The Portable Audio Festival has just taken place in Japan this weekend, and multiple sources from the show are said to have learned of Apple's plans to start streaming high-resolution audio as part of Apple Music in the new year. The reports suggest 96kHz / 24-bit music streaming, which many headphone manufacturers are said to be preparing for with upcoming models featuring Lightning connectors.
High-resolution audio, whose benefits are at best dubious, can of course be conveyed via the conventional 3.5mm headphone jack, but it appears that Apple and its hardware partners are betting on using the more advanced Lightning port. It allows for headphones with integrated digital-to-analog converters and amplifiers — as we've seen from the Philips Fidelio M2L and Audeze EL-8 Titanium — and is something that Apple has long been rumored to be considering.
The issue with Apple Music — besides its woefully convoluted interface — is that the product being sold is simply not unique. Every major tech company has some sort of music streaming offering; it's the ultimate commoditized product. This is what's prompted Apple to create the Beats 1 radio station and to seek out exclusives to encourage music listeners to come to it first. But Apple's greatest strength has always been in tying down a service and an experience to a hardware purchase — so 2016 may be the year when Apple turns to the Lightning connector and the promise of higher-fidelity audio as the key to attracting and retaining Apple Music users.