Apple Music's iOS 18 upgrade may include a curious Spatial Audio 'passthrough' feature

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(Image credit: Apple)

Apple is preparing some significant updates to the Apple Music and QuickTime apps, and one of them is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. The update will apparently deliver much smoother audio transitions, and there's also a new and mysterious feature called "passthrough" that appears to be connected to Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio.

That's all according to Appleinsider, who has been speaking to "people familiar with Apple's pre-release operating systems". Those people say that while the reports of Apple going big on AI-powered features in iOS 18 are true, Apple is also working on some other and no less important features for its audio apps.

Crossfade no more: it's time for something smoother

One of the new features is currently called smart song transitions, and it will reportedly be a better version of the crossfade option that fades one track into another. That works by reducing the volume of the track that's playing and fading up the volume of the next track, but with iOS 18 that's going to give you more control. You'll apparently be able to adjust the duration of the fade, with transitions that take from one second to twelve seconds depending on how you set your app preferences. Longer transitions should mean less jarring changes between songs, but don't worry, if you're quite happy with the current crossfade feature, that isn't going anywhere.

The other feature that's piquing everyone's curiosity is called "passthrough", which will only be available on "supported hardware". We don't yet know what that hardware will be, and we don't really know what passthrough will do. But AppleInsider reckons that it's something to do with Spatial Audio, and it'll be in both Apple Music and QuickTime. Apple is also working on audio for "spatial gaming", but that appears to be a longer term project rather than anything we'll see or hear imminently.

Although iOS 18 isn't due for public launch until September, we should get much more detail about the audio improvements in a few weeks: Apple's annual developer event, WWDC, is scheduled for early June. That's when Apple tends to unveil the most interesting bits of its upcoming OS updates, and given the Cupertino giant's new-found enthusiasm for AI, this year's event should be one of the most interesting ones we've seen in years. Apple Music remains one of the best music streaming services out there, but if AppleInsider's report rings true, it could be about to get even better. 

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.