What's next for headsets?

The cat is out of the bag. There has been a lot of speculation around Apple’s plans to remove the headset jack for the iPhone 7. The recent announcement confirming this will now lead to innovation and new opportunities in the headset market. This will be driven by user’s demand for longer listening and talk time for battery-powered headsets and will require scalable platforms to add new features.

Next generation headsets demand scalable solutions

Audio algorithms and codecs cover both encoding and decoding of audio streams, which usually happens in stages. These stages range from MAC intensive modules, such as filters, to modules where control code is dominant. Hence each of these modules has specific system requirements if they are to be efficiently processed.

While the main use case of headsets is audio processing, the human ear is a great source for body diagnostics, too. For example, dedicated sensors in the ear channel could be used to measure heart rate. Adding more sensors into these Bluetooth enabled devices will demand scalable platforms and drive the requirement for even more energy-efficient SoCs.

The ability to process sensor data, control and DSP code in a power and area optimized processor will be essential to enable innovation and consumer excitement. ARM®’s Cortex®-M processors are well positioned to enable scalable platforms to meet current and future requirements. Their ease of use and simple programmer’s model combined with the binary compatibility across the Cortex-M portfolio allow for scalable and future proof systems.

Low-power ARM IP for headset platforms

Cortex-M4 is the ARM’s mainstream Digital Signal Controller and meets the high-performance requirements needed in these battery-powered devices. The highly efficient processing of control code and sensor data is well known in Cortex-M. However, one of the key features of Cortex-M4 is the addition of DSP extensions into the instruction set. This has a number of advantages:

  1. cost savings  - as it enables the integration of a single core instead of two cores
  2. reduced system complexity - by removing the need for shared memory and reducing software development costs

Hence Cortex-M4 is extensively used in audio applications including keyword spotting for voice-activated devices, audio encoding and decoding for phone calls or music playback. It is supported by a rich set of  voice and audio codecs that have been ported to Cortex-M4 including codecs from Adaptive Digital, Alango Technologies, Fraunhofer IIS, Ittiam and Picustech Software.

To make development of wireless systems even easier, the Cortex-M4 is a great combination with ARM’s sub-1V Cordio® radio IP for Bluetooth low-energy applications.

Watch out for my next blog about more information on the signal processing capabilities of Cortex-M4 and Cortex-M7.

See also: Could removing the headphone jack mark the start of the Bluetooth low energy audio accessories market?

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