Apple ditches headphone jack in iPhone 7 and health device makers head toward Bluetooth

A number of health devices connect through the headphone jack and some of those vendors are already working on new versions that will support Bluetooth for new iPhone 7. 
By Jonah Comstock
12:16 PM
Share
Apple iPhone 7 headphone jack

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Credit: iphonedigital via Flickr.

When it released the new iPhone 7, Apple also surprised many people by abandoning the headphone jack and, instead, opting to connect through the lightning adapter or wirelessly via Bluetooth. That change will affect more than just audiophiles.

A surprising number of smartphone-connected health devices, in fact, use the headphone jack to connect.

Healthcare IT News sister publication MobiHealthNews reached out to several of these companies and found that most were prepared for the change — and it's already driving many of them toward developing wireless versions of their products. 

"In an effort to increase phone compatibility and in anticipation of Apple removing the headphone jack from future phone models, Kinsa has already released two wireless products that work via Bluetooth and do not require a cord connection, the Kinsa Smart Ear Thermometer and the Sesame Street Smart Ear thermometer," Kinsa CEO Inder Singh, whose first generation smart thermometer used the iPhone's headphone jack, told MobiHealthNews in an email. "We will be releasing more wireless products in the future, including a wireless Smart Stick thermometer that will work with new generation phones."

[Also: Pokémon Go on the decline? That does not bode well for health apps and patient engagement]

iHealth, which makes a headphone-jack-connected smartphone glucometer called iHealth Align, said they would not make a version of Align that used the lightning adapter, but instead would focus on wireless products going forward. Breathometer, whose original smartphone-connected breath monitoring device plugged into the headphone jack, has already moved toward wireless for its latest devices including Breathometer Mint, set to launch at the end of this month.

On the other hand, connected glucometer company Dario released a press release today suggesting the company has plans to use the lightning adapter for future products, pending FDA clearance for an updated device.

"This news comes as no surprise to us, and we've been working on a solution for quite some time now," said Erez Raphael, DarioHealth's CEO said in the statement. "Our team's agility to navigate the complex mobile ecosystem showcases DarioHealth's versatility and passion to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology in general, and the diabetes healthcare market specifically."

One particularly interesting case is CliniCloud, which uses the headphone jack for its connected stethoscope specifically because it provides high-quality lossless audio that wouldn't be possible over a Bluetooth connection. CliniCloud CEO Andrew Lin told MobiHealthNews they're already looking into a lightning-compatible version.

"While it’s a little disappointing that Apple has dropped the universal 3.5mm jack, we have been expecting this announcement for some time, and have made preparations for lightning connectivity for our upcoming products," he wrote in an email. "Our existing stethoscope should still function with the lightning to 3.5mm jack adapter, and we are awaiting samples to test for full compatibility."

[Special Report: Precision medicine: Analytics, data science, EHRs in the new age]

Apple, for its part, argues that the headphone jack is ancient technology whose time has come and that omitting it allows for a thinner and more waterproof device. Critics are upset that they won't be able to use their existing headphones without an adapter, or they will either lose or fail to charge the wireless headphones — if they're even willing to front the $159 for a pair.

Overall, there's a definite sense of deja vu here, as the change pushes device makers toward wireless connectivity. Some of these devices first started using the headphone jack back in 2012, when Apple first debuted the lightning adapter. At the time, MobiHealthNews predicted that change would drive more companies wireless -- a prediction that seems to be coming true a few years later.

"This hardware change will strongly encourage health device companies to consider a short range wireless connection instead of adopting a proprietary one that only works for Apple's iPhones, iPads, and iPods," MobiHealthNews wrote at the time. "The big winner here will likely be Bluetooth Smart." 

Twitter: @JonahComstock


Like Healthcare IT News on Facebook and LinkedIn