New Homepod, Apple Classical and more hi-res: How 2023 could be a smash-hit year for Apple audio launches
Apple isn’t exactly new to the audio space. The iPod first got MP3 players into a wider audience’s pocket, and the iPhone has been built from the ground up to have music as a central part of the user experience.
Over the years Apple’s weight in the audio arena has become massively influential. Its massive AirPods headphone line of super popular in-ear and over-ear options are everywhere, its Music streaming app is the second-largest in the world with an estimated 85 million subscribers (opens in new tab), and even new Macs from the MacBook Air M2 to the Mac Studio have built-in high-impedance headphone jacks for weirdos like me to listen to our high res music through.
Why, then, was 2022 so disappointing on the audio front?
There have been new headphone launches like the AirPods Pro 2, announcements around new Apple Music features like Apple Music Sing, and the afore-mentioned new Macs catering to music professionals. But it’s less about what did happen, and more about what didn’t happen. The things that Apple promised that have never been delivered. 2022 was a year in Apple audio of ‘come on, Apple’ rather than a year of ‘yes, thank you Apple!’
As the year draws to a close and 2023 looms, it’s time to look back on the highs and lows of 2022 — and the many Apple goodies apparently waiting to serenade our ears over the next 12 months.
2022: the year of not very much
Ok, so what did we actually get from Apple this year? The biggest thing that Apple gave us where the AirPods Pro 2, the latest in the AirPods family.
The buds offer vastly improved noise canceling over the previous model, better find-my functionality, and better touch controls on the stems. It was a nice upgrade, with our Editor in Chief Gerald loving the new noise canceling in his AirPods Pro 2 review.
But they remain the same on the outside, with a very similar design to the outgoing model. Similar enough that if you didn’t tell your friends at football practice that you’ve got the older model and introduced them as the newer model instead, it’s likely they’d believe you.
Apart from that? Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio continue to receive updates, which is fun if you like wearing headphones while you’re watching movies and TV. For music, Spatial Audio remains a strange experiment that leaves a weird taste in my mouth – and outright makes some music sound awful if it’s left on. There are now more Apple Music lossless tracks too, with more of that Hi-res lossless logo to be found on various songs. But support for the highest 24-bit 192 kHz bitrate remains spotty, with most tracks only available in 16-bit 44.1 kHz bitrate which, given Apple’s lofty goals, isn’t really good enough.
Apple’s promised/rumored 2022
This year was supposed to be pretty great for Apple audio. While they were never actually promised, a new large ‘HomePod 2‘ has been on the cards for a while and is still yet to show its face. There are the aforementioned lofty goals of Apple Music lossless that is yet to show any fruit, even though the likes of Tidal and even Amazon Music have far more comprehensive high-res lossless libraries that continue to grow as the services mature.
That’s nothing to be said of the aging AirPods Max, which continue to struggle to justify their large price tags, despite rumors that they would be receiving an upgrade this year.
Then there was the big one that everyone was looking forward to. In late 2021, Apple acquired a new classical music streaming app called PrimePhonic and promptly made the service unavailable on the app store.
Since then, more classical music has become available on Apple Music – but one thing that remains a swirl in Apple’s rumor mill is the arrival of Apple Classical, the dedicated classical music app that’s supposed to replace PrimePhonic.
Maybe we’re never getting it, and instead, PrimePhonic’s library has simply been added to Apple Music’s over the last 13 months. If nothing else, it is weird that we haven’t heard anything about it. Like, at all. It’s also, as with so many other branches of the Apple audio tree that’s been slowly drying out this year, incredibly disappointing.
Looking into 2023: What Apple could do
While this year may have been boring and slightly disappointing, there are lots of exciting things that Apple might introduce in 2023. Rumours and promises that where never fulfilled this year could come to fruition in the next – so let’s see what those are.
We’ve talked a little about it already, but the Apple Classical app could still launch. PrimePhonic had some great features, including the way in which it paid artists and composers through a pay-per-time listened payment model, instead of a pay-per-full song stream like other streaming services.
Given that classical pieces tend to be a lot longer, this model made more sense. Bringing this to a new app, or even building it into the existing Apple Music app, would benefit the musicians involved greatly.
Not only that but PrimePhonic had a search system tailored to the complexities of the classical genre, helping you find precise recordings of pieces by the greatest composers of all time. That’s lost until Apple re-instates the feature somewhere, e that in a new app or within the existing Apple Music service. This has been a long time coming, so hopefully, we’ll see it arrive sometime in 2023.
The HomePod 2:
The original HomePod is starting to get a little long in the tooth now, and some people’s devices are starting to show their age with software issues that somewhat dim the experience. One rumor that’s been floating around for some time is the release of the HomePod 2. We’re not expecting much of a redesign, but the potential for new Siri integrations and better sound quality are potential upgrades to the device.
The HomePod/Apple TV hybrid:
The HomePod does now have the ability to link up to Apple TV to be used as a kind of cylindrical sound bar, with multiple speakers linking up for a surround sound analog. One of the most exciting rumors is the idea of an Apple TV and HomePod hybrid, combining the two into a device that can just slip under a TV and provide both a great Apple TV experience and improved TV sound. We heard about this one late this year, so we think we might see more in 2023.
An AirPods Max refresh:
The AirPods Max have been around for a little while now, and they are well due an upgrade. They are one of Apple’s premium audio devices, and still look the part, but they don’t quite hold up anymore. Competitors from the likes of Sony and Bose have now started to overtake them in some key ways, such as noise canceling and even sound quality. Expect a slight cosmetic redesign, but also hopefully a look at the sound signature and the noise canceling performance. We all know what I want of course — proper support for Apple Hi-res lossless.
What we want most
Ok, so those are what Apple might actually do… but what about the stuff we really want? Our (or in this case, my) Apple audio pipe dreams. Things I think Apple should do to really make them the tippiest top of the audio tree. They’ve got the tools dotted around various products: they just need to capitalize on them.
Steal some of the coolest Spotify’s features:
I’ve already talked, at some length, about the features that Apple needs to nab from its rivals. While it’s better (in my eyes, at least) than Spotify in a range of ways, there are some fun bits that the green circle does better. Apple Music needs more fun gimmicks – think in-app round-ups at the end of the year like Spotify wrapped, or those fun song progress bars that come with big movie releases. I want a lightsaber progress bar when I listen to the Star Wars soundtrack, damn it!
Support for true Apple Lossless in the AirPods line:
So I know that there just isn’t the bandwidth in even the latest Bluetooth version to handle the high bitrates of the hi-res lossless ALACs that Apple Music hi-res lossless uses. Does that excuse the fact that Apple Music can’t pump those codecs down a wire for them to remain unmolested by a DAC in the AirPods Max? No, absolutely not.
With Apple’s most premium headphones I should be able to listen to Apple Music in its best form, even if there aren’t that many tracks that use the highest quality. If we’re truly praying to the audio gods for some more miracles, I’d love to see some audio black magic into getting those bit rates over a wireless signal. Who knows, Bluetooth might have a massive breakthrough next year, or Tim will sacrifice enough tributes for Apple and the dark audio forces to work something out.
Collate all your apps, Apple:
I’ve always thought it weird just how different the audio apps in Apple’s repertoire are. The separation of my library from Apple music in the Apple Music app on my MacBook makes sense in that I can hop over to iTunes and buy tracks, but it feels very disjointed in app. When I click the artist’s name on an album in Apple Music, I am taken to their artist page so that I can see that artist’s page. When I do it in my library, I am — I have to click ‘view in Apple Music’ instead. It doesn’t feel slick and consistent with Apple’s usual attention to detail, with three different ways of doing something depending on where I am in the app.
Podcasts too – it’s a very useful app, but just merge it into Apple Music. It looks too different from Apple Music at the moment to feel like it’s part of a cohesive design language, and when Spotify lets you listen to all kinds of audio in one app, the separation feels weird. Bring it all together, Apple — simplify.
Persuade people to switch over:
A streaming platform lives and dies by its userbase, and Apple Music’s still trails behind Spotify’s. I wondered what feature would make the Spotify faithful switch over? Make an Apple Music subscription much cheaper than Spotify premium? Give users the ability to transfer their playlists across services?
Is it likely we’ll see these features launch over? Perhaps not. Would they be fantastic additions? Absolutely yes, and they may even get some more users across.
The final word
All in all, Apple has some work to do. 2022 has been disappointing from an audio perspective, with empty promises, rumors and little innovation. Sure, a new product in the AirPods Pro 2 — but launches have otherwise been threadbare, and it’s started to feel a little like audio has been mostly ignored by Apple this year.
2023 is a new year, and should bring loads more new features, however. There is plenty of reason to be hopeful — there are loads of new products rumored that Apple may announce, from that HomePod/TV combo to new AirPods Max.
So while 2022 may not have been the year that audio fans have been waiting for, or even expecting, a more robust product line up in 2023 would be music to our ears.
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