3 Audio Trends Spotted at the 2017 Mobile World Congress

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The Mobile World Congress (MWC) takes place in Barcelona every year. With over 100,000 exhibitors and visitors, it's by far the most important event in the industry. It also offers a key to understanding the trends of the future—not only in the mobile industry but in relation to how we live our lives. Mobile goes beyond mobile phones and everything you can think of is getting connected. Including some things you might not even imagine. 

Four of us from Dirac were at the conference this year, each with different competencies and somewhat different objectives. Besides the obvious mission to meet customers and partners and identify new business opportunities, we also spent quite a lot of time scoping out the next trends in audio. I can’t say audio is the focus of MWC by any means, but it is one of the two senses we use for mobile communications and it's clearly getting increasing attention. Here are three of the trends that stuck out the most. 

 

1. Virtual and Augmented Reality is still a fresh frontier for audio                                                                                                                    

Virtual and Augmented Reality is still a fresh frontier for audioVR/AR was one of the biggest topics at MWC. Clearly, audio has been neglected in favor of video for the first generation of solutions. The wow effect is still there and people don’t think too much about quality when they’re trying a VR/AR headset for the first time. We heard a handful demos, a few crappy ones that were masked with effects and a few OK ones. Sound from left/right is easy to do but front/top/back requires more advanced technology. Latency, the delay that signal processing causes, is yet another challenge. The industry around VR/AR has not yet consolidated and nobody knows for sure what it will look like three years from now. But it’s likely to be a game changer, opening new opportunities to take a position and many chances to get lost.

 

2. Headphones are going digital and staying there                                                                                                                                              

Apple confirmed this trend by skipping the analog plug in iPhone 7. Instead, headphones are connected via Bluetooth or USB which means that they now have digital interfaces and, to some extent, built-in processing power. This opens up possibilities for digitally compensated headphones, VR audio, noise canceling, augmented hearing, you name it.

 

3. Voice is everywhere                                                                                                                                                                                                  

All sorts of electrically powered devices are getting connected to the cloud. They are voice controlled, and they can speak to you. More and more, you’ll find services like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in your car, home entertainment system, and home appliances. Picking up and interpreting spoken messages is the key to success and we are still far from mimicking what the human ear and brain can do. You need to be able to detect where the person speaking is located, direct the microphones to that position, plus navigate all the background noise. Maybe the person speaking is moving around or there are other people talking, a child is crying, a truck is passing… What an intriguing challenge! 

 

Our minds spinning with impressions, we left Barcelona feeling encouraged. Compared to what else is out there, Dirac is a certainly a technology leader and well positioned to meet the coming demands of the industry (read what Digital Trends wrote about us from MWC).  Our challenge is to catch the right opportunities. 

 

- Erik Rudolphi, General Manager at Dirac Research