The start of the new year is a popular time for tech industry pundits to make their predictions and projections. At Packetcraft, we are naturally thinking about what new Bluetooth technologies will emerge this year and how they will manifest in innovative products. I believe 2024 will be a breakout year for new Bluetooth LE Audio technology, a new standard that reinvents Bluetooth audio with higher quality, lower latency, and all new broadcast capability known as Auracast™. Here are five product concepts, enabled by new Bluetooth LE Audio technology, that I believe could come to life in 2024.
1. Bring Your Own Bluetooth (BYOB) Speaker Party
The Bluetooth speaker, a mainstay of college dorm rooms, beach parties, and other social gatherings, has taken many forms over the years, from sleek pill-shaped handhelds to monstrous suitcase-sized boom boxes. Imagine if everyone at the party could connect their Bluetooth speaker to the same music source, forming an ad-hoc synchronized sound system. Certain to be a hit with the younger crowd and the scourge of public open spaces everywhere, The BYOB Speaker Party will be like creating your own music festival without having to worry about details like electrical power, renting a sound system, or obtaining a permit. The more people that show up, the more intense it gets.
The technology behind the party is a new broadcast mode of Bluetooth technology. Also known by it’s trademark name Auracast, this is true broadcast technology enabling an unlimited number of devices within range of a transmitter to receive its stereo audio stream. Soon, I believe, all Bluetooth speakers will come with both broadcast receiver and transmitter capabilities, enabling anyone’s speaker to either be the broadcast DJ or just another speaker receiving the broadcast. We won’t have to wait long-- products have already been announced: JBL’s latest aptly-named PartyBox speaker now comes with Auracast capability.
The Bluetooth Speaker Party is becoming a reality. (Photo courtesy JBL)
Also interesting is that no product ecosystem is required for the BYOB speaker party to become a reality. Speaker makers don’t need to wait for LE Audio or Auracast to arrive in phones since the speakers connect to broadcasts from other speakers. And the speakers themselves will create their own network effect. Once you see your friends connect their speakers up to the party’s sound system, you’ll want to get one too.
2. Voices in Your Hearing-Protected Head
Meanwhile, back at work, many people are trying to protect their eardrums rather than destroy them. Factory workers, heavy equipment operators, the people scurrying around on the airport tarmac-- all are doing their jobs while wearing ear coverings to protect their hearing. Hearing protection is necessary, but it can be inconvenient and even potentially unsafe when you can’t hear a warning or alarm.
That could change if every hearing protection headset could also receive Bluetooth broadcasts. Unlike consumer Bluetooth headsets, these headsets would be specially paired to just receive certain broadcasts, such as announcements over the factory PA system or critical warnings that may be transmitted automatically if a dangerous situation is detected. Since the headsets would only be sporadically active, their battery life could be quite long, perhaps needing a charge once a month. A hearing protection headset could also forego high quality audio to further optimize in favor of longer range, lower power, and lower cost. How low can the cost go? Probably quite low. (Keep reading.)
3. The $6 “Throwaway” Bluetooth Broadcast Headphone
Today, using headphones or earbuds is mainly a solitary experience. Bluetooth Auracast technology is going to change that as TVs, video streamers, tablets, and phones begin to support the technology. Want two people (or three, or ten) to watch a movie on your tablet while listening on headphones? Done. Want your kid and her six friends to watch the latest insipid talking animal movie in silence while listening on headphones? Not going to be a problem. Want to ruin your teenager’s life by forcing them to have a “silent disco” headphone party instead of a BYOB speaker party? It’s your call.
With Bluetooth broadcast so compelling and soon to be so accessible, the tech industry will inevitably move quickly to the next step: Making it dirt cheap. In a world where we already have $10 earbuds, the $6 throwaway Bluetooth broadcast headphone is not far off. Powered by a 50 cent Bluetooth chip, thisheadphone is designed for mediocre audio quality and a barebones feature set. But it doesn’t matter, because for only $15.99 for a three-pack everyone is going to buy them—and in a few months they’ll be lost or broken anyways. I’m not advocating for disposable, just predicting the market demand.
4. The AirMic
You hold a sleek, smooth, plastic oval charging case in your hand. Opening it you reveal not a pair of earbuds but a pair of tiny earbud-size wireless microphones. Clip one on yourself and one on the person you’re talking to, and two high quality low-latency audio links connect directly to your phone. The AirMic could finally level-up a phone’s audio recording quality to match its video recording quality. It could be the new must-have accessory for everyone from serious videographers to the TikTok crowd.
Bluetooth LE Audio enables wireless mics by creating standard interoperable technology for high quality audio with consistent timing and low latency. Audio from the two mics presents no perceptible delay relative to the video, and the two mic audio streams are also synchronized with each other.
Will Apple create the AirMic? It’s impossible to know. For now, this AirMic concept is pure speculation. I do question whether the market is large enough to move the needle revenue-wise for Apple, but adding more innovative accessories sure makes sense for all stakeholders. In the meantime, this might be another opportunity for Android to do something cool when Apple might not. Anyone for a Pixel Mic? Or a Galaxy Mic Pro?
5. The Talking Magic 8 Ball
Consider the Talking Magic 8 Ball: A small, solid orb, the size of a golf ball, with no visible buttons or display. You pick it up and a Bluetooth symbol appears with a soft, blue glow. You pull out your phone to discover three Bluetooth broadcasts available in English, Spanish, and Japanese. You connect your earbuds to a broadcast and the orb tells you to ask it a question, then shake it to reveal the answer. You ask, shake, and the Talking Magic 8 Ball speaks your fortune.
KEY MOTIVATORS: Customizability. Accessibilitiy. Innovation.
Are such products likely? Signs point to yes, and I believe there is a compelling use case for LE Audio and Auracast in toys. There are a couple motivations for doing this. For toys that already make sound, adding broadcast will give them the ability to be used in silence while a child plays and listens (probably on the $6 headphone mentioned earlier). Perhaps not so important for the child, but a desperately needed feature for parents who will no longer be driven insane by some talking toy that their three-year-old insists on playing with for two hours straight.
A second motivator is accessibility. A hearing-impaired child could listen to the broadcast from a toy on their hearing aid and interact with a toy when they weren’t able to before. I also wonder if adding audio broadcast to toys may help visually impaired children who can’t see or read very well to interact with toys for more enjoyable play.
A third motivator is innovation. Maybe the Talking Magic 8 Ball won’t be the must-have gift for Christmas 2024, but I’m betting that people who are much smarter and more creative than me will dream up ideas that are far better than the ones I’ve proposed here.
The technology to build everything described in this article is already available, and Packetcraft is commercially shipping Bluetooth LE Audio and Auracast broadcast audio with our semiconductor and product company customers now. Let’s see what you can do! Have a request, we look forward to hearing from you – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Hillyard is the VP of Business Development, Packetcraft where he uses his deep experience in Bluetooth and embedded systems to identify new product and market opportunities. During his 20+ year career in the wireless industry he’s had roles as a software engineer, engineering director, and founded a successful startup where he wrote one of the world’s first Bluetooth LE protocol stacks for embedded systems which resulted in their acquisition by Arm. "I thrive at the intersection between technology and business strategy; identifying new product and market opportunities, formulating product concepts, and connecting the dots between business and engineering to deliver winning products."