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AirPods-style auto-switching is coming to Android this year

Google Pixel Buds A-Series
(Image credit: Google)

Google has used the CES 2022 stage to announce plans to spend the next few "weeks and months" enhancing Bluetooth headphone capabilities on Android phones. How? By upgrading its Fast Pair technology to support new features long enjoyed by iPhone and AirPods owners.

Top of the list is auto-switching using supported (but as yet unnamed) headphones to sources that include Android phones, Chromebooks, Android TV and select Windows PCs – a feature Apple rolled out for its AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and some Beats-branded headphones (although sadly not its newest Beats Studio Buds) back in 2020.

Google has promised 13 new software features in total, another of which is support for full head tracking for spatial audio on Android – i.e. adaptive immersive sound based on your head movements. Although basic spatial audio for some music services is already supported right now, the firm isn't prepared to disclose any further details, so precisely which music streaming services, headphones, and versions of Android will get the full head tracking spatial audio experience remains unknown.

As noted by The Verge (opens in new tab), auto-switching and spatial audio are just two of many Fast Pair features Google plans to roll out “in the coming months” or, in a few cases, “in the coming weeks”. In other words, Google will spend the better part of 2022 trying to match Apple’s ecosystem integrations in some areas. Fast Pair is Google’s system for more seamlessly pairing Bluetooth devices together, using a neat little pop-up window instead of requiring users to go through their device's system settings.

Much like Apple’s system, it’s also meant to allow your headphones to pair with multiple devices attached to your account for seamless switching. In both cases, the system is built on top of regular Bluetooth and is intended to make it easier for users to manage their devices – and to create some ecosystem loyalty as a result.

Samsung has its own lock-in ecosystem comprising its Samsung Galaxy devices and headphones (including the Samsung Galaxy S21 and brand-new, more affordable S21 FE, alongside the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Buds Live). And that supports some of the features that Google is hoping to roll out more generally this year. Google’s Fast Pair, however, will be open to more manufacturers.

The rollout may take a little time, but Google does at least say that many features won’t require a full Android OS update.

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Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.