2021 is shaping up to be a transformative year of innovation in consumer audio. As the new year picks up momentum, Qualcomm shares some of the audio trends it is watching.
The next era of truly wireless audio
The adoption of truly wireless earbuds is continuing to ramp up all around the world, and 2021 is bringing new developments that will take this exciting audio technology into the next era.
One such development is the forthcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard. With LE Audio, consumers will not only be able to listen wirelessly, but also share their media with others. This is just one of the ways LE Audio will help evolve Bluetooth wireless experiences.
Another trend is the widespread diversification within the truly wireless earbud category, with consumers of virtually all demographics choosing truly wireless earbuds – and using them for a wide range of activities, and for long periods of wear. This means that alongside robust connectivity for on-the-go use, feature differentiation – such as support for active noise cancellation, ultra-long battery life, and other advanced features – is needed at a range of price points, not just the premium tier.
Gaming has been growing in popularity globally and, in 2021, we expect to see a shift from console to mobile gaming gain momentum and accelerate this strong growth trajectory. What does this mean for consumer audio? Mobile gaming enthusiasts need truly wireless earbuds that can deliver immersive sound and the ultra-low latency connectivity required to support an incredible wire-free gaming experience.
HD music streaming
According to our State of Play report, sound quality remains the ultimate driver for consumer audio products, and streaming is now the primary way consumers access their music. These trends are not new, but what is new is the rapidly increasing demand for high definition (HD) music streaming.
Several streaming services now offer HD music libraries, catering to the growing listener base seeking media with rich, pure sound quality that allows them to hear their music the way the artist intended. For example, high definition can improve the clarity on high-pitched vocals and percussion instruments so that listeners enjoy a more immersive experience across a wider spectrum of recorded sound. To get a true HD experience wirelessly requires audio excellence in the smartphone as well as the consumer’s wireless headphones or truly wireless earbuds. This year we’re expecting to see an increasing demand for mobile and audio accessory devices with end-to-end support for HD audio.
In 2020, millions of people worldwide found themselves suddenly working remotely due to the pandemic. Employees, entrepreneurs, teachers, students, CEOs, developers, doctors, team leaders, volunteers, and creators – virtually all remote workers are taking more voice and video calls than ever before, and this shift seems likely to remain as a way of doing business. Clear sounding, glitch-free intelligible voice quality can support efficient communication on calls, as well as keeping listener fatigue to a minimum. That’s why we think consumers will be looking for audio devices that can help them work as well as play in 2021.
Home audio reboot
In addition to remote working, two further trends are driving a reboot in home audio: 1) investment in audio for entertainment, and 2) smart home adoption.
Entertainment at home has become more important in the past 12 months as people are encouraged to continue staying inside. Many consumers are seeking to take their home cinema, console gaming, or rich listening set-up to the next level. This includes upgrading home audio systems, from soundbars with powerful surround sound to speakers with whole-home music coverage and superior sound quality.
Smart home is another trend that has been on the tech industry radar for several years, and it is gaining traction with consumers. In 2020, our State of Play report found that controlling connected smart home devices had risen to be the 8th most popular smart speaker use case, globally – up from 12th in 2019 – and adoption is highest in the U.S. and China. In 2021, with some households finding multiple family members all home together at the same time, we expect many consumers to own more than one portable or smart speaker. Adoption of other smart devices around the home – such as connected doorbells, lights, and thermostats are likely to increase too, as convenience combined with the necessity of staying at home drives consumer adoption.
Home Wi-Fi has also become more critical with more smart home devices – including networked and cloud-connected audio devices – requiring increased high bandwidth/low latency than ever before.
The expansion of 5G is transforming industries and improving experiences across varied levels. 5G is accelerating the innovation and trends we see in consumer audio, from gaming to streaming to the smart home. Keeping up with the pace of media consumption in this 5G-enabled truly wireless age is compounding the demand for audio devices with ultra-low latency connectivity, improved robustness, and supreme audio quality. Our team is at the forefront, working hard to drive the global scaling of 5G, as we believe everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits.
All of these trends are converging to rapidly accelerate the consumer tech ecosystem, and audio is at the heart of this super-charged evolution. To deliver the crystal clear, consistent, and captivating audio experiences consumers are seeking, we believe device manufacturers will need to take a full-system view.
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