How to play FLAC files on iPhone and iPad in iOS 11

If you're an audiophile who likes to keep your music in FLAC format, it appears you'll be able to play those files on your iPhone or iPad when iOS 11 drops in the fall, thanks to the new Files app and a QuickTime-like player embedded within it.

Apple's Files app is designed to host all your files from different services — like iCloud Drive and Dropbox — in one central location. In order to play your FLAC files, you'll need to save them to one of those services, then open the audio clip in the Files app.

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas (opens in new tab). While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

How to play FLAC files on iPhone and iPad in iOS 11

  1. AirDrop the FLAC file to any device running iOS 11.
  2. Tap Save to iCloud Drive.Note: Though the top entry in AirDrop's menu, Open with... Files, looks tempting, it doesn't actually let you play media files; you have to first save it to a service like iCloud Drive.
  3. Tap the FLAC file to open your track.

Your FLAC audio should begin playing automatically, and you'll be able to access it from the Files app in the future.

To be fair, this isn't true integration with iOS — it's still a pretty roundabout way of playing FLAC files on your iPhone or iPad, and there's no real way to create playlists or import them to the Music app. That said, iOS 11 is still in its earliest developer beta; anything's possible by the time it hits a public release in the Fall.

What do you think?

Will Apple gear up for full FLAC support or is this just a small feature inside the new Files app? Let us know what you think (or what you hope) in the comments below!

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Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

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  • Nice tip! This is bound to make a lot of people happy :)
  • They're like a decade and a half late on this, but good news nonetheless. Shame it's not in the native though.
  • It's possible that we will be able to play FLAC files natively with iOS 11, and it's possible Apple will close this loophole altogether. It's really patent issues that prevent Apple, and some other large companies, from purposefully integrating FLAC, and other files like it in audio and video. Small companies rarely have a problem, but the big ones are wary of being sued.
  • no, there's no patent for the Free Lossless Audio Codec, is non-proprietary and it has an open-source reference implementation so no.
  • iOS has been able to play FLAC and other high-res files for a while, using VLC, Onkyo HF, and other apps. The issue is that the headphone jack will output at most 24/48 audio, so to reproduce most high-res used out there you'll need an external DAC. A simpler solution for people who want high-res audio on the go is a dedicated DAP, like those from Cayin or Fiio. (Granted no testing has shown that humans can tell the difference between CD-quality and high-res audio, and given that Apple knows this, I would not expect to see official support in iOS any time soon.)
  • It's mostly about cross device compatibility. Outside of Apple, practically everything supports FLAC, so this makes it the Dr facto lossless format to use... Lack of support for it in iTunes is, therefore, a problem for these people.
  • "Granted no testing has shown that humans can tell the difference between CD-quality and high-res audio" Well that's a load of ****, millions of people can tell the difference. That's like saying people can't see the difference above 60 FPS in video
  • Blind testing has consistently shown that people cannot tell the difference between CD-quality and high-res audio. The AES has done tests, magazines have done tests, news agencies, independent bloggers. The results are consistent. But if you're enjoying your Pono, more power to you.
  • "Blind testing" There's your answer. There's nothing scientific about this testing. The same kind of testing would show that "generally" people can't distinguish the difference over 60 FPS, but that's not true
  • Naturally, apple is lagging on this basic functionality. Androids? No problem. PCs? No problem. Want to interact with your own server or NAS on an iOS client? Scrreeeeech. 192k aac or less. **** straight I can hear that. Apple is largely responsible for the consumer market momentum around mp3 content. Maybe their lack of integration of flac (real integration, not as a ridiculous chain of syncing and uploading and rube goldberging) is on purpose, to keep their mp3 client market relevant. Maybe I am not seeing something obvious, but apple's ecosystem barriers and roadblocks are infuriating.
  • Well, if nothing else, you've proven you can use scare quotes.