Apple Could Be Working On Adaptive Audio Streaming

Promise of higher music quality for desktops, and higher download speeds for mobile devices

Apple is reportedly working on a new “adaptive streaming” technology that could help tailor audio to the speed of the user’s Internet connection.

The format would allow iCloud and iTunes users to get maximum possible sound quality given variations in the available bandwidth and storage space. It could also replace old, lower bitrate records with new, re-mastered versions through the iTunes Match service.

Music to our ears

The new system would adjust the content according to the available bandwidth and the receiving device. An iMac on fibre optic connection would get clear HD sound, while an iPhone on the go would get lower quality tracks that can be downloaded really quickly.

It is unclear if the conversion will take place in real time, or if Apple will convert the master file to several different types upon submission to iTunes, similar to what is happening to videos submitted to YouTube.

Since the third quarter of last year, Apple’s Mastered For iTunes (MFi) program has been “recommending” that third party Apple products should support 24-bit 96kHz audio, which could mean Apple is planning to launch high resolution audio support sometime in the future.

According to Ars Technica, Apple’s current 16-bit 44.1kHz audio format has many drawbacks, and because of the “quirkiness” of AAC compression algorithm, songs purchased on iTunes often sound below CD quality. Vlado Meller, an engineer at Masterdisk, described mastering for iTunes “like polishing your Bentley in total darkness, then turning on the lights to see where you missed.”

Apple could use the new format to upgrade its iTunes Match service, which would allow users to re-download their music from iCloud to their Apple devices in higher quality. “All of a sudden, all your audio from iTunes is in HD rather than AAC. Users wouldn’t have to touch a thing – their library will improve in an instant,” an unnamed source told The Guardian.

Apple has been using variable video streaming for some time. It allows changing the video quality on-the-fly using an undisclosed proprietary algorithm. The format, called HTTP Live streaming, is available on any device running iPhone OS 3.0 or later (including iPad), or any computer with QuickTime X or later installed.

Some have speculated that iTunes might be preparing to offer a streaming service similar to Spotify or in the future. As usual, there was no comment from Apple on the rumours.

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