As 2015 draws to a close, it is estimated that Apple’s streaming music service, Apple Music, will reach approximately eight million paid subscribers. This places Apple Music comfortably in second place behind its chief rival, Spotify, which claims 75 million active users and 20 million paid subscribers. MIDiA Research, a media and technology analysis organization, estimates that Apple’s number will double in 2016. This is an impressive six-month debut performance for Apple Music, and more evidence that consumers are warming to the notion of buying access rather than ownership.
Now Apple may be planning a hi-rez wrinkle for Apple Music. According to appleinsider.com, the company is developing a new 24 bit, 96 kHz sampling-rate audio format that will leverage the higher fidelity audio-output capabilities of its Lightning ports (pictured), a proprietary computer bus and power connector. Apple would reportedly eliminate the standard 3.5mm mini-stereo port from iOS devices. The source of this information was “several insiders familiar with Apple,” who spoke to macotakara.jp, a Japanese tech blog, at the recent Portable Audio Festival in Tokyo.
Recent history is littered with less-than-successful attempts to deliver high-resolution audio formats to music consumers. There were SACD and DVD-Audio in the 90s, and more recently services like Neil Young’s Pono Music and Jay Z’s Tidal, all of which have failed to gain a significant foothold in the market.
The difference with “Lightning Audio” might be the easy reach of Apple’s music service to over a billion iOS devices, and its licensing control of the key technology components. With its marketing and legal muscle, Apple might be able to pull off this further cultural shift. Major consumer electronics manufacturers like Philips and Harman JBL have already introduced Lightning-enabled headphones.
The question remains: Will mainstream music fans pay a premium for high-resolution sound? The answer in the past has always been a resounding “No.” Convenience has always seemed to trump quality. However, if Apple plans to offer hi-rez audio without charging a premium, the combination of convenience and quality would offer significant added value over other services like Spotify. Perhaps iOS users might soon have inexpensive, easy access to a more satisfying listening experience.