Qualcomm’s new chips will give rise to more smart speakers

The reference design will give OEMs a head-start on voice recognition tech.

Mike Blake / Reuters

The smart speaker trend started with Amazon's Echo, and now includes Google Home and Apple HomePod, but it could get a lot more crowded thanks to Qualcomm. It has just unveiled a reference "smart audio" design, including microphone, speaker and voice recognition tech that OEMs can use to build their own products without starting from scratch. What's more, it includes support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so OEMs will be able to add those voice assistants to a wider variety of audio products.

On top of the "smart" aspect of smart audio, Qualcomm is also taking care of the "audio" part. It showed off new DDFA audio amplifier tech and an audio development kit (ADK) that will help companies build wireless Bluetooth speakers, headphones and other products. The aim is to get manufacturers building smarter speakers or headphones "without significantly increasing integration time or cost," Qualcomm's Senior VP Anthony Murray said in a statement.

The tech is powered by Linux and Android Things and includes "far field" multi-microphone technology that allows for wake words like "OK Google," beamforming and echo cancellation. It also includes high-performance Bluetooth and WiFi support, playback of audio codecs like FLAC, MP3 and OggVorbis and support for Qualcomm's AllPlay audio system that lets you network speakers together. As mentioned, it also offers Alexa and Google Assistant support, so companies could theoretically build in one or both of those.

There aren't that many AllPlay speakers out there — Hitachi, Panasonic and Monster are the most notable companies making them — so Qualcomm is no doubt hoping more firms will adopt its chips. The upside for consumers could be a lot of decent quality speakers that you can scatter around your house without spending Sonos or Bose levels of cash. The chips are expected to be available in Q3 2017, with Alexa and Google Assistant support to follow a bit later.