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Native FLAC support coming to iOS 11?

  • Consistency – it’s one significant reason for the mobile audiophile to choose an iOS device over an Android equivalent. Apple make the hardware and the software. The user experience (UX) remains (effectively) the same for every iPhone/iPad user. iOS users don’t have to negotiate the additional software layers piled onto Android devices by third party manufacturers and smartphone contract providers. Out of the box, your new iPhone 7 offers the same OS and UI as my new iPhone 7.

    USB audio support from a Lightning-to-USB adaptor is also a (predominantly) consistent experience with iOS devices. Attaching an AudioQuest DragonFly Black or Red to an iPhone or iPad is a cinch. On the other hand, adding that same USB device to an Android device is a crap shoot; USB audio support varies with hardware manufacturer. Your average Samsung Galaxy will dispatch ones and zeroes to the downstream DragonFly but many a Google Nexus/Pixel will not.

    Then there’s Bluetooth audio. iOS offers AAC support to all iPhones and iPads wanting to stream audio over Bluetooth. One need only seek out a pair of Bluetooth headphones that also support AAC to improve on SBC’s rather poor sound quality.

    In other words, AAC gets us off the ground floor when it comes to Bluetooth audio quality. So too does aptX but it remains unsupported by iOS devices and only a handful of Android smartphone manufacturers roll aptX support into their own hardware.

    Another Bluetooth codec is Sony’s super-sounding LDAC. Expect to see it included in more and more Android devices down the line but we’re still a couple of years away from it becoming a de facto standard (of sorts), if at all.

    Also consistently applied by Apple is its refusal thus far to have iOS natively embrace audio sample rates beyond 48kHz and, perhaps most irritating of all, a lack of native FLAC support. Apple might point to its own Apple Lossless (ALAC) format as being iTunes compatible (because FLAC isn’t) but outside of the Apple ecosystem, FLAC is the de facto standard for lossless audio.

    FLACPlayer – and a handful of iOS apps like it – provide another way to listen to FLACs on an iDevice but their alternative file loading procedures, either from deeper within iTunes, via FTP or the iDevice’s web browser, are not as user-friendly as those which native FLAC support, as provided by Apple, could offer.

    Android’s universal friendliness towards drag-and-drop file-loading sees it return fire within the consistency conversation. With greater access to an Android device’s file system, loading and playing a FLAC file is a snap.

    At time of writing, we cannot drag-and-drop a FLAC file into iTunes and have it sync with our iPhone or iPad. It must first be converted to Apple Lossless with a third party app. Many Windows users swear by dbPowerAmp. On MacOS, I use XLD. When time is short, the one-click offlining of Tidal albums keeps me in music but I’d sooner have easier access to my own library of files, all stored as (you guessed it) FLAC.

    However, according to recent reports from Reddit users already running the developer version of iOS 11, announced this week at Apple’s annual WWDC, native FLAC support for iPhones and iPads (and iTunes) could be just around the corner.

    The Verge picks up the story: “Per the Reddit thread, FLAC files can be synced to an iOS device through iCloud Drive, then accessed through the new Files application, which will allow for local playback of the high-quality audio files directly on the device. If true, it would mark the first time that Apple has offered support for the popular FLAC file format on an iOS device.”

    A DAR Facebook commenter has already substantiated this info: “It’s definitely there. I am running the iOS 11 beta, I uploaded FLAC files (in this case, 24/96 5.1) to iCloud, and I can play them by simply opening them in the Files app. You then just play them using built-in functionality (Quicktime Player?).”

    Specifics have yet to come into focus so allow me to pose some speculative questions for readers to tackle in the comments section below:

    1) Does this mean Apple is at last softening its hitherto hardline stance on native FLAC support?

    2) If so, does that mean we will we soon be able to drag and drop FLACs into iTunes and have it play those files as per MP3, AAC and ALAC?

    3) What are the implications of FLAC support for streaming, specifically Apple Music?

    4) Is a Tidal-competing lossless tier just around the corner?

    5) Did someone say “MQA”? Tidal presently store duplicate files for each of their 35million+ tracks: one in FLAC and the other in ALAC for iOS users. Apple picking up FLAC could see Tidal slash their data storage bill down the middle.

    iOS 11 is slated to ship in September. Fingers crossed that FLAC support is included.

    [Source: The Verge]

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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