Apple has introduced new specifications for headphones that connect through the Lightning cable input of its iPhones and other iOS devices, according to a report posted on 9to5mac.com.
The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant is in the midst of its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, where it introduced a pair of new operating systems for Mac and iOS devices, boasting a series of new features. Apple did not reply to a request for comment.
Although Apple just bought headphone manufacturer Beats Electronics, the specs are available to any developer as part of Apple’s MFi (Made For iPhone/iPad/iPod) program. They’ll allow for output to headphones of lossless stereo 48 kHz audio, the better-than-CD-quality sampling standard used in most professional audio gear, as well as mono input at the same rate. Rather than using the 3.5 millimeter jack commonly used with portable headphones such as Apple’s white earbuds, these specs are for devices that use the Lightning cable input found at the bottom of more recent models of iPhones, iPods and iPads — the jack typically used to charge the devices.
The move also suggests a deeper synergy between Apple and Beats than was previously known. The newly combined company could be planning new devices that deliver high-quality audio, potentially in a complete ecosystem that includes streaming music, iOS devices, and headphones or speakers. Beats operates streaming service Beats Music, and racked up more than $1 billion in revenue last year on the strength of headphone and portable speaker sales. Adding proprietary headphones to the mix could result in new bundling opportunities, where unlimited access to music can be sold along with any of several devices that work in the Apple ecosystem.
According to the report, the specs also allow development of devices that include external volume controls and other buttons designed for specific functions, and can be used to trigger the launch of a particular app. Since the headphones would be connected through the same jack that’s used for charging a device, it’s possible that either device could be used to deliver stored electricity to the other, or that the two can be connected through a device that charges one or both.
Apple is offering two tiers of specifications — a standard one that uses a digital-to-analog converter, and an “advanced” one that includes digital signal processing and other features including noise cancellation. Support for the new specs is due in a future software update that will work on devices using iOS 7.1 or later. (Apple introduced OS 8 at this week’s event, although its release isn’t expected for a few months.)
Rumors have circulated this spring that Apple is planning to introduce a high-resolution audio product or service eventually, but no such thing materialized at WWDC this week. Mobile devices offering improved digital audio quality have received attention lately, not least with the Kickstarter launch of Neil Young’s Pono, a device that stores and plays back lossless FLAC files.