Consumers Want More Audio Technologies & Wireless Experiences

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Qualcomm released its 2019 State of Play report at IFA 2019 in Berlin, Germany. The annual report examines 6,000 smartphone users in the US and China (and this year, Germany, India, and Japan) between ages 16 and 64 to determine what they appreciate about audio technology. The additions of Germany, India, and Japan to the survey geography help improve global results about audio technology and its progress.

The State of Play report assesses whether or not consumers like current audio technologies, whether a need in quality audio is supplied or missing, what consumers would like to see in their audio experiences, and so on.

Here's what Qualcomm discovered in the 2019 State of Play report.

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Sound Quality is important for phone audio and smart speakers

Consumers surveyed care about superior sound quality, from using smartphones to smart speakers. 65% of global users say that top-notch audio quality is important to their mobile lives. It's apparent when smartphones have inferior speakers that users find it displeasing. Most consumers love and listen to/stream music on their mobile devices, so this isn't surprising at all.

In the survey, 63% of headphone users, 64% of smart speaker owners, and 78% of soundbar and home theater owners agree. And yet, what may prove surprising to some is that consumers want the very best audio technologies available and are willing to pay higher prices for them.

Half those surveyed prefer Bluetooth wireless audio to wired, jack audio

This may come as a surprise to the headphone jack lovers among us, but the survey also shows that consumers prefer Bluetooth, wireless audio to its wired, jack counterpart. Yep. In this survey of 6,000 consumers, 52% (over 3,000 respondents) said that they want Bluetooth wireless headphones with their next smartphone and 30% said they use Bluetooth wireless devices in their gaming experiences. The trend for Bluetooth, wireless audio over wired, jack audio is rising.

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And this explains why Samsung decided to finally remove the cherished 3.5mm headphone jack from its flagship Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ this year (though quietly without the slightest mention).

When Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 out of "courage" (a facetious claim few take seriously), Samsung waited four years to remove the headphone jack. Perhaps the Korean juggernaut waited to see the upward trend of consumer preference in this area. What the Qualcomm State of Play survey reveals, however, is that Samsung's removal of the headphone jack was done in perfect timing.

Though consumers prefer wireless, Bluetooth audio, they also know the battery limitations that come with the wireless experience — which is why 61% of consumers surveyed want extended battery life this year, a 14% jump from the 47% demand for it last year. Consumers want to be able to have wire-free audio experiences while not having to charge their Bluetooth headset multiple times a day.

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Bluetooth audio vs. jack audio

Some would say that Samsung's timing may be perfect, but the experience for customers "will suffer." That seems to be the claim of many headphone jack fans who hate to see the 3.5mm port go the way of the dinosaur.

And yet, most consumers believe that wireless, Bluetooth audio is comparable to jack audio experiences, so much so that they don't believe the experience will suffer. And yet, most consumers aren't diehard audiophiles with trained ears to know how much better jack audio is than Bluetooth audio (if there is a qualitative difference at all).

With manufacturers removing headphone jacks, it is our hope that they will continue to improve Bluetooth audio over long distances, for example, along with Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to extend battery life. Apple didn't remove its headphone jack out of "courage," but perhaps the consumer trend toward jack-free audio will give manufacturers courage to improve the experience in noticeable ways.

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Consumers want Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) in their upcoming wireless audio experience

If you've ever been in a noisy environment where you couldn't hear a caller or your favorite music, you'll understand this finding from the Qualcomm State of Play 2019 survey. 63% of respondents in Qualcomm's survey want Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) in their audio experience. This makes sense, considering that background noise can interfere with a favorite song or in-ear performance. Headphones from the last few years are starting to incorporate the technology, though many can remember the lack of ANC in headphones from the 1990s and early 2000s.

Artificial Intelligence

Smart speaker adoption is on the rise, and there's one thing driving it: artificial intelligence (AI), what consumers know as voice assistance. Consumers are adjusting to voice assistants on their smartphones and want the same for their Bluetooth, wireless headphones. Having a voice assistant that can perform functions without the need for a consumer to press a button on either their smartphone or Bluetooth headset makes the experience more convenient and effortless.

The demand for AI is no doubt being driven by smart speakers and even smart displays making their way into consumer homes, and that is likely to increase AI adoption on smartphones as well. Making headphones with AI integration would do much to decrease the amount of buttons designed on headsets, leading to more simplistic designs with baked-in functionality.

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Conclusion

Qualcomm's 2019 State of Play report released at IFA 2019 shows that consumers want Bluetooth, wireless audio, extended battery life for their wire-free experience, and audio technologies such as Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and artificial intelligence (AI) for voice command.

The trend for audio is wireless, jack-free, and highly functional. With Qualcomm's new report published, it wouldn't be out of the question if consumers see other Android OEMs abandon jack audio in the months to come.