What Google Home means for the audio industry
May 19, 2016
When Mario Queiroz came on stage on Wednesday at Google I/O to introduce the new Google Home speaker, a few things sprang to mind. In his hand it looked quite small for a speaker, especially for one aimed - as the name suggests - at becoming the centre of your connected living. Despite its size, it stands out. If home electronics used to be sitting sheepishly in the background (think routers, DECT phones, photo frames, etc), Google Home, along with the Echo, launched by Amazon last year, represent a new generation of smart devices designed to be proudly displayed, talked about - and talked to.
In my experience the Amazon Echo is an extraordinary product, offering a kind of personal interaction with technology that I never thought possible. Google Home promises all the power of Google search, the depth of content access of Cast and some yet-to-be-explained service integration. I can't wait to try it.
But, however great these products are, to me they cannot replace the breadth of brands and products created by the audio industry, for three reasons:
We, consumers, have strong preferences for our audio systems when it comes to the shape, size, output power configuration, audio fidelity and so on. This has made the audio industry a fertile ground for innovation over the years. In short, we want choice, and not just at technical level, but also (and increasingly) in their design. Audio products can talk about ourselves.
The experience provided by Google or Amazon is faultless, so long as one stays within the boundaries defined by their partnerships. If you want to play Apple Music on Echo you are out of luck. Amazon Prime Music on your Google Home? I don't think so.
For an audio system, audio quality is essential and, although Echo sounds fine (and I imagine Home will be very adequate), audio manufacturers know how to deliver outstanding acoustic experiences based on years of audio design legacy.
Manufacturers who manage to combine great design, acoustic excellence and the latest technology will be ahead of the curve.
Amazon Echo has been a great success, selling over three million devices in the U.S. alone, according to CIRP. Google Home has all the ingredients to become another hit among users. Despite what some people think, this represents great news for audio manufacturers for a number of reasons:
After years of slow growth (with the exception of Bluetooth speakers), home audio is going to become exciting again. Audio devices will come back to the central spot of the main living areas. Manufacturers who manage to combine great design, acoustic excellence and the latest technology will be ahead of the curve.
Device manufacturers can afford to be ecosystem-agnostic, which gives them a larger potential reach than these vertically integrated products.
There are plenty of opportunities to differentiate: design language, acoustic performance, brand values, price points... All of those things have always been true for audio, and will not change with the addition of more complex technology.
Implicit in all this is the idea that Google and Amazon are building these devices as a means to enable a market, rather than to become hardware vendors. The challenge for audio manufacturers is, then, to deliver on the customer promise that their product will offer the same experience as the Google or Amazon version, and will do so for its lifetime. All of this, built around the unique product identity created by the audio brand.
At Frontier Silicon, we have been working with the audio industry for a long time, to make this transition to a new smart age possible, providing solutions that span way beyond a particular wireless chipset or software library. We take care of areas as diverse as software, mobile apps, connectivity - and all the development and manufacturing challenges that come with it. This way our customers, the audio experts, can concentrate on what they do best: creating audio products which are a unique combination of design, performance and emotion.
Head of Product Marketing at Frontier Silicon