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December 15, 2020
2020: The year of active noise-canceling
A blended image of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus vs Jabra Elite 75t true wireless earbuds.

Here’s a super interesting and smart look at one of the big audio trends of the year from our own Lily Katz, the audio editor for Android Authority and editor for SoundGuys as well: active-noise canceling. 

If 2019 went down as the year true wireless earbuds went completely mainstream, with every major brand getting on board, 2020 will go down as the year of mainstream active noise-canceling (ANC) — partly due to Apple’s heavyweight involvement.

While ANC earbuds were around in 2019, the launch of the Apple AirPods Pro in December 2019 took things to the next level, especially when they immediately sold out.

Some quotes:

  • “It wasn’t just the AirPods Pro’s timely release that opened the doors for the golden era of noise cancelation. No, it was also Apple’s marketing too. 
  • “Apple billed the AirPods Pro as an everyday item … before the AirPods Pro, ANC headsets were bought for a specific purpose. They were typically relegated to spaces like airplane cabins or subway platforms. 
  • “Even fellow Android Authority Editor Adam Molina shared that none of his family members asked about noise-canceling headphones prior to the AirPods Pro.”
  • The data lines up, too: according to Future Source, 7% of the headphone industry included ANC tech in 2018. In 2020, that’s now at up 18% and growing fast.
  • Bose, Samsung, Sony, Jabra, and Sennheiser represent the major ANC true wireless players, just as they were for over-ear headphones before this.

Part of the reasoning is down to hardware alone: noise-canceling chips finally got small enough.

  • SoCs like the Qualcomm QCC5126 (Jabra Elite 75t and 85t), BCM 43015 (Samsung Galaxy Buds Live), and the QN1e chip inside the Sony WF-1000XM3 got packed into earbud casings for the first time, something exclusively housed inside wire earbud cables previously.
  • That created more opportunities, and brands like Panasonic have managed to join the ranks of the best noise canceling true wireless earphones in this list curated by SoundGuys, while the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 holds the current top-ranked spot.

In 2021? Expect more because LC3:

  • “The true wireless market growth is outpacing AirPods sales. This means competitors like Sony, Bose, and Samsung have ample opportunity to win over potential AirPods buyers”
  • And, the use of Bluetooth LE Audio with the remarkable LC3 codec is going to be the new technology on the block. It promises the holy grail of new technology: better power-efficiency while improving the quality of sound, and all for wireless headphones.
  • Qualcomm released the QCC514x and QCC304X chips which add features like hardware accelerators for ANC and Bluetooth LE. (Smartphones and laptops with Bluetooth should just need a driver update, not new hardware.)
  • We haven’t heard anything yet, but it would make sense for the likes of Sony to add this chip to its wireless earbud range, such as its likely next release in the Sony WF-1000xM4 (not to be confused with the already available over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4).
  • At some point in 2021, we’d expect Apple to offer an updated AirPods Pro second-generation release, per reliable Bloomberg reporting back in October.

🙇‍♂️ Google partially explained its 45-min long outage: “Today, at 3.47AM PT Google experienced an authentication system outage for approximately 45 minutes due to an internal storage quota issue. Services requiring users to log in experienced high error rates during this period.” Further information after the full post-mortem from Google, presumably (Twitter).

🥇 One of my favorite reads each year: Bloomberg’s 2020 jealousy list, where a bunch of Bloomberg editorial people swallow their pride and acknowledge the best reads of the year …written (or podcasted) by someone else. Such a variety here, probably some you’ll have read through the year. From the earliest warning signs about the virus, to wonderful culture… We covered the legendary DoorDash-Pizza Arbitrage gambit from Margins back in May, and I can’t go past linking the best Simpsons retelling I’ve read about the best Simpsons scene ever (Mel Magazine) which I’d missed until now. Read or listen to everything that sparks your interest here over the holidays and be richer.

👋 Galaxy S21 could finally ditch the Bixby homescreen in favor of Google (Android Authority).

🆕 Nokia 5.4 is now official: For €189, but Europe only is the report (Android Authority).

Amazfit GTS 2e, GTR 2e launched: Cheaper, longer-lasting smartwatches, but the compromises aren’t bad (Android Authority).

🍎 A bunch of Apple news: iOS 14.3 is now out(MacStories), which brings the ProRAW camera feature to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, fixes bugs, adds support for App Clip Codes, and brought out app privacy labels on iOS and Mac (MacRumors). Apple Fitness+ launched as well, and here’s a look from TechCrunch which explains the barrier to entry of the absolutely necessary Apple Watch, that being told “you’re doing great” without knowing makes it a bit odd; still useful. But… “my main hesitation … is that it’s yet another in a seemingly endless pile of monthly fees from the ever-growing subscription economy.”

🗃️ FTC wants to know how TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook use your data: a lot of secret sauce could be spilled here (Android Authority).

📺 Opinion: The streaming wars could finally end in 2021, because everyone’s hooked already, and itching to do something else, like go to the cinema. Hmm! (Wired).

🎶 Also in the streaming wars: TikTok’s app is launching on TVs for the first time, starting with Samsung (Business Insider).

🔋 Zoox’s first autonomous vehicle was unveiled. And it’s called Zoox. The Amazon-backed company’s Zoox is meant to be a robotaxi, and it’s fully driverless with no steering wheel and fully electric. For the autonomous part, it sports six LIDAR pucks on top, and is made for sharing and seems something like a 2020-carriage with no horse, and get up to 75 mph. The 133kWh battery is bigger than other EVs on the market (The Verge). 

Trading domain names as a million-dollar hobby, in three weeks. Even if the $1M portfolio is a guess, it’s a good read (Medium).

💎 ELI5: “If diamonds and other gemstones can be lab-created, and indistinguishable from their naturally mined counterparts, why are we still paying so much for these jewelry stones?” (r/explainlikeimfive)

Chart Tuesday

Google released its Year in Search 2020 recently and this is the best visualization I’ve seen (r/dataisbeautiful) of the top search terms that shows, among other things, just how long a year it’s been:

google search terms top 2020
  •  So many issues came and went. The constants of death, Tesla, and TikTok are somehow not altogether reassuring. Add the lingering unemployment searches and you get a sense for a bad 2020.
  • I found the dropoff in coronavirus symptoms somewhat curious given the state of cases, but maybe people know what they’re getting if they get sick now? I can’t figure that out.
  • And just to reassure you, India vs New Zealand wasn’t about a war or diplomatic standoff, but cricket 🏏!

All the best,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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