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The State of Play 2019: What’s next for audio tech

The consumer audio landscape is evolving quickly. Four years ago, the shift toward streaming media changed audio forever. Now, consumers are quick to embrace new technologies as they seek high quality, wire-free audio experiences in 2019. Longer playback times, truly wireless earbud adoption, and Voice UI are all playing major roles in shaping the way people access and enjoy their audio. Throughout this shift toward wireless, demand for ever-better sound quality continues to be the number one desire among audio consumers globally. 

We commissioned the 2019 State of Play Report, our fourth annual study, to dig deep into global consumers’ changing attitudes about audio and how breakthrough technologies are transforming how they connect, communicate, and engage with personal audio devices. This year, we polled 6,000 smartphone users from the U.S., U.K., China, Japan, India, and Germany for their thoughts on the future of audio.

Here’s a summary of what we found:

Sound quality remains crucial

Since we commissioned the first State of Play report in 2016, one insight has endured: Rich, clear audio quality is the number one feature audio consumers desire. This year is no different — sound quality is the top-ranking purchase driver for 65 percent of those surveyed. When it comes to smart speakers specifically, sound quality is even more important than price for many shoppers.

Truly wireless earbuds are exploding in popularity

In the next 12 months, truly wireless headphones are expected to be the most sought-after device in the headphone category. Thanks to improvements in Bluetooth audio and technologies like Qualcomm aptX, there’s been a shift in the perception of wireless sound quality. So much so, that two-thirds of those surveyed this year believe that wireless audio devices deliver equal or better quality sound than wired products. Our 2019 report highlights the consumer purchase drivers for truly wireless earbuds, and takes a look at the exciting features for the future in this space.

There’s high demand for more playback time

Consumers want to enjoy their wireless headphones and speakers for longer periods between charges and it’s easy to understand why: With the wireless freedom to listen to tunes on-the-go, people want to add a soundtrack to their whole day. According to our report, more than 70 percent of all respondents rated extended battery life as an important purchase driver. This was also the first year in State of Play history that battery life expectations have nearly equaled those of sound quality. 

Listener preferences are changing

One of the insights we uncovered is how many consumers around the world use their wireless audio devices for on-device gaming. Thirty percent of smart speaker owners said they use their speakers for gaming, and 34 percent of smartphone owners said they use wireless headphones while they play. This preference of content consumption has implications for the next generation of wireless audio.

We also saw changes in how people are interacting with their smart speakers. In 2018, consumers mostly used them to stream music. In 2019, music streaming became the second most popular use case by 1 percent, while requesting general information was named the top use for smart speakers. This suggests that both use cases are almost equally important to today’s consumers and that they are growing more comfortable interacting with their voice assistants. 

This year’s State of Play report identifies not only how consumers around the world want to experience audio, but also the factors at play when they’re looking to purchase their next wireless headphones or smart speakers — valuable information for manufacturers looking to design their next audio products.

*All percentages, consumer behaviors and attitudes stated in this report are based only on the responses of the individuals who participated in our survey.

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