OnQ Blog

What’s next for low power truly wireless headset and hearables

Jun 29, 2018

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

The OPPO O-Free headset, powered by the QCC3026

In the last 12 months there has been incredible growth in the truly wireless earbud category thanks to innovations in comfort, size, battery life, audio quality, and the inclusion of features including biometric sensors. Our Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo technology was one of the first technologies designed to stream sound over Bluetooth to completely wire-free earbuds, and it helped our customers create an entirely new category of devices. Now with the launch of our latest low-power designed Bluetooth audio SoCs we have made further breakthroughs in supporting power consumption, audio quality, user-experience, and robustness. These new SoCs and technology advancements will help our customers build the next generation of truly wireless earbuds and hearables, and create exciting new user experiences that just a few years ago would not have been possible.

We spoke with Chris Havell, Senior Director Product Marketing at Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd., (QTIL) about the technology innovations driving the growth in this category and the role QTIL plays in it.

What is the meaning of the term "hearable" and how does QTIL support these devices?

The term "hearable" is used to describe an earbud design that performs functions beyond that of just hands-free calling and listening to music. The most obvious example is the use of cloud-based digital assistants where you can simply ask your device a question or give a command, but other examples are the integration of sensors for heart rate measurement or step counting. To help them make a great product for sports and fitness, developers are taking our silicon and putting the sports coach in your ear and increasingly we’ll see this capability paired with artificial intelligence (AI) for even greater possibilities.

We are putting tremendous capabilities in to the hands of our customers and can't wait to see what they create.

Another example is noise management. You can think about this like the noise cancelling headphones many wear on airplanes. Our new QCC5100 series has built-in digital hybrid active noise cancellation (ANC) and a comes with a highly sophisticated tuning tool to help the developer. The QCC5100 series is designed to integrate the necessary hardware for ANC, keyword detection, sensors, and more in to a single SoC that is about 4mm square. The series is designed to provide a quality listening experience that once was reserved for very expensive headsets.

We are putting tremendous capabilities in to the hands of our customers and can't wait to see what they create.

What do you think is the most important feature that will drive consumer adoption of truly wireless earbuds and hearables?

As this category evolves beyond basic use cases to more complex applications, the success of these devices will come down to several factors, including longer life, which is dictated by power consumption, form-factor, and extended functionality. That said, one of the biggest challenges for developers building smaller form factor devices right now is power consumption. Consumers want to be able to use their earbuds all day, when they are at home, on a long international flight, in the office, or out and about without constantly needing to recharge. Our latest Bluetooth SoCs — the flagship QCC5100 series and the entry-level flash QCC3026 — have been engineered to address this need and they support superior power consumption for functions such as voice calls and music streaming.

Just how much can the new Bluetooth SoCs help to reduce power consumption?

The power consumption achieved with the QCC3026 and QCC5100 series is phenomenal compared to our previous technology. For example, our QCC3026, using a 65mAH battery, is designed to support up to 10 hours of music playtime compared to about 3 hours with the previous generation. Talk time is equally impressive. I can’t stress enough how important such significant power saving is for earbuds — these new Bluetooth audio SoCs can help to address one of the biggest complaints around earlier generations of truly wireless earbuds in a significant way.

You’ve addressed the power consumption need, are there any other issues with current truly wireless headsets and how is QTIL addressing those?

Another common complaint is robustness of the connection. We’ve worked hard to enhance the RF performance of our latest SOCs and these improvements combined with data-rate optimization of the Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo connection itself are designed to offer a superior listening experience, helping to support improved overall robustness when making calls and listening to music.

How do QTIL’s solutions help to improve the overall user experience?

We have looked to address the commonly found pain points for the user including playtime, robustness of the connection, support for sensors, and ANC. Our latest solutions combine all of these features and are designed to support a much richer experience for the user. Additionally, we also have solutions for getting the incoming caller's voice into both ears, and for sharing the microphone on each side. That means even if you take one bud out, your call is continually supported without worrying about which is the primary or secondary ear bud. We also continue to prioritize music quality, supporting proven Qualcomm aptX audio over our TrueWireless Stereo technology a feature that you can only find from QTIL.

How much flexibility do customers have to innovate when using these low-power designed Bluetooth SoCS?

These SoCs are engineered to provide powerful processing capability with fully programmable dedicated application processors. The SoCs are designed to provide each customer the freedom and flexibility to build their own unique products, while a new feature-rich ADK (audio development kit) and enhanced development tools help to simplify integration and reduce development time.

How accessible will these next-gen devices supported by Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo be to the average consumer?

Our latest QCC3026 SoC is designed to provide our customers with a solution to help them design feature-rich, Qualcomm TrueWireless headsets more cost-effectively and efficiently. What this means for consumers is that they can benefit from technologies like Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo and aptX in more affordable, truly wireless headsets. By helping our customers develop feature-rich Qualcomm TrueWireless headsets at more accessible price points, we expect the overall ecosystem will expand and drive consumer adoption. In fact, OPPO just announced their new OPPO O-Free wireless stereo earbuds, based on the QCC3026 SoC with Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo, and in some instances included with its flagship OPPO Find X phone built on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform.

We’re helping many of our customers push the boundaries of what’s possible for truly wireless headsets and hearables, and we’re excited to play a part in the evolution of use-cases and devices in this category.

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QCC5100, QCC3026, Qualcomm Snapdragon, Qualcomm aptX and Qualcomm TrueWireless are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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