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CONFIRMED! FLAC support coming to the iPhone (sort of)

Three months ago we asked if iOS would add native FLAC to the iPhone and iPad? With Apple this week announcing the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, we have our answer: yes – kinda.

Eyeballing the audio specifications for the forthcoming iPhone 8 and iPhone X, we see:

“Audio formats supported: AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+)”.

There it is: FLAC support.

We note that the Apple web team have already updated the audio format specifications of the iPhone 7 too:

“Audio formats supported: AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+)”.

FLAC there too.

This suggests that the imminent arrival of iOS 11 will add FLAC support to all iPhones. Not so fast. The iPhone 6 spec sheet reads thusly:

“Audio formats supported: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV”.

Note the loud absence of FLAC but the retention of AIFF and WAV which are now missing from the iPhone 7, 8 and X (and are probably covered by ‘Linear PCM’). 

This disparity might come down to which iPhone/iPad hardware is capable of running iOS’s incoming Files app which promises user access to a more traditional file storage system – presumably one way in which Apple intend to bring the iPad closer to being a bona fide laptop replacement.

However, at time of writing, the iPad Pro specifies no FLAC inclusion:

“Audio formats supported: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV”

The implication for iPhone 8/X users – and iPhone 7 users installing iOS 11 – is that third party apps will no longer be required to pay FLAC files. According to Wikipedia, FLACs will be playable directly from the Files app.

Perhaps FLAC support will be introduced slowly to the iPhone and iPad, potentially paving the path for streaming companies that offer lossless streaming tiers (like Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer) to slowly phase out their own ALAC file support, saving them a fair chunk of data storage costs in the process.

However, more potent than the technical to-and-fro of ifs, buts and maybes, Apple’s decision to include FLAC support for select iPhone/iPad models signifies an important shift in attitude that could introduce the lossless audio (CD quality) conversation to the wo/man in the street; a crucial precursor to convincing him/her of hi-res audio’s worth or up-selling them on better headphones.

iOS 11 will start rolling out to end users from 19th September 2017. That’s next Tuesday.

Further information: Apple

Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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