RIP MP3. Yes, the creators of the MP3 have declared the music format obsolete, closing the lid on the iconic audio files that popularised the iPod
MP3 has been by far the most popular digital audio format since its inception over two decades ago, and now it’s finally being killed off. The format’s developer has announced that it’s terminating the format’s licensing program. Yes, MP3 is officially dead
The actual patent history of MP3 is mired in controversy; many developers across the world claimed patents related to encoding and decoding the format in the past, resulting in a multitude of lawsuits and confusion as to which organisation’s licenses had to be purchased from during the early days of its adoption. However, the Fraunhofer Institute has claimed patents for licensing the format to developers who want to distribute or sell decoders and encoders since 2005, and won legal battles for its ownership as well. The company has now issued a statement it’s discontinuing the popular MP3 music format.
“Although there are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today, MP3 is still very popular amongst consumers,” the statement reads. “However, most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to MP3.”
Of course, most people and developers have already begun moving away from MP3, even if support is still provided for the format. The move, however, is significant as it’s reminiscent of when PC manufacturers first began to standardise CD-ROMs in their computers, as opposed to floppy drives.
Another example is now present in the smartphone and laptop industry, as we see tech companies gradually moving towards USB Type-C over Type-A USB and MicroUSB. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), which was partly developed by the Fraunhofer Institute is today’s new audio standard for most streaming and distribution.
The MP3 Legacy
Of course, though MP3 may be dead, it’s left an inarguable impact on the tech world, and we couldn’t help but feel nostalgic at the news. After it first came out 24 years ago, in 1993, it slowly gained popularity in the later half of that decade. By 1997, with the launch of the Winamp audio player, people were regularly downloading MP3s from various websites offering the service (mostly illegally). That process skyrocketed in usage numbers when Napster (the granddaddy of peer-to-peer torrents we know today) launched in 1999, making it more convenient to download large batches of small audio files ripped from CDs.
Apple also owes the MP3 a lot of its success, the building block of its popular iPods and the iTunes service we know today, as well as the format paving the way for streaming services like Gaana and Spotify.
Unfortunately, MP3 may never see any sort of nostalgic revival like audio cassettes (Thank you for that Guardians of the Galaxy), or vinyls. Aside from being an audio format with no character to speak of, MP3 is also widely looked down on for its low quality. The same lossy compression rates that made the format a hit in the days of early broadband (and a lot of dial-up connections here in India) is highly inferior to other available options, with many critics even saying it enhances the bad audio qualities of instruments while burying their positives.
And yet, we have to say thank you, MP3. Thanks for helping form our early music tastes, for allowing us to share the tunes we cared about with our friends, and for letting us make that first cherished CD with more than a measly 12-15 tracks. It’s been fun, and we owe you so much.