This week Google launched their new Chromecast audio and encouraged you to switch to WiFi for your streaming audio. The shift in audio listening habits is real, content is no longer local, and streaming is growing at a huge rate.
So does this mean the end for Bluetooth Audio?
The outlook in home listening is bleak for Bluetooth Audio. With competition in streaming audio services we are being reintroduced to audio quality. Services such as Tidal HiFi and Deezer Elite are driving Lossless and higher fidelity codecs. This is likely to drive a shift from Bluetooth toward WiFi as the primary streaming source at least in the home.
It is not the end of Bluetooth in this category. It is likely that many players will keep a Bluetooth link. The applications will likely shift to setup and configuration. Bluetooth low energy in particular enables simple discovery and app based control. It will be easier to enable others to discover the player and connect using Bluetooth low energy as shown in the new B&W Zeppelin Wireless, which uses an iPhone app for setup. There is also a need for a local remote, and as the recent 4th generation Apple TV teardown shows Bluetooth low energy is a great technology for this application.
The outlook for Bluetooth in personal audio is still strong, but quality has become a challenge that the standard must address. As consumers grow to expect HD audio capability in their streamed content the high-end wireless headphones must also meet the challenge. A number of proprietary codec extensions to Bluetooth streaming standards have emerged, such as aptX (owned by Qualcomm) or Sony LDAC, which offer improved fidelity of the audio content.
There is one further segment where Bluetooth may evolve to meet consumer needs. Recent kickstarter innovations have shown the potential for the reinvention of the Bluetooth headset. Projects like Dash, Dot and Ear-in show a drive for more compact low power wireless earbuds. The success of the projects shows the interest in ditching the wires on the ubiquitous earbud, but the current standard and technology weren’t built with this product in mind, and there will be some serious Engineering work to get these products to the mainstream.
So Bluetooth is facing some challenges. It is being pushed to deliver new audio capabilities of lower power and lower cost at one end while meeting higher quality at the other. The outlook for Bluetooth is still strong, and perhaps in the area that is least visible – Connect and Control. In the Smartphone Bluetooth low energy maintains a unique position offering simple user experience for setup and control, and this could be the reason that means that Bluetooth is deployed in ever more products.
Paul Williamson is general manager of the wireless business unit at ARM. ARM processors are the brains in billions of devices, and now ARM Cordio IP provides the latest low power connectivity to devices. ARM Cordio offers complete fully qualified Bluetooth low energy IP to enable the rapid development of connected devices.