Ask many people when the headphone jack started disappearing from smartphones and they’ll likely point to the iPhone 7 from 2016. It’s certainly the best-known example, the one that prompted many Android phone makers to follow suit.
However, Apple wasn’t the first. As it turns out, Oppo was the first major brand to ditch the headphone jack with the Oppo Finder a full four years before the iPhone, and again with its mid-tier Oppo R5 in fall 2014. Here’s why Oppo pulled the 3.5mm port first, and why Apple’s move ultimately resonated more with the public.
Read more: The best phones with a headphone jack
Why Oppo removed the headphone jack
Simply put, Oppo removed the headphone jack for the sake of bragging rights. At 6.65mm thick, the Finder was dubbed the thinnest smartphone in the world when it was announced, and Oppo ditched the headphone jack to attain that slender build. History repeated itself two years later with the even thinner R5, which — at 4.85mm (0.19in) thick — was barely thicker than the micro-USB port you used to charge it, and a 3.5mm port would have been a difficult fit. The R5 lost the slimmest smartphone crown to the 4.75mm Vivo X5 Max (which included a jack, we’d add), but it was clearly an attention-grabbing device at a time when flagships like the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 were comparatively chunkier.
To its credit, Oppo did include an adapter with the R5 so users could use existing headphones with a 3.5mm jack. Sadly for those that couldn’t stomach dongles and tangled wires, the R5 arrived well before Bluetooth earbuds were truly ready for the mainstream. You were making a conscious sacrifice in the name of aesthetics.
Apple’s reasons for pulling the headphone jack were more practical. While you likely remember the company justifying the removal as a matter of “courage,” the tech giant also noted that dropping the legacy port freed up valuable internal space. Apple could fit a stronger Taptic Engine (haptic feedback) or a larger battery, for example. Whether or not you bought that argument at the time, the iPhone X and future Android phones made a better case by cramming loads of features into designs that remained relatively thin.
Why Apple made the concept “popular”
But why did Apple spur the phone industry to drop the headphone jack when Oppo’s effort gained little ground? Apple’s clout certainly helped, for a start. As a massive phone brand with a long history of trendsetting, it could make the concept palatable to rivals that were reluctant to take the lead. Even Samsung, which blasted Apple for abandoning the 3.5mm port, quietly pulled its criticism after releasing the Galaxy Note 10 series.
That wasn’t the only explanation, mind you. Apple paired the iPhone 7 launch with the debut of the original AirPods, giving buyers a set of wireless earbuds that were easy to set up and convenient to use. Whether or not you saw this move as a cynical ploy to drive accessory sales, it made the removal of the headphone jack easier to swallow by making wireless audio nearly pain-free. AirPods certainly resonated with the public, becoming wildly successful and inspiring a wave of copycats.
In that light, Oppo’s move was too little, too soon. The company didn’t have enough influence in 2012 or 2014 to shake up the industry by removing the headphone jack, and the Finder and R5 neither gained much from the choice. Apple succeeded by making a stronger argument and having all the pieces in place at the right time.
This is the thirteenth post in our “Did you know” series. In it, we dive into the history books of Android and consumer technology to uncover important and interesting facts or events that have been forgotten over time. What do you want to see us cover next? Let us know in the comments and check out our previous entries in the series below.
Correction, May 2, 2021: This article originally stated that the Oppo R5 was the first smartphone from a major brand without a headphone jack. However, while Oppo was the first big name to pull the jack, it actually did so two years prior to the R5’s launch with the Oppo Finder. The text has been amended to note this.