A word to iLounge’s readers: this might not be the smartest time to buy a pair of expensive new earphones with remote and microphone functionality.
As you may know, Apple recently updated the 2008 iPods—and 2008 MacBook computers—to include brand-new headphone ports that have two new features: microphone input and remote control functionality. Plug in the right pair of new headphones, and both new iPods and MacBooks now let you change music tracks, adjust volume, and pause playback. They can also let you record audio, and otherwise interact with voice-sensitive applications.
Good news: though the mic and a single-button remote feature have been found in some iPhone headsets, Apple’s newly expanded features are now available to third-party developers. They appear set to become standard features on additional Apple products. It also appears that there may even be more remote-specific features than these, as well as dedicated earphone-less remotes that take advantage of this functionality, but that’s not yet 100% confirmed.
Bad news: unlike the more limited, one-button remote features of the iPhone and iPhone 3G, the new control features require a new Apple chip—plus related parts—in order to work. Consequently, there is a possibility of higher prices for the next generation of remote- and mic-ready headsets, which were previously one of the only categories to escape Apple’s fee- and approval-based licensing programs. Additionally, the expanded remote features do not work on the iPhone or iPhone 3G, though this will most likely will change with the next-generation iPhone hardware release.
To date, there’s only one pair of earphones on the market with expanded remote functionality: Apple’s $79 In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. A second Apple pair, less expensive at only $29, has been delayed until at least the end of this month, if not early January. Third-party developers are currently working on accessories with similar functionality; some are planned for release as soon as January or February. Some past headsets that featured only single-button controls will be amongst the ones retrofitted to include volume buttons, but there will also be new models, as well. Going forward, developers who care to include remotes and/or mics will most likely include Apple’s chips, and Apple’s devices will check for these chips before enabling these features.
Given that Apple appears to be gradually phasing the new headphone ports and chips into its product and accessory lineups, and that the current “extra” features—namely, volume controls—may not be killer omissions for some people, there’s no reason to drop your plans to purchase new headphones in the near future. However, be advised that January and February are likely to bring more and smarter options for those who want superior remote functionality, and that if you’re buying a headset without volume functionality, you may be disappointed, or need to look for an add-on remote with the feature.