OnQ Blog

Smart Speakers: the latest audio device we can’t live without

How manufacturers can differentiate with the help of our Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform

Sep 27, 2017

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

It’s no secret that smart speakers are fast becoming one of the most desirable audio devices for consumers. We’ve explored the findings from our State of Play 2017 research alongside statistics from National Public Media (NPM), and highlighted some key consumer attitudes that we believe manufacturers need to be aware of. We’ll also explain why our Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform can help overcome the challenges associated with smart speaker development.

Integrating multiple technologies

Some smart speakers can play music and give users the experience of having a personal assistant in the home, by combining traditional wireless speaker capabilities with cloud connectivity, voice interaction, and other advanced features that demand large amounts of processing power. With all this tech in one device, it’s not surprising that our State of Play report revealed that 71 percent of shoppers would be interested in buying a smart speaker. What’s more, research by NPM found they are fast becoming an essential part of users’ everyday lives – so much so that 65 percent of smart speaker owners wouldn’t want to go back to life without one.

For manufacturers, integrating all the technologies necessary to create a smart speaker and delivering a cohesive end-user experience can be complicated. That’s why choosing a platform like ours that includes a unique and optimized combination of processing power, connectivity options, voice user interfaces, and premium audio technologies, may help save time and money.

Sound quality really matters

Aside from including all the core technologies, manufacturers may further differentiate their smart speaker products by offering high-quality audio capabilities. The NPM findings highlighted how smart speakers are encouraging users to listen to more audio at home, with 70 percent of owners agreeing that this is the case. With people listening to more music than ever before, sound quality really matters, and that’s validated by our report in which 78 percent of participants stated that sound quality is a top factor when choosing a new wireless speaker.

Developing and implementing premium digital audio solutions isn’t always easy. Selecting a smart speaker platform that already includes multiple established technologies which are engineered to optimize sound quality — such as Qualcomm aptX audio, designed for high quality Bluetooth streaming, and Qualcomm DDFA digital amplifier technology designed for best in class audio performance — can help simplify this process and ensure great product performance.

Voice control must work in noisy environments

Almost half of the participants in our survey said that having the ability to use voice to control their audio devices would make their life easier, and the NPM research suggests that people use smart speakers to manage their home by controlling things such as lighting, temperature, garden sprinklers, or to entertain their children. It’s important, therefore, that smart speaker voice capabilities will work in a busy home environment, and robust far-field voice capture is an essential feature that manufacturers should support.

To help address this, our smart speaker platform incorporates our high-performance voice software, supporting multi-mic far-field voice input technology. It includes voice activation, beamforming, and echo cancellation technology, and can support “barge-in” and voice capture even in very noisy environments, along with software designed to work with virtual assistants such as Alexa Voice Services and Google Assistant. We’ve even integrated some of our voice capture technologies on our Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform DSP, which is designed to eliminate the need to use an external DSP part and help reduce eBOM when developing these advanced capabilities.

Networking multiple speakers

The ability to network more than one smart speaker is another in-demand feature. More than 40 percent of State of Play participants would like to have several speakers networked around their home, and 45 percent of NPM respondents who already own a smart speaker expect to purchase another. This illustrates the demand for speaker networking, and manufacturers who include networking capabilities in their smart speaker products may drive more sales.

Choosing a smart speaker solution like our Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform, which includes both the Qualcomm AllPlay Smart Media Platform and Google Cast for Audio, can help manufacturers support wireless speaker networking and high-quality whole-home audio more easily.

Future proof with flexibility

The smart speaker ecosystem is evolving very quickly, and there are new voice assistant solutions emerging in different regions. What’s more, consumers want access to music from any source — for example, to wirelessly stream audio from mobile devices, popular music streaming services, or their local network. Selecting a flexible platform that is compatible with these varying and emerging technologies is a good way for manufacturers to help build future-proof smart speaker products.

With this in mind, we’ve engineered the Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform to be highly flexible, with the ability to support different emerging operating systems (such as Android Things), voice assistant solutions and streaming media services.

Demand is growing, consumers have embraced voice control, and it looks like smart speakers are here to stay. We believe manufacturers should be building high quality, comprehensively featured products as fast as possible to help capitalize on this opportunity. Our Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform is designed specifically to support the development process for these devices.

Qualcomm aptX, Qualcomm DDFA, and Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform are products of Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd. Qualcomm AllPlay is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.