Qualcomm launches Smart Audio Platform, dreams of smart assistant speakers for all

Chip maker Qualcomm is banking that the future of Bluetooth speakers will be a smart one. The company has announced that it’s going to launch a new chip platform dedicated to smart, voice-controlled multi-room speakers.

This is big news for owners of smart home kit who also want high-end audio, who up until now have probably been hooking up their Amazon Echo Dot to a top-spec speaker using a 3.5mm audio cable.

The new set of chips, collectively known as the Smart Audio Platform, is based on Qualcomm Snapdragon systems-on-chips (SoCs) that have been repurposed for the ultimate smart speaker experience. That’s the hope, anyway.

Related: Google Home vs Amazon Echo

Before we get to the specifics, let’s explain why this could be big news. Up until now, according to Qualcomm, audio companies that wanted to include smart features – such as voice control, multi-room, app support – would have to eat up years of development time to actually get a product to market. And once the product is out there, it has to be supported with software patches for years after its release.

The Smart Audio Platform, meanwhile, is ready-made and will be supported by Qualcomm for as long as is needed.

The Smart Audio Platform promises the following features

  • High-end processing of high-quality audio
  • Far-field voice recognition for smart speakers, including the ability to cancel out speaker noise when listening for voice commands
  • High-end wireless including Bluetooth 4.2, Low-Energy, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • AllPlay support for multi-room speaker setups
  • Support for MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, AIFF, WAV, PCM and ALAC audio formats
  • Up to 32-bit/192KHz content playback, up to 24-bit over Bluetooth with aptX HD

The company’s senior vice president of Qualcomm’s voice and music decision, Anthony Murray, explained in a press release: “This platform is ideal for traditional speaker manufacturers wanting to make the move to a connected platform as it is designed to bring together all the necessary hardware, software and tools needed to reduce development time. It also offers a great degree of flexibility for those manufacturers who want to push the boundaries when it comes to possible future applications for smart speakers.”

 The chips become available later this year, although you shouldn’t expect any products featuring Smart Audio Platform to come to market until the second half of 2018.

The question now is whether audio companies will want to give up their own custom technology solutions and hand it over to Qualcomm. Many of them already do; Qualcomm already powers lots of wireless speakers with AllPlay, so this probably won’t be a huge leap for most of them.

And what of voice control? Will it support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant? The platform meets the requirements of both assistants, so it which is supported wlil depend on the speaker manufacturer.

A previous version of this article stated Qualcomm didn’t specifically name Alexa or Google Assistant.