I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Apple again rumored to be working on high-resolution audio

Every so often, this comes up, and is met with two responses:

  1. There’s no point! People can’t hear anything above 16/44!
  2. Finally! I can hear the difference, and I won’t buy anything below 24/192 or DSD or lossless or whatever!

Technically, both are correct.

Benefits of higher-than-16/44 audio sampling are indeed both inaudible in theory and undetectable in controlled testing. Lossless encoding being indistinguishable from well-encoded lossy compression isn’t quite as clear-cut, but it’s close — it’s at least safe to say that most people can’t tell the difference.

But audiophiles buy and swear by tons of products that only offer placebo benefits. Selling snake oil to audiophiles is not only a very profitable business, but one could argue that it isn’t even usually a scam — in most cases, both the sellers and the buyers believe in the benefits being sold. Placebo benefits are real to their observers, and placebo-based demand is still demand.

While audiophiles who demand high-resolution formats are a tiny fraction of all Apple customers, they’re probably a much bigger portion of those who buy a lot of music.

Apple may offer higher-than-16/44 and/or lossless music downloads at some point, but it would be neither a scam nor an indicator that they believe in audiophile pseudoscience — it would simply be a response to strong demand from a very profitable market. And as long as Apple’s not serving their demands, they risk losing them to competing ecosystems.

Too much choice in Apple’s product line?

From Stephen Hackett’s The Supposed Problem of Choice, about Apple’s ever-broadening product line:

All of this adds up to the reality that the Apple that had a simple product line, and made things that all Apple nerds would enjoy, is no longer in business. […]

Ultimately, we have to be okay with that. I don’t think Apple’s widening product portfolio is a problem like it was in the 90s. […]

Not all of Apple’s products are for me anymore, and probably aren’t all for you, either. That’s totally fine, as weird as it may feel sometimes.

For the most part, I agree. It’s not a problem when Apple releases a product, in isolation, that’s not for me — nobody’s forcing me to buy everything they make.

The problem is when the products that aren’t for me negatively affect the ones that are. Apple has limited resources, so boring, older products often get neglected or made worse by decisions made for the younger or more mass-market ones.

And as much as it seems like the product line is more cluttered and expansive than ever, there still isn’t a lot of overlap. For instance, when Apple made the new cylinder Mac Pro even more specialized, limited, and expensive than the previous, more general-purpose tower, nothing replaced the lost roles previously filled by the tower — they either go unserved, or get wedged into nearby products like the cylinder Mac Pro or 5K iMac even if they don’t serve those roles as well (or at all).

Overall, the product line is better than ever, and covers a more broad range of needs than ever, but there have been quite a few casualties along the way. The breadth of the product lineup has been achieved in part by making some of the products serve much narrower roles, sometimes unnecessarily. It’s hard to celebrate every change when your needs fall on the wrong side of one.