I’m sure most of you reading this have heard, but Apple announced that Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos are coming to Apple Music in June. They will be made available to artists to enhance their music, but existing tracks will have to be updated to support them. Apple is also bringing lossless audio to their entire Apple Music catalog.
The additional charge to Apple Music subscribers for these new features? A big, fat $0. Considering that other services charge extra for such features, this is big move by Apple, and one that should be quite effective in bringing in new subscribers.
Based on all of the above, today should have been a slam dunk for Apple. Nothing but good news. However, after the initial press release made the rounds and questions began to be asked and answered, a few not so great details surrounding Apple Music’s lossless support came to light.
First off, while Apple’s AirPods, AirPods Pro, and any other wireless buds with an H-series chip are compatible with Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos, they are not capable or playing lossless files. I guess this is understandable since all of these devices depend on Bluetooth wireless connections. Unless Apple is able to make some changes to its Bluetooth audio codec, I doubt the buds will ever be up to this task.
I can understand some disappointment with this news, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable limitation for such small audio devices. Having experienced Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos on both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with compatible streaming video services. I think most Apple earbud users will be very happy with these features once compatible music files become commonplace.
The issue here is the lack of lossless support for the AirPods Max. Actually, the real issues are more complicated than that. For all of the fancy audio processing of the AirPods Max, when used wirelessly, they rely on the same Bluetooth codec as their smaller AirPods cousins. They will have the same limitations for that reason.
The head-scratcher is that the AirPods Max aren’t capable of playing back lossless audio files via the $35 Lightning to headphone jack adapter. You know, the one that you can only get from Apple and that costs that much because it has a built-in DAC? If it won’t work for this purpose, then what IS its purpose?
When I look at this situation, I have flashbacks to Apple falling all over itself by not explaining the potential issues with the new 12.9″ iPad Pros and last year’s Magic Keyboards. All Apple’s marketing “geniuses” had to do was give us the information about what turned out to be a very small potential issue that probably won’t bother many users. They eventually broke down and did this, but not before creating an information vacuum, into which flowed a lot of unnecessary negative press. I was guilty of jumping to conclusions on that one myself, but it’s easy to do when talking about an accessory that costs what a Magic Keyboard does.
Today’s complaints and derisive comments over the AirPods Max’s inability to play Apple’s lossless files via Apple Music is coming from the same place. Here we have another high-end Apple product that with a matching price tag that was released less than a year ago. Similarly, it isn’t compatible with a new feature that many buyers will expect it to work with.
Is it the end of the world that the AirPods Max don’t work with lossless audio? No, it’s not. New features won’t always be available for existing devices, even expensive ones. Apple’s failure here is that they can’t handle their marketing any better than this. After just stepping in it with the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, why do the exact same thing again? If the AirPods Max won’t play lossless audio via the Lightning adapter, then just tell us why that’s the case. If a new cable with a better DAC is in development or a new firmware will be announced at WWDC, then just tell us to stay tuned so we know a solution is coming.
Just like the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, if these product teams and their managers were completely oblivious to each other and couldn’t see this incompatibility coming, then that would be a huge problem. However, I’m almost certain this isn’t the case. I think they knew exactly what the limitations were. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Apple reveals some level of lossless compatibility via a new cable or firmware at WWDC. Apple’s Marketing Dept just self-owned by specifically choosing to not share any of that information.
Frankly, I don’t expect Apple to ever improve in this regard, because they seem to be so insulated from the real world that they never see it coming. Remember the messaging around Apple Maps? Look back at their flip-flopping messaging over Batterygate a few years ago, before they finally came clean. Then we had the crazy expensive wheels for the Mac Pro and stand for the XDR Pro Display that went over like a lead balloon. Ah, who can forget Apple’s defense of its doomed butterfly keyboards. The company has also elevated pissing developers off with stupid and often arbitrary decisions to an art form in recent years. Now you have their two most recent facepalms. It just keeps happening.
Apple usually figures it out and makes things right. That, or it just blows over, as this latest gaffe likely will in a few days. I just don’t understand why Apple can’t figure out how to avoid these stupid mistakes on the front end. It’s very simple. When you know that Apple news that bleeds leads, don’t leave an information vacuum ready and waiting for others to fill for you. There’s no mystery as to what it will be filled with.