This is not a news item or a statement of fact…or even rumor. It is my educated guess as to what Apple might be contemplating as the push for “high-resolution audio” continues AND people like Neil Young and others increase the awareness of better sounding audio. This is what I would do if I was involved in the decision making at Apple…as you know I’m not.
On September 9, 2014, Tim Cook will be unveiling the new iPhone 6, the Apple iWatch, and have members of his team in Cupertino demonstrate the exciting new things that Apple will have to offer this fall and into the holiday season (upgrades to the iOS etec). Rather than let others continue to drive the downloadable music market to better quality sources and playback devices, Apple’s CEO will announce that the new iPhone 6 is capable of playing high-resolution files. The hardware will have the ability to play 96 and 192 kHz/24-bit PCM audio in analog stereo through its on board high quality DAC (Qualcomm…perhaps) and digitally via the digital connector at the tail end. Yep, they will begin producing portable music players that will be compatible with all of the files that the labels have been uploading to Cupertino for the past three years and more. Think “Mastered for iTunes”…
The new iTunes HD will handle those files exactly as it handles AAC files at 256 or 320 kbps…only now we won’t be able to store 10,000 songs in our pockets. Users will have to make a choice about the level of quality that they want on their portable iPhone 6 and a corresponding reduction in the number of tunes in the devices. Of course, the normal $.99 lossy compressed tunes will be available as well as ALAC versions but these same tunes will be offered at “Master Quality” at 96 kHz/24-bits (which is more than enough to capture the fidelity that Burbank has in their vaults). The price of individual tunes will rise by $.25 per tune and there will be some sort of logo and indicator “light” that indicates that the files are indeed “High-Resolution”.
But that’s just the beginning. Apple will sell millions of new iPhone 6s to non-audiophiles. Think Pono made a splash with their dedicated yellow 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC player? They’ve presold around 18,000 of them and are currently struggling to complete the design, tooling, testing, and manufacturing of the first batch of Pono music players. Apple will sell 1,000,000 iPhone 6s on the first day after they’re available. Unknowing non-audiophile customers will instantly have a device in their pockets that will perform as well as the Pono device and be able to do so much more. I’ve seen the future with the HTC One M8 Harman Kardon edition phone that Sprint sent me. This will be the new norm…and Apple will run ahead of everyone.
Why? Because with the purchase of Beats and the slow build of a catalog that is actually better than CDs (not quite HD but close enough), they have a “submarine” solution fully formed at the launch. All they have to do is flip a switch and the “HD Audio” area of the iTunes website will go live. The iPhone 6 will “iTunes Match” all of the tunes you’ve already purchased and replace them with the lossless versions at 96 kHz/24-bits (with or without an additional charge). New customers will start hearing their music at levels of fidelity that they’ve never encountered before and begin migrating to higher fidelity.
Remember you heard it here first…but that’s just the beginning. The entire ecosystem for high-resolution music will change the experience at the consuming end. What about the artists, engineers, and producers that are producing new content…will they up their game too? Tune in tomorrow to see more from my crystal ball.