At the end of Apple’s live event today, in which the ridiculously anticipated iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and the new Apple Watch were all released to ravenous fanfare, U2 came out on a dark red stage to close the show down. The band played the debut single, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” from its new album Songs of Innocence. After the performance, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Bono had an awkward conversation that culminated with two events: the soon to be immortalized “ET” finger touch, and news that Songs of Innocence will go out live to all iTunes users for free.
Teasing the album release before a room full of Cupertino fanboys, Bono and Cook went back and forth for awhile, debating about whether or not Cook could make the album available for all iTunes users in 5 seconds, which he could not; but close enough, it turns out, as the album is now live on iTunes, iTunes Radio, and Beats Music. The two called the launch “the largest album release of all time,” defined by its availability to 500 million+ iTunes users, exclusively, and all for zero dinero. It’s a pretty cool cherry on top of the event — if you’re still into U2 these days.
The U2 performance, and subsequent album release, were nods to Apples re-invigorated focus on music, embodied most poignantly by the company’s recent $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, as well as bringing Beats co-founders Dr. Dre (a hip-hop icon) and music mogul/hit-maker Jimmy Iovine into the Apple fold.
However, missing from today’s big event was any information about audio for the shiny new Apple gear. Music lovers were left in the lurch, without the deployment or even mention of any Beats headphones that might be paired with the new phones, or news of further integration of the streaming service, Beats Music. And perhaps more surprising, we’re still in the dark about whether or not the new phones will finally get on board with the rest of the audio industry and offer support for hi-res audio.
The former points about Beats hardware and software integration aren’t all that surprising — although Apple’s acquisition process for Beats began back in May, the company didn’t even officially welcome Beats “to the family” until August. It may have simply been too short a time span to fold in the newly acquired hardware, if that is even part of the plan.
But the latter point about hi-res audio is a bit more troublesome. Will users who want to play tracks at or above CD quality be relegated to using one of Sony’s new Walkmen, or Neil Young’s forthcoming PonoPlayer for yet another iPhone generation? Perhaps Apple is saving hi-res audio for the inevitable iPhone 6S release? Details are still coming in about the new phones, so we’ll have to wait and find out, but as far as we know, Apple products are still stuck at lower resolution when it comes to music.
For now, at least we can grab a free new U2 album to (eventually) rock out on our shiny new phones — in AAC format, of course.