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iPhone Quirk Limits Headphone Choices

New York — The iPhone’s design will limit consumers’ choices of compatible hands-free headsets and stereo headphones, a major headphone manufacturer told TWICE.

On the eve of the iPhone launch, the company said no aftermarket hands-free headsets or stereo headphones were available with an overmold, or plastic base, small enough to fit inside the narrow, recessed opening that limits access to the iPhone’s 3.5mm stereo headset jack.

The company, however, expects to offer a compatible stereo headphone during the week after the iPhone’s launch and promises multiple compatible stereo headphones and hands-free headsets later this year.

Apple isn’t requiring headset and headphone makers to get a “made for iPhone” license similar to its made-for-iPod license, said the headphone maker’s business development director. But an iPhone design “quirk” is requiring headphone and headset makers to develop new tooling if they want to offer iPhone-compatible products, he said.

The new tooling is necessary because the iPhone’s headphone/headset jack is recessed about 6mm from its exterior, and the opening around the jack is about 5mm or 6mm in diameter, he explained. The narrow opening blocks existing headphone/headset plugs from making proper contact with the iPhone jack because of the plugs’ wider overmolds. The overmolds range up to 10mm in diameter to make it easier for consumers to grasp when they pull out the plug, the executive explained.

In another quirk underscoring Apple’s different-drummer approach to product design, the headphone company noted that the iPhone combines elements of 2.5mm and 3.5mm jacks. Jacks with a diameter of 3.5mm are used by standard MP3 players to accept 3.5mm plugs with three bands that make connections for the left audio channel, right channel, and ground. Jacks with a diameter of 2.5mm are used by many cellphones to accept 2.5mm hands-free stereo headsets, and the headsets’ plugs have four bands, with the fourth band intended for a microphone connection. The company wasn’t certain whether Apple switched the standard location of the ground and microphone bands to require additional retooling.

Despite the quirks, the supplier said, the changes are “fairly doable.”