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Fast Pair and Google Assistant are coming to cheaper headphones thanks to Qualcomm

Qualcomm's new smart headset development kit allows ODMs to easily implement Google Assistant and Smart Pair capabilities.

Published onMay 9, 2019

Qualcomm at CES 2019.

“In our 2018 survey, 79 percent of customers told us they want high-end audio on their devices,” stated Chris Havell, senior director of voice and music product marketing at Qualcomm.

The company invited me to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California for a private briefing to check out some new innovations — ones Qualcomm believes will get high-end Bluetooth features in the hands of more consumers.

According to Havell, 56 percent of users wanted AI and cloud connectivity features, and 78 percent wanted additional features from their headphones. “We expect those numbers to rise pretty dramatically in 2019,” he said.

It makes sense. Now that the headphone jack has all but disappeared from premium smartphones, it’s important for devices to include high-end audio codecs like AptX HD to maintain audio fidelity. For Bluetooth to appropriately replace analog audio, you have to get the listening experience as close as possible.

Was ditching the headphone jack a good idea?

Currently, pairing Bluetooth devices to your phone is nothing short of a drag. Finding the right device in a Bluetooth-heavy world is slow and cumbersome, and switching between devices is even more infuriating. This is a far cry from the headphone jack, which offered analog input — just plug it in and it works.

However, some OEMs have managed to make the Bluetooth experience quite a bit better. Sony secured SoundGuys‘ high rating of 8.9 for the Sony WH-100xM3’s use of high-end audio codecs, fast-pairing capabilities, and the addition of Google Assistant, another feature Havell pointed out was popular among consumers. While these are all features we’d love to see in more affordable headphones, it currently takes quite a bit of R&D to make all these features work.

Qualcomm smart headset development kit top down

Qualcomm is looking to change that with native support for Google Assistant and Fast Pair through its QCC5100-series low-power Bluetooth audio chips. The company has also announced a new development kit that allows ODMs to rapidly prototype Bluetooth headphones, natively supporting features that were previously only found in headphones costing $300 or more.

Qualcomm wants to triple Bluetooth headphone listening time

“Combined with our Smart Headset Platform, this reference design offers flexibility for manufacturers wanting to deliver highly differentiated user experiences that take advantage of the power and popularity of Google cloud-based services,” said Havell.

Qualcomm smart headset reference design

Qualcomm even developed its own reference device to show just how quickly and cheaply these headsets can be prototyped. The headset offers push-to-talk Google Assistant and Fast Pair capabilities, and Qualcomm says it can get 20 hours of continuous playback by including a battery in each earbud.

If you’re looking to pick up one of these development kits yourself, Qualcomm sells them for $299. Qualcomm expects devices created using the development kit to start shipping around Q3 of this year, so be on the lookout for cheaper devices with support for these features.

Have you used a pair of headphones with Fast Pair or Google Assistant support before? These features certainly make for a better experience. If Bluetooth is really the way forward for audio, it’s nice to have some extra features enhancing the experience.

Now read: How to use Google Assistant through your headphones