updated 10:18 pm EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Might accompany rumored overhaul of iTunes Store
[Updated with Apple hiring details] Following on the heels of a claim that Apple is planning to "dramatically" overhaul the iTunes music store in the near future, a previous rumor that the company was considering offering "high-resolution" 24-bit music tracks has gained new currency. Apple has been reported to be looking for ways to boost digital music sales, which have seen a slump as users spend more time listening to on-demand streaming services like Spotify. The higher-quality music files would likely be offered in a lossless format.
Blogger Robert Hutton has pointed out that Apple already has all the infrastructure in place to offer high-quality music files, since it has been requiring studios to provide 24-bit uncompressed music masters to use as part of its "Mastered for iTunes" initiative. In addition, the company already has an open-source, lossless format that iTunes supports, called ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) that can handle up to 24bit/96kHz. Unlike most other lossless formats, ALAC can save up to 50 percent in file size compared to an uncompressed file and remain lossless.
Hutton speculates that Apple would charge an additional $1 over the normal price of the track to offer it in the lossless format, potentially helping to offset the roughly 5x increase in bandwidth needed to deliver the larger ALAC files (compared to a typical MP3 or AAC file, which broadly takes one-tenth the size of an uncompressed copy). Citing unnamed sources, Hutton says Apple will time the high-resolution music launch to coincide with the remastering of three Led Zeppelin albums, expected in late spring or early summer.
[Update] Fueling the current wave of speculation about iTunes, Apple has posted four new job listings on its website that reinforce the notion that changes are coming. The company is looking to hire a team of iTunes Software Engineers to "build and enhance features driving the iTunes Store, App Store and the iBookstore"; a Senior Software Engineer for iTunes Radio, and iTunes Recommendations Platform Software Engineer to help handle features related to music discovery, such as iTunes Genius and iTunes Match.
There has been speculation that Apple is planning to move iTunes Radio to its own app for mobile and Mac, and it has been expected that the company will soon announce expansion of the Radio service into additional countries. Dubious rumors have even suggested that Apple might consider building an iTunes app for Android, or create another, more on-demand streaming service to compete against rivals like Spotify and Rdio.