The wireless audio market is well-established with Bluetooth speakers a common feature around the world. This prevalence reflects the growth of music streaming from phones and tablets.
The sector is now seeing a shift towards Wi-Fi enabled devices. This new "smart" generation of wireless audio devices offers several advantages. Whereas Bluetooth speakers are reliant on the smartphone playing the music (if the link is broken, the audio stops), Wi-Fi speakers take their music from the cloud (via a router) - with the phone being used only as a controlling device. This allows the music to continue playing even when the phone is being used for voice calls or moves out of range. The phone's battery is also preserved as it is no longer streaming content to the speaker.
Wi-Fi also offers a superior audio experience - for example, enabling multiroom listening. With the support of major players such as Google and Apple, coupled with a narrowing of the price differential between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices, the Wi-Fi enabled ("smart") sector is expected to see significant growth in the next three years. Industry estimates suggest volumes will rise from 20m units in 2015 to 47m in 2018.
A key development in smart audio is the introduction of Google's Cast for Audio technology. This allows users easily to access on their Wi-Fi audio devices a wide range of online music services (over 150 are available). Frontier Silicon is one of a very small number of technology providers working with Google on this project. Frontier's new Cast-enabled solution, "Minuet", is due for release in mid-2016 - with consumer products expected on retail shelves in Q4.
Audio devices are expected to play an increasingly important role in the smart home. Products such as the Amazon Echo and the recently announced Google Home have the potential to play a central role in people's lives. These speaker devices allow users to access cloud-based music and other online services and control smart home appliances via voice user interface technology. As this sector moves into the mainstream, Frontier expects to play an active role enabling consumer brands to enter this market.