When Will Apple Start Selling Lossless Files on the iTunes Store?

Update: I posted this article in January, 2014. Recently, there are new rumors around the possibility that Apple would be selling high-resolution audio files in the iTunes Store. Notwithstanding the fact that high-resolution music is a marketing ploy, I consider it highly unlikely that Apple will sell such files in the near future. This rumor isn’t new; it’s been around since early 2011. Apple requests high-resolution files from record labels in order to correctly create Mastered for iTunes files. Apple’s portable devices simply don’t have enough storage to hold many high-resolution files. However, I do think that Apple will soon begin selling lossless files. Here’s what I wrote a few months ago, with some slight changes to bring the article up to date.

A while ago, I posted an article discussing Why iTunes Doesn’t Support FLAC Files. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, both in comments to the article and in emails, from people wondering when Apple will start selling lossless files on the iTunes Store. (These are music files that are the exact equivalent as music on CDs, and Apple could use the format that they developed, Apple Lossless, to provide this quality.)

I think Apple will eventually do this, but that they’re in no hurry to do so. The quality of the AAC files that Apple sells (at 256 kbps) is certainly “good enough” for most uses. If you do the kind of test I discuss here, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear a difference. And unless you have very good audio equipment, then you most certainly won’t.

Nevertheless, many music fans (though certainly a minority) want lossless music files. And, just as Apple has pushed its “Mastered for iTunes” files – which, interestingly, are not always better quality than regular AAC files – they could use the sale of lossless files as a marketing tool.

If so, I think they would do so in a way similar to the way they sell video. Currently, you can choose between SD and HD videos for most movies and TV shows you get on the iTunes Store (older shows and movies in SD only don’t offer that choice). And, when you choose HD, you can choose from two qualities. As you can see below, you can choose from levels of HD quality.


I can imagine that iTunes would offer the option to download lossless or lossy files, perhaps with a premium for the former, as they do for HD video (though they have to keep the price below that of CDs, which, of course, are lossless and easy to import into an iTunes library). And there would most likely be an upgrade option for music you’ve already purchased, as they did when they moved from 128 kbps files to 256 kbps.

But I also think that you would have the option of downloading lossy files as well, notably to use with iTunes Match on iOS devices. Because lossless files are much larger, using them would fill up an iOS device very quickly. You can convert lossless files to lossy versions when syncing to an iOS device, but if you download music directly onto an iOS device, you don’t have this option.

While the market is small, the marketing value is large; if Apple were to offer lossless files, they’d be the first major music retailer to do so. (Many labels that sell their music directly offer lossless files, but no large music retailer does.) I can foresee Apple doing this in the next year or two, after they’ve worn out the Mastered for iTunes campaign.

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How Much Space Do You Save by Downloading 720p Movies Instead of 1080p Movies?

I’d been wondering about this. My bandwidth is somewhat limited: I have a 50 GB per month limit on my satellite internet, and my DSL is only 2 Mbps. So I had switched iTunes to download 720p movies instead of 1080p. (You can do this in iTunes > Preferences > Store.)

But I saw today that the iTunes Store has the the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in HD for only $30. I don’t have them on disc; I used to have the Blu-Rays, but gave them to my son.

I wanted to buy them, and was curious to see how much difference there is between the two different qualities. Here’s the 720p version:


And here’s the 1080p version:


A difference of 1.4 GB; or about 5% more to get the 1080p versions instead of the 720p versions. And that affects not only your download size, but also the amount of storage you need.

I used to recommend to people to get the 720p versions if they’re strapped for bandwidth or storage; now, it seems like it’s a moot point. I haven’t looked at a lot of movies, but started noticing this recently with other movies I’d bought or rented.

Update: I’ve found out why there is less of a difference. As Ars Technica explained two years ago – wow, it’s been that long? – Apple is using better H.264 compression, meaning that these videos are only compatible with the 2nd generation Apple TV, the iPhone 4, or iPad 2, or later. If you have an older device, you’ll need to grab SD versions. The Ars Technica article says that the 720p videos are compatible with older devices, but the Apple article I link to above says that HD videos are not compatible. I don’t have any older devices to check; of anyone does, feel free to post in the comments to say whether or not the 720p videos will sync.

I only remember noticing the difference in the past few months, but that’s probably because I have a bandwidth cap on my satellite internet; before, I didn’t care.

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Do You “Own” Movies You Buy from the iTunes Store?

Apparently not. In spite of what Apple’s graphics say:



You don’t really own them. Because, as Apple’s terms and conditions say:

You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.

So be aware that, when Apple says you can “own” a movie, it’s not true. This differs from music, which, not having DRM, does not need an Apple ID and password to play. But for movies, TV shows, books and apps, you never really own them; you’ve just paid a price to use them until you die.

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What Happens to Content Purchased from Apple When You Die?


You use your Apple ID for a lot of different things. It’s your email account, if you use iCloud email; it’s your iMessages connection (though you can also use your phone number); and it’s especially the key to any content you’ve bought from Apple. You use it to buy from the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store, the iOS App Store, and the iBookstore.

But what happens to all that content when you die? Since your Apple ID is the key to all of this, if you haven’t given someone the password, then it becomes orphaned. In fact, according to Apple’s terms and conditions:

You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.

This means that, not only do your next of kin not get access to purchases you’ve made from Apple, but also to your email, photos and documents, as long as they’re protected by an Apple ID.

The UK newspaper The Telegraph reports today that “Apple [...] refused to unlock iPad belonging to cancer victim’s son ‘without written permission’ of his late mother”. In this particular case, the son didn’t even want to access his mother’s content, but simply be able to use her iPad. Since Apple’s Activation Lock security prevents you from resetting an iOS device without the Apple ID and password of the current owner, there was no way this person could use the iPad as his own.

Apple does say that “Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted,” and, in this case, it finally deleted the account. But it seems like a very big hassle to go through, and one you might want to avoid.

For this reason, I strongly recommend that you leave your Apple ID password in a safe place for your next of kin, just in case. It could be written down and stored in a safe deposit box, or it could be stored in a password manager, if you have one, as long as your spouse, partner or children know the password to access that app.

I’ve written about The Problem with Apple IDs for Macworld, and this was one of the issues I raised.

Another point to make is that Apple’s terms and conditions make it clear that you do not own any content you purchase from the company, but are only granted access until your death. That’s a much more complicated issue that may, one day, have to be dealt with by the courts.

In any case, make sure you have a spare set of keys – your Apple ID password – in a safe place. Just in case.

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iTunes Tip: Use the Hidden iTunes Store Power Search

Searching the iTunes Store can be difficult. There are many types of content, and you can get hundreds of results for some searches.

The iTunes Store used to have a Power Search link in its page footers. You could choose to search specific types of content, and enter search terms in appropriate fields, such as Artist for music; Author for books; Actor for movies; etc. With iTunes 11, this link disappeared, but there’s still a way to get to it.

This link first opens in your default browser, which redirects the link to the iTunes app and the Power Search interface in the iTunes Store.

iTunes Power Search

As you can see above, when searching for movies, you can limit your searches by Movie Title, Actor, Year, Genre, Rating, and even search only for movies available to rent, or with closed captioning. With music, you can search by Artist, Composer, Song, Album and Genre.

I don’t know whether this Power Search interface will be around for a long time, but if you find searching the iTunes Store to be a chore, try using the iTunes Store Power Search.

Update: Doug Adams shows how to do this with an AppleScript directly from iTunes. His solution is much easier.

Also: Thanks to Marcus who pointed out in the comments that using itms instead of http bypasses the web browser. This makes the search a step quicker.

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Why Do Classical Record Labels Overprice their Wares on the iTunes Store?

There’s one thing I don’t get about classical record labels and digital sales. Here’s an example: The Belcea Quartet’s complete Beethoven string quartets, on Zig-Zag Territoires, a French label.

On the iTunes Store:


And on


What’s the logic behind that? This is just one example of many. To be fair, this is less common with single discs, but the prices of most box sets are much lower on plastic.

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The iTunes Store Becomes Big Business

A recent report from Horace Dedieu of Asymco has highlighted how the iTunes Store has become big business. (When I say “iTunes Store” in this article, I include all of Apple’s digital sales platforms: the iTunes Store, the iOS App Store, the Mac App Store and the iBooks Store.) Apple’s 10-Q form cites the following:

The iTunes Store generated a total of $2.4 billion in net sales during the first quarter of 2014 versus $2.1 billion during the first quarter of 2013. Growth in the iTunes Store, which includes the App Store, the Mac App Store and the iBooks Store, was driven by increases in revenue from App sales reflecting continued growth in the installed base of iOS devices and the expansion in the number of third-party iOS Apps available.

As Dedieu points out, these revenues are Apple’s net, not the gross sales from the iTunes Store, Mac App Store and iBooks Store. The gross, according to Dedieu, is nearly $7 billion per quarter. (I disagree with this number, however; I think Dedieu calculated this on the basis of the $2.4 billion being 30% of the total, and Apple is certainly counting 100% of sales of its own software, unless they’re treating the iTunes Store as a separate business unit.)

Two elements in Didieu’s article are interesting. The first is the rise and fall of different types of content in the iTunes Store. Apps are up 105% in the full year 2013; third-party content nearly 47%; yet music downloads have dropped 14%.

The other takeaway is that the iTunes Store’s gross revenue is about half that of Google’s core business, and that the former’s growth is much stronger than Google’s.


Graphic from

The iTunes Store would be number 130 in the Fortune 500 if it were spun off.

All this is interesting, but it’s incidental to Apple. The main reason for the iTunes Store is to keep users in the Apple ecosystem. I’m sure Apple is delighted to make a couple of billion dollars from the iTunes Store, but they’re happier still to sell boatloads of iPhones, whose users buy content from the iTunes Store. Initially, the iTunes Store wasn’t designed to make a profit, and, for years, Apple wouldn’t cite figures regarding sales in the iTunes Store. (And it’s not clear how much profit Apple actually gets from the iTunes Store.)

Even changing the price of OS X from $20 to free hasn’t harmed the bottom line; on the contrary, it’s another selling point to convince people to buy Macs. If you can be sure that future OS upgrades will be free, you know that you won’t have to shell out several hundred dollars to keep your computer up to date during its lifespan.

No matter what, it’s clear that the iTunes Store is one of the linchpin’s of Apple’s success. The ability to provide a seamless experience for providing media and apps has proven, since the introduction of the iPod in 2001, to be the smartest move Apple has ever made.

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iTunes Store Offering Free Mastered for iTunes Updates of Beatles Music

Apple’s Mastered for iTunes “format” is supposed to provide music as the artist and sound engineer intended. In general, if you have purchased music from the iTunes Store in an older format, you can’t get the newer tracks without buying them again.

However, the iTunes Store is allowing you to do this for tracks by The Beatles.


Go to this page to find out more.

This is an interesting change. However, beware: Mastered for iTunes tracks may not sound as good as you think. Keep your older tracks just in case.

Update: the direct link above doesn’t seem to be working. Try going to The Beatles’ page on the iTunes Store then clicking the link you see here:


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