• High Resolution Audio Isn't Coming Soon From Apple


    Any day now Apple will flip the switch and offer high resolution downloads. That's what many people have said over the years since Apple first began requesting high resolution material from record labels and artists. The reasons given for this high resolution switch flipping have been countless and reported incestuously (yes, this is the correct word I want to use). Some tech sites will do anything for an attention-grabbing headline, even if it means citing another site who cited a blogger with no credibility. Pretty soon these sites may even cite themselves accidentally by using links that go through a number of URL shortening services. What follows is my opinion, not citing any other site, third party, or anonymous source close to Apple. Some of us have opinions and aren't afraid to share them without hiding behind the veil of "this just in from one of my sources." I could be absolutely wrong, absolutely right, or somewhere in the middle with my reasoning. I know for sure I'll be right or wrong with my conclusion that high resolution audio isn't coming soon from Apple. I'll even go one step further and opine that Apple won't release high resolution downloads for purchase or even a lossless CD quality streaming subscription service in the next three to five years.




    The World's Most Valuable Company Can't Do Everything


    Apple has so much cash in its reserves it could likely attempt to do what ever it wants. As everyone knows attempting to do something is far from delivering a finished product. Apple could attempt to offer high resolution downloads for purchase or subscription streaming without putting a dent in its quarterly financial results. However, here are my seven reasons why the high resolution speculation has been incorrect and why high resolution downloads won't happen in the next three to five years, if ever.



    One. Wireless Carriers Don't Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)

    Apple has a tight relationship with US wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. These wireless carriers would be irate if Apple offered a service that increased the use of bandwidth by a factor of roughly ten for high resolution music downloads or streaming. Even if consumers were willing to pay for much more total throughput per month, the carriers' networks can't handle the increased data for high resolution downloads or even lossless CD quality streaming for as many customers as Apple could enroll. As an AT&T Wireless customer with an unlimited data plan (no longer offered) I receive text messages from AT&T when I've used 5GB of throughput each month saying my download speed will be throttled because I'm in the top 5% of wireless data users. This quasi-data cap is easy to hit when downloading lossless CD quality music let alone high resolution. Other companies such as WiMP and Qobuz can offer this streaming because there is no tight tie to a wireless carrier. Online retailers such as HDtracks can easily offer high resolution downloads because 99% of its customers download music from a home computer using wired Internet access, and the volume isn't nearly as large as Netflix who has recently paid off Internet service providers to stop limiting traffic to its customers. In addition, synchronizing iPhones with computers, if Apple high resolution downloads were offered and purchased via a wired computer, is yesterday's news. The vast majority of iPhone customers never connect the device to a computer, not even for updates, backup, or any other reason. Also, Apple is all about the user experience and seamless integration. There is no way the company would only enable high resolution downloads via WiFi or a wired home computer. Plus, Apple's main customers are iPhone users, as evidenced by the fact that it has sold 500 million iPhones, 200 million iPads, and its Macintosh install base is only 80 million.


    Two. Record Labels Want Control And Revenue Again

    Ever since Apple persuaded the record labels to allow it to sell music for $0.99 per lossy track and roughly $10 per lossy album, the labels gave up control and revenue. Apple has essentially owned the music business. Record labels have one last shot at retaining control and increasing revenue from purchased content. This shot comes from sales of high resolution music. The record labels aren't going to let Apple flip the high resolution switch until they have wrung every penny out of high resolution sales through non-iTunes avenues. If Apple were to offer high resolution downloads it would likely price them near $10-$12 per album and $2 per track. Apple wouldn't shock its customers with majorly increased prices. This low priced and per track purchasing scenario would be déjà vu for the labels. Rather than allowing Apple to sell this content per track and at such a reduced price, the labels are going through online retailers such as HDtracks, Qobuz, and HiResAudio. Prices from these retailers are much closer to $20 or more. It's likely the customers purchasing high resolution right now would have purchased this music from iTunes had it been available for almost half price. Thus, the labels are wringing out every penny while they can. The PonoMusic Store will also be a major bonus for the record labels. I believe the labels will benefit more from high resolution sales through PonoMusic than any other outlet. There is a very harmonious and tight relationship between PonoMusic and the labels.


    Three. Beats

    Apple purchased Beats for its streaming service. Period. Apple is now a streaming company. Period. Apple has needed a lossy streaming service for years. As Steve Jobs said, "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will." Tim Cook should have heeded this advice and started a streaming service earlier, even though it would have cannibalized the iTunes purchasing business. iTunes Radio was a terrible attempt at boosting sales of purchased music. It failed and most people should have known it would fail. The Beats purchase is all about streaming. Apple is going to let its purchase model die a slow death as it attempts to migrate users to Beats. It's a no-brainer for users. Pay $10 per month for 25 million albums or $10 for a single album or $10 for six to ten tracks. Apple will have no trouble migrating users. Apple is a streaming company now. High resolution music doesn't make sense for its business model when considering its move to streaming and its aforementioned relationships with wireless carriers. Apple didn't buy Beats for the hardware. Apple could have created its own headphones by outsourcing the audio design to a great company like Sennheiser and having Jonny Ive design the look and feel of the devices. Apple has talked to well known engineers from high-end audio companies and dangled job opportunities in front of these engineers as well. Apple could have its own headphones and components easily. Apple didn't buy Beats for Jimmy Iovine or Andre Young (Dr. Dre). Dr. Dre doesn't even have a role at Apple. He isn't a company guy who is used to working for somebody. In fact, he said he'd do "as much as it takes" for Apple. Talk about a noncommittal answer and unenforceable agreement. Apple could have hired these guys for far less than $3 Billion dollars. It would also have made more sense for Jimmy and Dre to accept a huge signing bonus and the paycheck from Apple to work for the company, and continued to shop Beats around for a different $3 Billion dollar deal if the two wanted to sell. Or, just hang on to the company and collect from Apple and Beats. Maybe nobody else would have paid $3 Billion for Beats and the other companies rumored to be in the Beats sale discussions wouldn't have been interested without Jimmy and Dre. I don't know the answer to this one. In addition to this Apple purchased Beats for streaming because Beats gives it much needed Cloud credibility. Like it or not, Apple is a failure with its Cloud services and needs credibility. Remember Mobile Me? Steve Jobs admitted this was a failure. Think iCloud is the answer? After three years iCloud Document synchronization still doesn't work. Apple history shows they don't get the Cloud. In fact its Cloud based services thus far run on Microsoft Azure? Thus, Apple purchased Beats for the streaming service and this doesn't lend itself to offering high resolution music downloads or even CD quality streams.
    Note: It's entirely possible Apple purchased Beats to use up $3 Billion dollars. The company's shareholders have been clamoring for years about Apple returning money to them and using some of its huge cash reserve. The Beats acquisition could have been one way to take $3 Billion dollars off the shareholder discussion table. I believe this is a great additional reason for the Beats purchase rather than the sole reason. Apple has to do something with Beats. Apple can't just let it linger because it wanted to spend some money.


    Four. Apple Has The High Resolution Content Only Because It Can

    Apple has asked labels and artists for high resolution content, for its mastered for iTunes program, for several years. The company may have had an idea for high resolution offerings when it started collecting this content. However, I believe it's more likely Apple views it as simply better to have high resolution material in case you want it some day, even if there are no plans to use it. Thus, Apple doesn't have its massive internal library of high resolution content in order to flip the high resolution switch and begin offering this music to customers. A high resolution master in the hand, is worth two still at the record label.


    Five. Apple Isn't A Specs Company

    HTC recently released its new HTC One (M8) mobile phone and has been touting the ability to play 24 bit / 192 kHz music on the device. Apple doesn't care. Apple isn't a specs based company like all the companies selling Android devices. Apple has too many other selling points to worry about specs. Plus, specs aren't related to emotions. Apple sells by appealing to emotions much more than other tech companies. Beautiful looking devices, a genius bar, it just works, sleek looking iOS and OS X, etc… That is what Apple is all about, not touting chip specs as a major selling point. Apple doesn't even have specific model names for its computers other than something like Mac Book Pro retina mid 2012. Even though I'm typing on a Mac Book Pro version 10,1, most consumers will never know their Macs have such a number. How does this relate to high resolution downloads not coming soon? Apple won't increase music resolution to play the specs game if most of its customers don't care. Even if the iPhone 6 supports high resolution playback, this won't be an indication of anything other than Apple did it because Apple can or the chip the iPhone 6 will use likely doesn't come in a standard resolution version.
    Note: Apple certainly offered the upgrade to iTunes content several years ago, moving music from 128 kbps to iTunes Plus 256 kbps. This step wasn't about specs. It was about sound quality audible by a large percentage of Apple users. But due to the size of high resolution music and all the aforementioned reasons, there won't be an iTunes HD upgrade path.


    Six. Not Enough Apple Customers Care

    High resolution music takes longer to download, that's a fact. Switching from 4 MB downloads to 100 MB downloads will impact the user experience for something about which iTunes users don't care enough. The same can be said for lossless CD quality streaming. There can be a delay compared to lossy MP3 quality streaming. High resolution and CD quality lossless streaming is coming to the US already and Apple won't join in because its customers don't care. Its customers won't wait the extra few seconds to load the content. Apple customers may like quality, but the majority doesn’t like taking a step backward in convenience and usability.


    Seven. iTunes Doesn't Support Native Automatic Sample Rate Switching

    The shrinking percentage of mainstream Apple customers who still use iTunes on the desktop, rather than iOS device, wouldn't be happy to learn they purchased high resolution content, but it's being resampled to a different rate because iTunes was locked in to something like 44.1 kHz. Yes, Apple could enable auto sample rate switching, but that would go against its reasons for not offering this feature. Macs need to play all kinds of audio at all times. Apple won't give iTunes exclusive access to USB DAC audio output because it causes confusion with end users when no sound comes out from a different application. Without exclusive access the sample rate could be changed by any app playing any sound at any time. It doesn't appear that Apple wants to make a change to enable auto sample rate switching. This could / would have been done long ago. Resampling everything is just a simple way to do things for Apple.


    Conclusion

    Apple isn't going to flip the high resolution download switch. There are too many reasons why Apple won't offer these downloads, including but not limited to, wireless carrier push back, record label desire for control and revenue once again, and my belief that the Beats acquisition is all about streaming and so is Apple. Sure, some of my seven reasons are weaker than others, but nonetheless there is some validity to each of them. There are also counterpoints to be made to each of my reasons. As a lover of music and sound quality I hope I'm incorrect. However, I stand by my conclusion that Apple won't release high resolution downloads for purchase or even a lossless CD quality streaming subscription service in the next three to five years.













    Comments 148 Comments
    1. goldendarko's Avatar
      goldendarko -
      Interesting article, I've been skeptical of the hi-res move from Apple myself. They can't even get together the iWatch or iTV that have been talked about for years in the rumor mills. I just personally don't think there is enough interest, everyone I talk to about hi-res literally knows nothing about it, only on audio circles like this or Head-Fi is it even really understood, most people could just care less unfortunately and will buy whatever is cheapest, whether it's streaming services like Spotify or cheaper lossy iTunes downloads.
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      Some tech sites will do anything for an attention-grabbing headline, even if it means citing another site who cited a blogger with no credibility.
      This made my day.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
      This made my day.
      I'm happy I made your day Professor Scott :~)
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      I liked the rest of the article, too.
    1. Booster MPS's Avatar
      Booster MPS -
      Chris, thanks for the well thought out article. I think that it is very interesting (maybe telling) that SO many web sites just jumped on this rumor or iTunes providing lossless content. I can't think of one article other than this one that presented any analysis on why this move did not make sense. Too many bloggers/writers/media personnel rush to the alter of Apple when there is any rumor out there trying to be the first to break it or leak it. As you said, your position could be completely wrong but it's good to see somebody choose to swim upstream on this one.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
      I liked the rest of the article, too.
      Thanks.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Booster MPS View Post
      it's good to see somebody choose to swim upstream on this one.
      Thanks Booster.

      Only dead fish swim with the current.
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Some tech sites will do anything for an attention-grabbing headline, even if it means citing another site who cited a blogger with no credibility.
      “The problem with quotes on the internet is that you never know if they’re true. -Abraham Lincoln”

      —@Lecrae, the hip-hop artist and record producer.
    1. garyfrancis100's Avatar
      garyfrancis100 -
      I tunes are thieves, you upload your songs to I tunes match and I tunes say they will find a better copy if yours is not the best quality.If you lose your songs or albums hey presto just download it from icloud.
      Only problem is it comes in low resolution.
      If Apple offered a premium for hi res files for customers who use match, of whom they have songs which they may never have found or new existed.
      At worst they should offer the red book standard that us the public gave to them in the first place when we uploaded to I cloud
    1. Allan F's Avatar
      Allan F -
      Quote Originally Posted by firedog View Post
      “The problem with quotes on the internet is that you never know if they are true." - Abraham Lincoln
      I like it! (LOL)
    1. new_media's Avatar
      new_media -
      Apple is pretty clear on what iTunes Match is and does. They aren't stealing anything from you.
    1. kirkmc's Avatar
      kirkmc -
      I write about iTunes as my day job, and I've been saying this for ages, but I think a lot of audiophiles want this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chris is right when he says:

      Not Enough Apple Customers Care

      But it's not just Apple customers; it's customers everywhere.

      Apple only has high-resolution files because they use them to create Mastered for iTunes files, which, unfortunately, are often not as good as one would like. My sources have long told me that they have no interest in selling high-resolution files, at least in the years to come. It would complicate things on the iTunes Store, and for the end user.

      This said, I do believe we'll see lossless files sold in the near future. They could be sold at a premium, and it would set Apple apart from the big online retailers who only sell compressed files.

      I disagree with one point above:

      Wireless Carriers Don't Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)

      If Apple were to sell lossless files, they probably wouldn't do so for streaming, but only for home use. I would imagine that streaming would still be in 256 kbps, as would iTunes Match. Apple doesn't care about wireless carriers; if they did, they'd never have introduced iTunes Match, or they'd have limited the bit rate. On the contrary, the carriers are actually happy, because most people don't have unlimited data plans, and those who want to stream a lot of music spend more for plans with more data.

      Kirk
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
      I write about iTunes as my day job, and I've been saying this for ages, but I think a lot of audiophiles want this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chris is right when he says:

      Not Enough Apple Customers Care

      But it's not just Apple customers; it's customers everywhere.

      Apple only has high-resolution files because they use them to create Mastered for iTunes files, which, unfortunately, are often not as good as one would like. My sources have long told me that they have no interest in selling high-resolution files, at least in the years to come. It would complicate things on the iTunes Store, and for the end user.

      This said, I do believe we'll see lossless files sold in the near future. They could be sold at a premium, and it would set Apple apart from the big online retailers who only sell compressed files.

      I disagree with one point above:

      Wireless Carriers Don't Want High Resolution Downloads (Or Lossless CD Quality Streaming)

      If Apple were to sell lossless files, they probably wouldn't do so for streaming, but only for home use. I would imagine that streaming would still be in 256 kbps, as would iTunes Match. Apple doesn't care about wireless carriers; if they did, they'd never have introduced iTunes Match, or they'd have limited the bit rate. On the contrary, the carriers are actually happy, because most people don't have unlimited data plans, and those who want to stream a lot of music spend more for plans with more data.

      Kirk
      Hi Kirk - Currently the Apple Podcast iOS app doesn't allow downloads if the file is over 50 MB and the user in using the wireless carrier data network. I listen to Leo Laport frequently but can't download a few of his shows unless I'm on WiFi. I believe this is AT&T working tightly with Apple to not allow this larger use of bandwidth.
    1. bobflood's Avatar
      bobflood -
      Hi Chris,

      I agree with all of your points. When it comes to lossless streaming, I think it was you who said that the founder of MOG said he would have had to charge $30 per month to satisfy the studios. This is pretty much what Qobuz and WiMP get when converted to US dollars. Apple would never do this. The market would be too small, it would have to be limited to home high-speed connections and it would cannibalize Beats. I think they will just leave it to Qobuz, WiMP and a few others until they see real money in doing it. Pono should be doing it on a limited basis to drive purchases from their store. One thing we have to remember is that to the majority of listeners out there, CD quality is hi-res. Great article
    1. monteverdi's Avatar
      monteverdi -
      Chris
      I hope you are wrong but your analysis makes a lot of sense to me. Apple is apparently on its way to becoming a supplier of small phone like devices and its legacy products i.e computers are semi-persisting out of sentimental reasons.
      The distribution of digital files through wireless means has very limiting bandwidth (and for me that is presently my only option). Maybe computers will become a fringe market as analog is now.
    1. AsSiMiLaTeD's Avatar
      AsSiMiLaTeD -
      I doubt you'll see hi-rez files because the vast majority of music is not even available in that format. I highly doubt Apple is going to put money into that market when probably less that 1% of music is even available in that format.

      I do see them doing CD quality lossless files from iTunes though in the near future. That's what I would I'd, position Beats streaming as a convenient and great discovery tool and tie it into iTunes where you can download lossless high quality versions of your favorite albums.
    1. hfvienna's Avatar
      hfvienna -
      Hi Chris
      Your 7 reasons are all very well thought-out, every one of it has a bit of truth in it , and if Apple would be a normal computer/music/mobile company you maybe could have nailed it. But if Apple would be that kind of company they wouldn't have made a lot of things they did, and would not be in the rile they are today . Carries want this , record labels want that. Apple has proven already so many times that they don't spend a lot of times caring about what potential business partners want to save their bucks. The Beats thing is quite a complex matter, but I assume it does not relate to high Definition sound for now as their headphones and streaming quality has proven. Could come later in the reasoning , even bigger is better plays some role here . Which leads us to specs and the technical support in apps. Yes I agree that Apple has never been a spec company, but even so they have to coop with a market that demands bigger and better from time to time . Nobody has really experienced the speed difference between 2.3 and 2.5 Gigahertz CPU , but it plays a role in deciding if it does not cost too much more. Nobody may really hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/96 (if everything else is same !) , but it just feels better to be on save side with some higher resolution. And this is feeling and emotion , and suddenly it makes sense to go for HD even logical it does not.
    1. kirkmc's Avatar
      kirkmc -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Hi Kirk - Currently the Apple Podcast iOS app doesn't allow downloads if the file is over 50 MB and the user in using the wireless carrier data network. I listen to Leo Laport frequently but can't download a few of his shows unless I'm on WiFi. I believe this is AT&T working tightly with Apple to not allow this larger use of bandwidth.
      Yes, and the App Store has a limit as well. I think this is more to protect users from burning up their data than to protect the phone companies. If a user accidentally taps to download a few big podcasts, not knowing their size, and burns up their data limit, they'd be upset with Apple, and it would cost them money. I found a podcast recently that had an episode in AIFF, for about 450 MB. I don't see this often, and this was clearly a mistake by the podcast provider, but it does happen.

      There have been limits like this for a while, and they were increased about a year ago. For apps, it's 100 MB. But you can always stream podcasts, rather than download them. There's no limit on that, as far as I know. (I've never tried with big podcasts, because my phone plan only gives me 500 MB.)

      Kirk
    1. kirkmc's Avatar
      kirkmc -
      Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
      I doubt you'll see hi-rez files because the vast majority of music is not even available in that format. I highly doubt Apple is going to put money into that market when probably less that 1% of music is even available in that format.
      Yep. It's only been a couple of years that Apple has asked for high-resolution files, and not every label provides them. For anything older than that, Apple would have to make a request for older files to be re-submitted in high resolution, and that would take a very long time, and lead to a spotty catalogue.

      However, they do have lossless files (in a huge FLAC library), and those could be exploited.

      Kirk
    1. kirkmc's Avatar
      kirkmc -
      Quote Originally Posted by hfvienna View Post
      Hi Chris
      Your 7 reasons are all very well thought-out, every one of it has a bit of truth in it , and if Apple would be a normal computer/music/mobile company you maybe could have nailed it. But if Apple would be that kind of company they wouldn't have made a lot of things they did, and would not be in the rile they are today . Carries want this , record labels want that. Apple has proven already so many times that they don't spend a lot of times caring about what potential business partners want to save their bucks. The Beats thing is quite a complex matter, but I assume it does not relate to high Definition sound for now as their headphones and streaming quality has proven. Could come later in the reasoning , even bigger is better plays some role here . Which leads us to specs and the technical support in apps. Yes I agree that Apple has never been a spec company, but even so they have to coop with a market that demands bigger and better from time to time . Nobody has really experienced the speed difference between 2.3 and 2.5 Gigahertz CPU , but it plays a role in deciding if it does not cost too much more. Nobody may really hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/96 (if everything else is same !) , but it just feels better to be on save side with some higher resolution. And this is feeling and emotion , and suddenly it makes sense to go for HD even logical it does not.
      Apple used to be a spec company, and they touted the speed of processors for new Macs for years. They still highlight processor speed for all their Macs.

      But around the time that the iPhone started being a substantial part of their revenue - which is also when processor speed stopped mattering for most users, because the speed was more than enough to do most tasks - Apple started highlighting other features.

      Kirk