Apple has introduced a new specification for its Made For iPhone (MFi) program that will allow manufacturers to create headphones to connect to iOS devices via a Lightning cable in place of the usual 3.5mm headphone jack. Apple has not yet enabled support for the lightning audio cables, but will release a software update in the future to enable the support in devices running iOS 7.1 or later.
9to5Mac reports that the Lightning headphones will be capable of receiving lossless stereo 48 kHz digital audio output from Apple devices and sending mono 48 kHz digital audio input. That means the headphones will also support a microphone for audio input. Apple Headphone Remote controls such as Volume Up/Down, and buttons for playback controls in iOS will also be supported. The headphones can also be made to work with a specific companion app, and launch that app when connected to an iOS device.
Apple says the headphones will be able to draw power from an iOS device, even if the device is asleep. This could eliminate the need for an internal battery in some products. The headphones could also supply power to the iOS device while you listen to music, much like the current Lightning dock does. Headphones will also be capable of receiving firmware updates.
There will be two allowed configurations for Lightning headphones, Standard Lightning Headphones are described by Apple as using minimum components when paired with a digital-to-analog converter supported by the Lightning Headphone Module. It also has an Advanced Lightning Headphones specification that allows digital audio processing features like active noise cancellation and uses a digital signal processor and digital/analog converter.
Lightning headphones could be a way for Apple to further differentiate its iOS devices from those of other manufacturers, and also draw iOS users deeper into the Apple ecosystem.