Apple Reportedly Prepping High-Res Audio For iPhones, iPads - InformationWeek

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12/22/2015
12:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Apple Reportedly Prepping High-Res Audio For iPhones, iPads

Apple may bring higher-quality music streaming to iPhone and iPad owners next year, according to reports. But details are still scant.

10 iPhone, iPad Apps Optimized For iOS 9
10 iPhone, iPad Apps Optimized For iOS 9
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Adding high-resolution streaming to Apple Music is on Apple's to-do list for 2016. The company is working to boost the quality of what it offers to its music customers.

The improved audio quality will be delivered to iPhones, iPads, and iPods Touch, according to a report from Macotakara. Quality may be pushed as high as 96kHz/24-bit, said sources familiar with Apple's plans, but there are limits to what a 3.5-mm headphone jack can do. It is an aged analog connector and tops out at CD-quality sound, or 44kHz/16-bit. If Apple truly wants to surpass CD-quality sound, then it has to move beyond the 3.5-mm headphone jack.

This report adds a new angle to speculation that Apple may nix the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and other products next year in favor of its Lightning connector. The idea sprang up last month. The 3.5-mm plug is a wide, deep connector that takes up precious space inside a mobile device chassis. It also makes waterproofing more difficult. Apple probably isn't alone in wishing the 3.5-mm headphone jack a fond adieu, since it necessitates certain design compromises.

(Image: Mutlu Kurtbas/iStockphoto)

(Image: Mutlu Kurtbas/iStockphoto)

In contrast, Apple's Lightning connector is slimmer, not as deep, and able to deliver up to 192kHz/24-bit sound. (There's no word if it can be made waterproof.) This would easily surpass the CD-quality sound Apple offers now, but adds an entirely new series of issues.

The 3.5-mm jack is a standard used the world over. It is ubiquitous and built into nearly every modern audio product made. Most pairs of headphones are designed with the 3.5-mm jack in mind. Losing the 3.5-mm jack would make Apple's products incompatible with the bulk of existing headphones.

Apple has a long history of not caring for industry standards or compatibility with existing accessories. We need only look at its use of FireWire, the 30-pin connector, Lightning, and other ports it has favored over standards like micro-USB. In other words, it should surprise no one that Apple may ditch a standard connector in order to deliver what it thinks is a superior experience through a design of its own.

[Read Apple's Tim Cook Defends Encryption, Labor Practices in China.]

It's worth pointing out that Apple owns Beats Audio, which makes and sells headphones. This means Apple is equipped to create its own accessories, which it can then pitch as compatible with a higher-quality audio experience through the Lightning connector. (Sony is already trying to do something similar with its Xperia Z5 smartphone and high-end USB-equipped headphones.)

Last, let's not forget that Apple released a Lightning connector audio specification in 2014. Third-party companies such as JBL and Philips have already made Lightning-equipped headphones.

As expected, Apple has neither confirmed nor commented on this series of reports.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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