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Future Apple EarPods and Beats headphones could use Lightning port

Tom Morgan
6 Jun 2014
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Apple has updated its Made for iPhone specifications, suggesting headphones with lightning connectors are on the way

Apple has updated the specifications for its Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad (MFi) programme to include headphones that connect through the Lightning port rather than the 3.5mm audio jack - potentially paving the way to lossless or high quality music playback on future iOS devices.

The specification change, which was picked up by 9to5mac, would mean compatible headphones could receive a lossless 48KHz stereo digital audio output from an iPhone, iPod or iPad, as well as send higher quality 48KHz mono audio using an integrated microphone for clearer voice chat.

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Along with support for existing MFi buttons such as volume and changing tracks, headphones with Lightning adapters would technically be able to include additional buttons for launching specific apps on an iOS device, and could automatically launch a companion app when first plugged in. This could let audiophiles tweak equaliser presets, or let future Beats headphones jump straight into Beats Music whenever they are connected to an iPhone.

Apple Lightning EarPods

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Lightning headphones will be able to draw power from an iOS device, even if that device is asleep - potentially meaning active noise cancellation could be included for much less cash as there would be no need for an internal battery within the headphones themselves. It could also work in reverse, providing power to the device from an internal battery built into the headphones. It will also support passthrough cables, letting you listen to music and charge your device at the same time. Finally, Lightning headphones would be able to be updated with new firmware.

There will be two types of Lightning headphones: the standard model will cost less and use fewer components, along with a specific Wolfson Digital to Analog convertor, while the Advanced Lightning Headhpones specification allows for additional digital audio processing and features like active noise cancellation.

Following Apple's decision to buy Beats for a whopping $3 billion, it seems likely that there will eventually be Beats branded Lightning headphones - Apple could potentially even use the brand to debut the technology. However, without a costly adaptor there would be no way to use Lightning headphones on any non iOS device.

Apple has yet to enable audio input over Lightning adapters for existing iOS devices, but it is almost certainly preparing to introduce it with iOS 8 - just in time for the iPhone 6 launch later this year.