At WWDC, Apple raced through its announcements like there was no tomorrow. But one announcement that caught my eye (or ears) was the unveiling of spatial audio for the AirPods Pro.
Spatial audio is nothing new to mobile devices. The issue of good audio has plagued smartphones and tablets which don’t have much room for speaker units, with the audio performance often thin and weedy.
The obvious solution is headphones, but that only gets you into the realms of stereo sound. What if you wanted an experience that replicated watching a film in the cinema? Well piping spatial audio and Dolby Atmos through your headphones gets you closer to the ideal home theatre viewing.
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Let’s be clear that Dolby Atmos for smartphones isn’t true Atmos. You need physical, overhead speakers for that. When you see the Atmos logo, it indicates you can get ‘better sound’ out of your device. Apple’s solution takes this a step further with its use of dynamic head-tracking, directional audio filters and adjustment of where the sound comes from. Apple asserts that with this solution, sound effects can be placed anywhere to produce 5.1, 7.1 and object-based audio (Atmos) soundtracks.
The obvious recipient of this new feature would be Apple TV+. Despite Apple crowing about the Apple TV app being on a billion devices, the number of subscribers is far, far, far less than that, with the service finding itself in the wake of Disney Plus’ surge.
Having the ability to hear the content that’s on the service in a more immersive way might encourage viewers to stick with it by offering them a better audio experience in the home and out.
This being Apple, it’s not always an easy road. Spatial audio only appears to be supported by the AirPods Pro, which cost £249. Again, it’s not true Atmos either, as this sounds more like the Dolby Atmos Height Virtualiser, which simulates object-based audio. Even so, that’s about as good as you can get with a pair of headphones.
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Apple Arcade doesn’t appear to have Atmos enabled for its platform, so you won’t be able to get 3D-sound from games. The elephant in the room suggests that this feature would also be available for other streaming services on iOS, too.
Still, considering the lack of momentum Apple TV+ has encountered, this added value update (if you have the required equipment), might strengthen the relationship between viewer and streaming service. If Apple TV+ is going to grow, Apple needs to offer the user more ways of engaging with what it has to offer, rather than tempt them with licensed content they’ve probably already seen.