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Headphone inline controls – how they differ on Apple iOS vs. Android/Nokia (head-fi.org)
170 points by sengork on Jan 4, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments



To be more precise than "they don't work because Apple is terrible," the two competing pinout standards are CTIA (previously meaning Cellular Telephone Industries Association) and OMTP (Open Mobile Terminal Platform).

According to Wikipedia, the OMTP devices include:

    * old Nokia (and also Lumia starting from the 2nd gen)
    * old Samsung (2012 Chromebooks)
    * old Sony Ericsson (2010 and 2011 Xperias)
    * Sony (PlayStation Vita)
    * OnePlus One
    * Xbox One controller with head phone jack
    * iPhone sold in China
and CTIA devices include:

    * Apple
    * HTC
    * LG
    * Blackberry
    * latest Nokia (including 1st gen Lumia as well as later models)
    * latest Samsung
    * Jolla
    * Sony (Dualshock 4)
    * Microsoft (including Surface and Xbox One controller with chat     adapter)
    * most Android phones
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phone_connector_(audio)#TRRS_s...

I haven't personally tested most of those, but IIRC when I had a Surface Pro the iPhone TRRS earbuds worked fine with it.


CTIA is a post-facto 'standardization' of what used to be known as 'AHJ,' which came about once companies needed a name for 'Apple-compatible' without actually naming Apple. CTIA is primarily a lobbying organization, and their past hits include laws that made it easier for the US government to surveil email and an attempt to get the US government to shut off TV broadcasting entirely.

OMTP was an actual standard from a real-life standards body -- the same one that brought us micro-USB across all non-Apple phones. We lost functionality when we lost OMTP; imagine a world where you had dedicated buttons for track forward and back.

Having been involved in the design phase of devices that supported each standard, I miss OMTP.


> We lost functionality when we lost OMTP; imagine a world where you had dedicated buttons for track forward and back.

There's one argument, albeit small, for killing the headphone jack. USB HID has included track control keycodes since forever, so USB earphones should be able to control playback by appearing as a HID device... I think...

Of course, there too Apple is off doing their own thing with Lightning.


You can indeed -- and Nokia was producing such devices in the mid-2000s. There are even some models of Nokia phone that did not have a headphone jack; they had a micro-USB port that was used for both charging the phone and attaching headphones. Sound familiar?

The peak of that approach was the Nokia WH-501, which consisted of a micro-USB connector at one end and a clip on the other, which had several audio controls. IIRC: volume up/down, call answer/hangup, mute toggle, track forward, and track back. It came with a regular set of 3.5mm earbuds, but of course you could use whatever headset you wanted, as the mic was built into the clip.

At the time I remember someone had written a linux driver for this device, which worked quite well.

So, ten years ago, we had a cross-platform standards-based headset with audio controls and reconfigurable earpieces. Like I said, a lot has been lost in the recent past.


From an European point of view, the mobile world was set back a decade (if not more) by the tech media's fawning over Apple and Google's entry. This in large part because they built products for the US market, and it was lagging the rest of the world massively.


>From an European point of view, the mobile world was set back a decade (if not more) by the tech media's fawning over Apple and Google's entry

As a European I couldn't disagree more. Have you see the crap (including Nokia and Sony) that passed for smartphones before the iPhone and Android devices came along?

You also make it sound like some big conspiracy for "the tech media's fawning over Apple and Google's entry".

If there was that much better European mobiles where were/are they hidden?

That some standards (like the above for headphones) existed and were lost, I can accept. But nothing much else...


> Have you see the crap (including Nokia and Sony) that passed for smartphones before the iPhone and Android devices came along?

I have to disagree with you here. The first iPhone was awful and the smartphones and PDAs of the time were in my opinion way ahead of the iPhone. I will concede that the established players failed their market, as people in general (as opposed to techies) wanted a sleek device with nice UI over the features that people took for granted until the iPhone.

I know it's not to be taken seriously, but this neatly expresses my opinion at the time the iPhone came out: http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=iphone


>I have to disagree with you here. The first iPhone was awful and the smartphones and PDAs of the time were in my opinion way ahead of the iPhone

I had the then reviewed as "best" smartphone pre-iPhone, a Sony top of the line one with a stylus. It was crap. Have also played with the Nokia communicator and others. Also crap.

Can you point to any "smartphones and PDAs of the time" that were "ahead of the iPhone" with an actual link to a product page/review/wikipedia, so we can see if that was the case?

>as people in general (as opposed to techies) wanted a sleek device with nice UI over the features that people took for granted until the iPhone.

If those devices didn't have a sleek device and a nice UI what did they have over the iPhone? More features? Features are nothing without the form factor and usability. The internet browsing experience, for example, in those phones were beyond crap.


> I had the then reviewed as "best" smartphone pre-iPhone, a Sony top of the line one with a stylus. It was crap. Have also played with the Nokia communicator and others. Also crap.

I strongly disagree.

> Can you point to any "smartphones and PDAs of the time" that were "ahead of the iPhone" with an actual link to a product page/review/wikipedia, so we can see if that was the case?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_N95 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTC_TyTN_II

The difference between these devices and the iPhone baffles me to this day. Yeah the iPhone had a better UI, but it didn't even have 3G, Apps, IM, MMS, Copy&Paste and a whole load of other features. You couldn't even open a socket or ping a machine with it.

> Features are nothing without the form factor and usability.

Again, I strongly disagree. Features are everything, while a sleek UI is worthless if you know your way around the apps you care about.

Unrelated to the iPhone, I consider the trend to "dumb down" UI such that untrained users can have pleasant user experiences without prior knowledge to be annoying and misguided. Obviously that's what the market wants, but I find it frustrating when apps or services are lacking features that people have been taking for granted for 20 years.

> [...] The internet browsing experience, for example, in those phones were beyond crap.

I'm willing to concede that the browsing experience on the iPhone was far superior to all other smartphones at the time. However, I would argue that even on the iPhone the browsing experience was kinda crap, as there was no mobile web to speak of in 2007 and the usability of desktop sites on mobile was hit and miss.


My "European" point of view remembers subpar Symbian devices that were little more than dumbphones with better hardware. Their "smart" functions were mostly limited to being able to install Opera, and the rest of the software stack was pretty lackluster. By comparison, in 2011, a budget Android device with Froyo did a lot more things a lot better.


As a counterpoint: I have an E6-00 and when i used it still, i did with it ALL of the things that i also use my smartphone for regularly: Web browsing, google, twitter, navigation, music, audiobooks, file transport.

What i gained with an android phone was a larger screen and gimmicks.

And i lost the ability to do navigation with one hand only without looking at the damn thing.


Summer 2011 I was shopping for a low-price touchscreen-only device and remember all Symbian devices being terrible in many ways. This IIRC was during the last days of Symbian when Nokia was trying to adapt it to be a touch-screen interface. I remember a complete lack of kinetic scrolling, framerates under 30FPS and a UI that was somewhat of a clusterfuck. The browser was also terrible and realistically you couldn't browse real websites. Lastly, the cheaper devices didn't even have a capacitive touchscreen or proximity sensors to turn off the display during calls.

Android devices where not perfect. There was lag (not the occasional hitch we complain about today, actual lag) from time to time, and interface was somewhat unpolished. But the browser worked. Loading full websites and using them was relatively pain-free. Scrolling through lists was responsive and the hardware was better for the same amount of money. And lastly, the Android Market had actual apps that I ended up using and Google Maps was excellent. There was hardly any comparison.


It’s not just the phone market.

Almost always when a US company enters a global market, it leads to a massive setback for the rest of the world.

Think about credit cards – Europe has been slowly migrating to VISA and MasterCards with their insane fees, away from the old EuroCheque and EC Card system (which had lower fees, and better safety).

At the same time, every German company in the EU leads to worse results for the countries that are yet even more advanced, say, the Netherlands (Net Neutrality comes to mind).


As a dutchman, I kinda envy Germany. I feel they handle quite a few things better.

Regarding net-neutrality, T-mobile is currently actively zero-rating music in the Netherlands.


> T-mobile is currently actively zero-rating music in the Netherlands.

Which was banned in the Netherlands until the recent EU-wide Net Neutrality law, which improved Net Neutrality in 27 EU countries, but made it slightly worse in the Netherlands. (It allows Zero-Rating).


I'd guess that probably works if you attach headphones via the lightening->USB host interface.

USB Audio devices certainly work, and wired keyboards work.


Except you don't need to kill the headphone jack to provide that.


imagine a world where you had dedicated buttons for track forward and back

This is standardized in Bluetooth headphones (although I'm not sure what Apple has done with their new AirBuds or whatever they are called).


AirPods, and as far as I know they don't support direct volume control; they certainly have no buttons, and much has been made of the claim that they only offer volume control via Siri.

On the other hand, a cheap Bluetooth media playback remote works fine, and a decent one can run for months on a coin cell. I've been using one with a variety of Bluetooth earbuds during my commute, since that'a a lot more convenient than digging out my phone when I'm bundled up for winter temperatures. At this point I wouldn't even want wireless earbuds with a wired control. What would be the point?


I don't disagree with your points, though I will say that I control the volume of my AirPods with my Apple Watch if I don't want to dig out my phone. I think Apple generally expects people to have fully consumed their Kool-Aid for their products to not seem wanting for features/functionality. If you have a glorious red mustache like I do, then most of their products work great!


Why do you need a separate bluetooth remote? All my bluetooth headphones (3x bud types from different manufactures and one on-ear set) have remotes built into them.


Because I'm wearing a balaclava, a beanie, a coat hood, and gloves. Poking at tiny buttons on a thing that's in my earhole isn't really on the menu.


>a balaclava, a beanie, a coat hood, and gloves

I think parent asked why the average person needs them, not about why outliers in the arctic circle would.


Every other average woman I see during winter in Poland wears gloves, ear warmers and often also a winter cap. So it's not outliers, at least not in my central-Europe corner of the world.


Now I'm sad about Pebble. Music remote always on my wrist, and I can play/pause/rewind/skip/volume while wearing mittens through two layers of coat sleeves and a long sleeved shirt. Because they put goddamn buttons on it.

Hopefully this thing keeps working until someone else makes a useful smartwatch.


Yeah, but the parent comment takes it over the top, with the balaklava, hat, gloves, etc etc.


Hey, if you're happy to walk three miles on a windy 20°F day in less, then more power to you. I prefer comfort, and five bucks plus a couple of CR2032s a year doesn't seem like that big an ask.


Believe it or not, it gets very cold in Baltimore, too; since I commute by foot and light rail, I find dressing for the weather more necessary than most. Being of subtropical origin, it took me a while to get the knack, and perhaps I overcompensate. On the other hand, my ears are always toasty warm.

Should you have further quibbles to raise, please feel free, although as I'm on my way to work right now it will be some time before I'm able to entertain them.


Sony have a range of what are essentially Bluetooth 3.5mm jack's with some controls and a small display on them. They come with some headphones but will also work with anything else. They're fantastic, my only qualm is that I'm forever losing them!


That only covers the mic/ground pinout, though. As far as the remote buttons working goes, assuming the info in the post is correct, it is Apple not wanting to play fair:

> Additionally, Apple has patents on their TRRS connection- in fact on the resistances (the actual ohm resistance in-line on the controls- not to get scientific or anything) so that the headphones are designed to work only with Apple products


I think a better reason than "not wanting to play fair" is that the Apple implementation preserves the correct operation of the mic even while the remote is being pressed. Apple does it using a custom chip within the remote that superimposes an ultrasonic tone on the mic signal which can be cleanly filtered out, whereas resistor-based signalling works by shorting the mic signal to ground which either mutes or attenuates the mic (depending on the specific button and resistance involved).


Patenting something like that is basically the definition of "not wanting to play fair": to make a compatible device, you have to indulge Apple's rent-seeking. Patents on standards tend to cause more standards to spring up, which overall increases both consumer confusion (wait, is this one compatible with my device?) and costs for manufacturers (either by requiring extra hardware to detect what it's plugged into, or extra SKUs that hurt economies of scale).

I'm certainly not an "all patents are bad" kind of person, but this one is definitely a bad patent that Apple filed for anti-competitive purposes that ends up hurting everyone but them.


I disagree - a simple solution exists, which means you cannot use the mic and a button at the same time. Apple invested time and money to solve this problem in a non-trivial way; it seems perfectly reasonable to me that headset manufacturers wanting to use Apple's solution should pay royalties


I can't believe the time and money they "invested" was at all significant, certainly not enough to justify any non-trivial amount of royalties.

But frankly I just don't care about Apple's costs: I'm far more interested in the broader economic effects of moves like this, and it's clear to me that both consumers and device-ecosystem manufacturers are harmed economically by patents like this.

So who "wins"? Do we grant the monopoly because Apple is oh so clever (they're really not, in this case), and allow Apple to enrich itself at the detriment of others, or do we look out for the greater good? I argue the latter is the correct choice in a civilized society.


>Patenting something like that is basically the definition of "not wanting to play fair": to make a compatible device, you have to indulge Apple's rent-seeking.

Either you don't believe in patents at all, or this is a fair patent. Apple did find that workaround, others had lots of time until's Apple entry to find it, patent it themselves or open it up.


> Either you don't believe in patents at all, or this is a fair patent.

Completely false dichotomy. Patents are there to promote innovation, not to fracture technology choices, make things difficult and confusing for consumers, and disproportionately raise costs for manufacturers. There's a balance to be found between the economic pluses granted to the patent holder and the minuses inflicted on everyone else due to the patent, and in this case I feel the balance is all wrong.


One way to look at this is that Apple used a broken patent system to achieve an unfair result. There is no way an arbitrary assortment of resistances should be patentable.

The fact that someone else could potentially do a bad thing does not absolve you of the responsibility for doing that bad thing.


>There is no way an arbitrary assortment of resistances should be patentable.

Indeed. Which is why they didn't patent an "arbitrary assortment of resistances", but a technique that so happens to include one.


I guess Apple's approach makes sense if one expect someone to want to listen to music while also using the mic to talk to someone. Otherwise the advent of a conversation will preclude the use of the music, and thus any need to use the controls.


When we talk in real life, or on the phone, we don't have to stop listening to the others when we speak. So this isn't about just music, but also voip, conferences (Facetime, Skype, etc).


I very often need to change the volume while speaking to someone, I'm not certain but I think the play/pause button acts as a mute button while in a conversation as well.


Although this far predates Siri and dictation and such, there is are now valid reasons when you want to use the mic and listen to music at the same time.


So one can patent the resistance levels? From the USPO site

> any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,”

https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/general-inform...

I wonder how that specific resistance level meets those requirements when basically any other nearby level would do. It's like patenting spaghettis of a given length or pizzas of a given size.


Actually most Lumias support both standards. Also USB-C devices with alternate mode for analog USB-C-to-3.5mm adaptors must support both standards (because reversing connector swaps these contacts).


The more i learn about USB-C the more i feel that something went badly wrong during its development...


Yes, god forbid they tried to make it as universal and as flexible as possible.


Tried perhaps, but missed the goal massively.

The thing is not reversible in the mechanical sense, it just fakes it by having the various devices argue among each other what way is "up". This so that rather than having two connectors for each wire, there is two full sets of wires.

On top of this OEMs can mix and match speeds, connectors and power delivery as they see fit. So a C port is not guaranteed to deliver 3.1 speeds or support for Power Delivery voltages.

The whole thing is a confused accident waiting to happen.


Amen to that. Fast forward a year or two and many consumers will be more confused than ever.


So that's why my Jolla doesn't work with my old Nokia headphones. I was wondering, considering they were the same engineers.


For the curious or confused by the "when you tap the button it shoots an electrical signal that the phone will pick up and interpret" in the article, the control buttons are implemented as resistors switched across the mic/ground pair. The mic is 1000Ω or higher. The functions resistors are lower. You can see nice diagrams at… http://source.android.com/devices/accessories/headset/plug-h...


Very nice and handy reference! Will give me something to compare against and my Pixel and Amazon headset. Apparently, vol up on the headset triggers the assistant, while all other buttons work as expected. Oddly, the same headset worked flawlessly on a OPO and Nexus 6. And Google hardware support cannot recommend a specific make/model, just one with "an on/off switch for the mic".


Apple didn't patent a "resistance", they implemented a control-chip in their headphones starting from the iPod Shuffle in ~2009, and patented that chip.

Purpose was to ensure a revenue-share from headphones so that every accessory-maker who wanted in-line controls had to pay a license to Apple to use the control-chip.

(the control-chip was meanwhile reverse-engineered and its functionality is now integrated in non-licensed headphones as well)


"ensure a revenue-share"

Such a nice word for such an ugly business practice....


Has this got anything to do with the way inline controls seem to be unreliable in Android?

I got out of the habit of using them as there was only a 50/50 chance of anything happening when pressing a button. Sometimes even when successful it would take a while to take effect. Pressing the button a few times in case it didn't register led to nonsense like it stopping and starting rapidly a few seconds later.

I first noticed this on a Fairphone on 4.2 and just thought it was due to a sluggish phone on an old system, but the problem remained on a Nexus 6 with versions 5 and 6.

Also Android seems to be bad at remembering the last audio app that was open. On iOS, you can listen to something, unplug the headphones, do something, plug them back in, hit the play button and you carry on where you left off. Android not so much - you have to manually open the app for it to work. Although I once had a podcast app and a music app start at the same time.


> On iOS, you can listen to something, unplug the headphones, do something, plug them back in, hit the play button and you carry on where you left off

In my experience, this doesn't work very well anymore on iOS 10


I find Poweramp [1] reliably starts every time I plugin my earphones.

1. http://powerampapp.com/


This is not a fair representation of the situation at all, and also doesn't even hold true.

For example, I recently switched from iPhone to Galaxy S7. My apple earbuds centre button pauses and resumes but the volume controls do nothing. So the problem is not as straightforward as Apple vs Android.


To make things even more complicated, I have a Sony Xperia Z2 which uses a 5 point jack plug TRRRS, as far as I know the extra connection is only used to receive microphone signal from the included noise cancelling headphones.[1] (Since the noise cancelling logic is handled on the phone).

[1] https://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/products/accessories/di...


> In other words- you could have a device with the same TRRS Pinout as apple products- but the headset wont work because the resistances (ohms) of the headphones send signals that your phone is not allowed to interpret into the correct actions (since apple patented these)

Can you seriously patent actual resistances?


Pretty sure Blackberry use the Apple 'standard' as well.


This causes a ton of compatibility problems, and it's worse that a lot of companies don't seem to care and advertise compatibility anyways. I noticed this a while ago when I wrote this review: https://www.amazon.com/review/R2RH78QWKSM5W7/ref=cm_aya_cmt?...


Wow I had no idea this is why Apple headphones don't work on other devices. I was under the impression they did not work because apple devices are 3 pole vs. everything else being 2 pole.


Apple headphones work with other devices. I use the iPhone headphones for videoconferences on my Asus Chromebox, for example.


Everything with a microphone is 3 pole.


Everything discussed in the article is 4-pole, isn't it? L, R, G, Mic?

These days, Apple devices are 8-pin 2-lane lightning, and use separate lanes for audio and control. The Apple EarPods appear to be 7-pole: separate grounds for each signal wire, all as twisted pair. That's pretty cool, as someone who wants earbuds to work well near RFI.


> ...wants earbuds to work well near RFI.

This is the first time I've heard that argument, what RFI are you near that was breaking normal headphones?


> what RFI are you near that was breaking normal headphones?

Mobile phones. The good old br t br t brrr tt br whenever the mobile phone thinks it has low signal and fires at full power and causes interference.

A video demonstrating it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TWXCVbBTcc


That sound has less to do with power level, and more to do with what mode your phone's modem is using.

Specifically, that sound is associated with TDMA-style networks (e.g. 2G GSM), since the transmitter has to rapidly switch on/off, giving other phones a chance to transmit. This induces a series of audible-frequency voltage spikes in nearby cables.

CDMA-style networks (e.g. CdmaOne, 3G GSM, LTE) don't have that problem, since the transmitter is effectively always on while transmitting.

That's why you don't notice that sound very often anymore.


LTE uses OFDMA, which has nothing to do with CDMA (no superposition and coding separation). OFDMA is a combination of frequency and time division: time wise, the allocation unit is a subframe of 1 ms (to be compared with a 2G GSM burst duration of 0.577 ms, so not that far) and frequency wise a subframe is made of "resource blocks" (RBs) of 12 subcarriers of 15 kHz each (so 1 RB = 180 kHz total). What's allocated to a device is a set of RB in a subframe, and this is repeated as needed accross subframes in time.

3G used a 10 ms allocation unit, but with HSPA it's been reduced to 2 ms to become more "TDM-like" (it turns out that in real life code superposition is not so good, better split in time and do less superposition: less interference, less power consumption, better results).

I honestly don't know the source of the 2G noise, but from the above it's not as simple as TDM vs. no TDM, as current 3G and LTE both in practice have a time-based allocation component on roughly similar granularity as 2G. One difference could be the transmission power: 2G can go up to 2W, while LTE is 200 mW maximum so 10 times less. I don't have 3G peak Tx power in mind, but in practice I guess it should be closer to LTE than 2G (interference minimization in a same frequency / reuse 1 network: both LTE and CDMA are reuse 1 deployment, while 2G is not). That will certainly cause a 2G device to have higher power spikes. And I guess the details of the transmit pattern are likely to play a role too.


> That's why you don't notice that sound very often anymore.

Except yesterday. And today. And every second day in my life. Because even my Nexus 5X in a 4G network occasionally sends/receives SMS in GSM mode.


I hear it every day with my 4G Moxee X1 sitting next to my Technics stereo. Anyone downvoting you must not realize this sort of interference is UBIQUITOUS and can be triggered even by someone with loose spark plugs in their engine.


Interesting; I essentially haven't heard that sound in a decade, but then it was ubiquitious. Have we gotten better at designing TVs/stereos/headphones to avoid this? Or have phones changed?

Edit: thanks to sibling comment for explaining.


that's just a 2G idiosyncrasy and went away with 3g and later


Considering I heard it yesterday, while my phone was in 4G mode, I’m pretty damn sure it’s still an issue.


Ground is an "implied pole" as you'd need it for anything, it's just 3 different upstream channels (L,R,mic) feeding into it.


While in practice that may be mostly true, it's not necessarily a fact. Unbalanced microphones can and do exist.


I think GP was referring to the conductors on a standard stereo+mic 3.5mm plug, which of course really has four conductors, but three prominent dividing marks.

These are unbalanced mics. I've never seen balanced mics outside of recording studios.




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