Death of firewire

In the tech sector, computer interfaces come and go in the name of progress. RS232 was superseded by USB1; now there is USB C and USB 3.1 and the latest Macs have USB 4. But not everyone wants to move at the same pace. When Apple, Samsung and the other smartphone makers decided that they’d had enough of the headphone socket, it caused a bit of an uproar.

While aesthetically, the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket means smartphones can be sleeker, its exclusion denies those consumers who have bothered to buy their own headphones.

Clearly cheap headphones come and go, but the most expensive ones are highly engineered precision instruments for turning electrical signals into crystal clear audio that comes as close as possible to the sound the recording artist originally intended. It has nothing to do with the merits of USB versus a headphones socket. And a huge premium is paid for the quality of sound a top headphone can reproduce.

A pro-grade socket

Firewire is another electrical connection that has been retired to the recycle bin. This interface became a de facto standard for digital audio and video capture both among consumer and professional grade equipment. For instance, recording studios used firewire-equipped mixing decks. High end digital photography cameras and film scanners also used to use a Firewire interface to transfer images to a computer.

Unlike the headphones socket, there is no denying that USB C and Thunderbolt 3 (on Macs) offer much faster bandwidth compared to the 800 Mbps that was possible on Firewire. But with Windows 10 and Mac OS Big Sur no longer supporting Firewire, there is no way for very expensive professional equipment, that was state-of-the-art just a few years ago, to connect to modern PC and Mac operating systems. While the manufacturers of pro-grade equipment may thank Apple and Microsoft for making their products obsolete, there is no justification for the OS makers to disable functionality that was working just a few months ago.

Hardware generally has a far longer useful life compared to software. To keep them running, manufacturers need to stop replying on Apple and Microsoft and embrace the open source community. There are people out there who love to tinker and keep old things running. They just need access to the interfaces. If the product has already been deemed obsolete, why keep the interfaces proprietary. Publishing them would enable a smart software developer to write a device driver. This not only increases the longevity of the product, but also provides a new route to customer prospects, By lowering the barrier of entry for those people who want to buy affordable second hand professional grade equipment, the manufacturer can build a new base of customers.

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