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Google picks Harman as its audio technology partner

The idea behind Project Ara is to develop a modular smartphone with up to six different modules that can be clipped together, so the user can add upgrades such as a better camera or speakers without having to buy a new phone.

Harman will create an audio module, and possibly better speakers, for the Ara. The module could take the form of a clip-on headphone amp/DAC, as already found on the LG G5 which comes with an optional Hi-Fi Plus DAC developed in conjunction with Bang & Olusen.

It appears that smartphone manufacturers are at last taking sound quality seriously, with the increasing popularity of higher-quality music downloads and streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz.

“Consumers now understand they don’t have to sacrifice sound [quality] for portablity, and Ara will give them premium audio and the functionality they want on the go,” says Michael Mauser, president of Harman Lifestyle Audio.

As part of the deal between the two tech firms, Harman will also work with Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group (ATAP) on Project Soli. Soli uses radar to enable new types of touchless control, where the human hand becomes a natural, intuitive interface for devices. Car makers such as BMW have already introduced gesture control on some of their in-car multimedia systems such as that on the latest 7 Series.

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Andy Clough

Andy is Global Brand Director of What Hi-Fi? and has been a technology journalist for 30 years. During that time he has covered everything from VHS and Betamax, MiniDisc and DCC to CDi, Laserdisc and 3D TV, and any number of other formats that have come and gone. He loves nothing better than a good old format war. Andy edited several hi-fi and home cinema magazines before relaunching whathifi.com in 2008 and helping turn it into the global success it is today. When not listening to music or watching TV, he spends far too much of his time reading about cars he can't afford to buy.