Innovations in technology are occasionally like buses: you wait for one, and then three come along at once. In this case, the bus is Qualcomm - it's developed new chip platforms for smart assistant speakers and noise-cancelling headphones, alongside its release of "next-generation" amplifier technology.
Let's start with the smart speakers - products like Amazon Echo and Google Home are increasingly popular, and the as-yet unavailable Microsoft Cortana and Apple HomePod will raise the profile yet further.
So Qualcomm has announced a new set of chips - called the Smart Audio Platform - based on the Snapdragon systems-on-chips, optimised for smart speakers.
The Smart Audio Platform is set to support:
- aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth
- High-end wireless codecs including Bluetooth 4.2, Low-Energy and 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- High-resolution audio files like FLAC and ALAC, as well as MP3, AAC, PMC and WAV
- "Premium audio quality" with AllPlay support for multi-room speakers, up to 32-bit/192kHz resolution via smartphones or DLNA media servers
- Support for Amazon Alexa Voice Service and Google Assistant (both of which will be available later this year)
This means audio companies wanting to include smart features in their products won't have to develop the capabilities themselves. They can hand over responsibility to Qualcomm.
Also, with concerns that multiple voice-assistants may hinder integration between products - as Google Assistant might have a capability that Amazon's Alexa may not - a unified chipset standard could better interlink products.
Qualcomm says the Smart Audio Platform is expected to be available Q3 2017, although that's not a firm deadline and could still change.
The company's Snapdragon systems-on-chips could also push the price of noise-cancelling headphones down to around £35, according to Techradar.
The new QCC3XXX chip means noise-cancelling technology can change from being flash-based to a faster ROM (Read Only Memory) -based chip. This brings the price down for manufacturers, who will be able to use Qualcomm’s tech rather than building their own.
Qualcomm’s Anthony Murray said, "Today ambient noise-cancellation is very much a premium-end feature. Now you can actually get ambient noise-cancellation in, you could argue, a $40 dollar price-point headset."
Finally, Qualcomm has introduced its latest DDFA audio amplifier technology, which can "deliver much higher fidelity audio and design flexibility" than traditional Class D amplifiers.
Next-generation DDFA, which will be available on the CSRA6620 chipset, will make its way into wireless speakers, soundbars, and networked audio and headphone amplifiers.
The platform includes a controller with eight channel inputs, two channel outputs, microcontroller and configurable audio processor, providing "lower complexity [and a] more cost effective" product.