Today's Times has a brief announcement suggesting that very soon there will be a major announcement from Apple. A new music file format. One that cannot be copied. Really?
Just think about that, and wonder if there might be a grain of truth behind a different story.
If there's going to be a new music file format Apple are going to be spending money - in all probability a lot of money. Why? To confound those dratted pirates? Well they might be, but piracy is hardly Apple's problem in that it doesn't really impact their revenues. If anyone takes a hit it's the music labels. This is an area I follow closely and I haven't heard any squawks, neither parrot nor pirate, from the industry for ages. It may all be happening behind the scenes but I don't see any evidence that the industry is trying to get Apple or anyone else to do more to control piracy. I think it's an issue whose time has come and gone.
Would it even work? I remember when labels issued CDs that supposedly couldn't be copied or wouldn't play in a PC. You might also remember the trouble Sony got into for injecting code onto peoples PCs when they played a music CD. As a CD ripping service
we've worried about our business being abruptly curtailed by some techno sleight of hand that rendered our service invalid. There's been nothing so far.
So I don't think Apple are spending money to protect tin pan alley, nor wipeout those of us who are left in this market. But I do expect, and very much hope, Apple are working on something and if it's what I suspect it is, then it would need to be very secure.
High quality digital music that goes beyond CD quality. Specifically 24 bit music.
At the moment whether you rip your own CDs, use an outsourced CD ripper, or buy music from iTunes Music Store (or Amazon or Spotify etc.) you get music that is recorded using a calculation based on 8 bits of data storing each part of sound. If you could make that sound using more data, using 24 bits, then think how much better the sound would be. It would take digital music into a new league of high quality audio. But ....
But one, the files would be huge. The trend over recent years has been to move to much less compressed music as storage costs have fallen. Bigger drives abound in laptops, home PCs, network attached storage and bigger portable devices like the iPod Classic. But haven't Apple just killed the Classic, leaving only the iPod touch and the iPhone as portable devices? They have, and of course some while ago Apple introduced iTunes Match which for a modest cost gave you 256 kbps music stored on Apple's computers and probably streamed to your player over the internet.
Imagine the impact on Apples server farms if they had to hike their hard drives up by a factor of three or four to handle 24 bit music.
Imagine the cost of having to stream from Apple HQ files that are hogging three times as much bandwidth.
But two, where do you get source 24 bit music files? Not from the CDs you buy from Amazon or your local music shop, even if you still have one. Existing CDs are all 8 bit and you can't transfer from 8 to 24. The only place you'd get that high quality music is from the labels who have the original tapes. Remastered you'd then have a source of 24 bit music.
But three, the music industry loves money for old rope. Remember when we went from vinyl LPs to cassette tapes, and how we were expected to buy tiny plastic boxes of music to play in the car or on our Sony Walkmans? Remember when CDs came out, and the industry hoped we'd all be replacing vinyl and cassettes with CDs? All of these were happy days for the labels, tsunamis of cash from the music loving public without the need for anyone to troupe back into the studios to re-record all those millions of tracks we know and love.
The stars are combined in heavenly aspect. Better quality music via 24 bit files is the next big thing. The labels would love another excuse to urge us all to re-buy all that music we know and love.
But four, they'd go ape if they thought there was anyway we could copy that music or use it to create super-CDs to share, and in so doing defeat their revenue hopes. Equally Apple would keep their place at the head of the music quality queue.
However - for this to work for Apple they would ideally want a music file that squared the circle. A format that would be 24 bits in quality, but equal to or ideally even smaller than current iTunes Music Store / Music Match files (8 bit, 256 kbps AAC). I can't see the labels allowing access to their source material without a technological guarantee that the new files couldn't be copied.
So, my conclusion is that Apple will shortly announce a new music file format that is higher quality and more compressed. Maybe they're even talking to the nice folk who made all those DVD / CD drives we used to have in Apple systems. Sony. They have a technology called ATRAC.