Making a truly waterproof phone means creating fewer points for water to get in. Ports, speakers, aux plug-ins, etc. are all counter to that. Even if the port is sealed at the far end, they don’t mold phones out of one big piece of aluminum alloy – there are seams anywhere there’s a port, speaker, or microphone. For things like aux cords, the part you plug things into is often a separate piece that’s glued in to the frame. The same goes for charging cables. Speakers and microphones work better if they can transmit (or receive) sound straight from the air, but that’s another component to waterproof.
Basically, every functionality of the phone depends on an outside port right now. Even the stuff you’re probably thinking of right now – Candy Crush and Internet Browsing will not work without a charging port!
However, the fewer of those there are, the less the manufacturers have to compensate for when it comes to sealing something. The real challenge is maintaining a balance between functional parts right now and the technology to do all of the important stuff portlessly. All of this also applies to making phones dirt-proof and lint-proof, as well.
The Technology Approaches
The good news is that wireless charging is improving. That’s one port down! Many phones already have the ability to transfer files via Bluetooth, so losing the direct phone-to-computer transfer a cord can provide isn’t necessarily a problem, unless the phone companies fail to compensate for it.
The bad news is that making a louder speaker that can transmit straight through the metal, or microphones that can hear through the metal would require either making the phone thicker or compromising on quality-of-sound. Bluetooth headphones with a microphone included could fix this, but users do not want to rely on accessories to make their $$$ phone work like it used to in earlier generations.
So, in the meantime between working internal speakers with no external holes and the stuff we have right now, phones are still capable of waterproofing up to 6 feet under water, for 30 minutes.
Everything else can be outsourced to Bluetooth!
BlueTooth Is The Future
While corded headphones, microphones, tape decks, etc. are all still around, Apple decided to get rid of the aux plugin. Samsung and Apple have a long history together – some people say that Samsung’s explodey battery issue exactly at the wrong time is the only thing that kept it from overtaking Apple when Steve Jobs died and the Apple ship went without a captain for a few years. Of course, if you ask fans what they mean when they say ‘overtake’, the answers are all vague and related somehow to reputation instead of market share – Samsung is huge, but the phones are not their bread and butter like they are for Apple, so it was never a fair comparison anyway.
But, to get to the real point of the story, Bluetooth and over-air connections are more stylish and more mobile. Think of the AirPods, or Raycons, or any other number of expensive, tiny headphones designed to fit in your ears almost seamlessly. Cords aren’t unstylish, but they can be annoying to manage while walking past things, running, trying to retrieve something from a bag and snagging the cord on the way. Not to mention the cord can degrade from material fatigue over time, meaning it only works in certain positions – The same doesn’t apply for Bluetooth items, which have significantly fewer exposed parts. They get dropped and jostled, sure, but all the thin, flexible, and delicate parts are on the inside. Cords, of course, don’t need to be charged and can match sound quality with even top tier Bluetooth earbuds, so it’s not really a straight upgrade, just a series of tradeoffs the customer makes. And you don’t have to buy expensive or tiny Bluetooth earbuds: the old-fashioned headphones are still an option, alongside every size, shape, and price-point in between. It’s annoying to not have the choice between Bluetooth and cord, but customers who really, truly want to go diving with their phones are thrilled at the development.
However, there’s another layer. Apple hates cords. They went so far as to design their magic mice so that you couldn’t use it while it was charging, because the port is on the bottom. Sacrificing functionality for aesthetics is Apple’s whole thing, and they’ll charge customers a pretty penny to do so. The Magic Mouse was 70$ in 2021.
Apple’s decision that AirPods will cost somewhere between 5 and 10 times the cost of a set of drugstore earbuds was also a statement, albeit one most people saw right through – tiny white Bluetooth earbuds are a sign of wealth over the ordinary corded ones, in the same way a Gucci bag is a sign of wealth over a non-branded one. However, just like Gucci, imitators have already made products nearly identical to the original AirPods, which is the funniest part of a company trying to make any accessory a status symbol.
All in all, there are many reasons to get rid of ports, from genuine functionality improvements to style – Samsung getting rid of it’s ports doesn’t necessarily mean it’s trying to keep up with Apple, although third-party phones not doing so certainly changes the environment these decisions are happening in.