Pixel XL 2: Is no headphone jack a deal-breaker?

We've heard a lot of rumors about the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2, but one of the most persistent revolves around the headphone jack. More specifically, these rumors concern the lack of a headphone jack on either phone, continuing a rather unpopular trend we've seen taking hold in the smartphone industry for a few years now. Today yet another report has surfaced, this one claiming once again that neither the Pixel 2 nor the Pixel 2 XL will have a headphone jack.

This time, the report comes from 9to5Google managing editor Stephen Hall. On Twitter, Hall says he's received "another tip that Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 will both ditch the headphone jack." He goes on to note that after the internal documents he's seen and the people he's spoken to, he'd be surprised to see a headphone jack on the new Pixels when they're finally announced.

The big question now is whether or not a missing headphone jack will be a deal breaker for Android users. This tread of dropping headphone jacks didn't begin with Apple, but it certainly entered into mainstream attention when Apple announced that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus wouldn't ship with headphone jacks of their own. Instead, Apple planned to focus on wireless technologies like Bluetooth, introducing a pair of Bluetooth earbuds dubbed AirPods.

Apple caught a lot of criticism for that, especially from Android manufacturers trying to unseat the iPhone. What's disappointing about these rumors is that Google was one of those companies that lambasted Apple for its decision. Back when the original Pixel was first introduced, Google took a few digs at Apple for the iPhone's missing headphone jack. Now, just one year later, we're hearing that the Pixel 2 will follow in the iPhone's footsteps.

The problem is that Google is not Apple and Android is not iOS. As much as Google might want it to be, the Pixel is not Android's iPhone. Apple was able to make this decision because it had an established audience and no competition within the iOS space. If people wanted the newest iPhone, in other words, they had no choice but to deal with the missing headphone jack.

Unlike iPhone users, Android users have a lot more options within their ecosystem. If the Pixel 2 launches without a headphone jack and prospective buyers don't like that fact, they can pick up the Galaxy S8, or the LG G6, or any of the other numerous high-end Android devices that still have the headphone jack intact.

From where I stand, there only seems to be two manufacturers with established fanbases that can risk removing standard features without causing those fans to jump ship: Samsung and Apple. The Google Pixel line has not been out long enough to have any kind of significant following, and I don't think Google is in a position to begin removing functionality on a whim. Google should want to attract as many people as possible to the Pixel brand, and removing something as familiar as the headphone jack isn't the way you do that.

Moreover, Google's decisions with the Pixel line will presumably have implications for the rest of Android's manufacturers. The Pixel, like the Nexus line that came before it, is meant to be an example of what Google's ideal Android phone looks like and how it functions. If Google removes the headphone jack from the Pixel 2, how are other Android manufacturers supposed to approach that?

Is Google going to own that decision and make some new form of audio connectivity standard across the whole of Android? Will it, for instance, tell manufacturers that they must make USB-C audio a standard feature in all of their Android devices? If it isn't ready to do something like that, wouldn't you say it's a little irresponsible and shortsighted for Google to drop the headphone jack in the Pixel 2? I'd say it is.

At the end of the day, I can only speak for myself, and while I'm interested in potentially picking up a Pixel 2, that interest drops to nothing the moment Google introduces it without a headphone jack. It's no skin off my back to make that decision based on a single missing feature, either, as my Galaxy S8 gives me a suitable Android experience while keeping functionality I consider important. The reality of consumers having options should definitely concern Google, but with all of these rumors floating around, I'm not sure it does.