I was actually expecting a bit more of this earlier but Qualcomm closed their acquisition of CSR this week and the end result is that it will, once the packaging and integration efforts complete, be far better able to compete in the IOT (Internet of Things) and Automotive markets. What CSR brings is a set of technologies that will allow Qualcomm to build out solutions bundles which can then be sold to those building new connected devices or advancing cars to the next stage of automation.
Let’s talk a bit about what is coming this month.
The Promise of Better Sound
Over the last several years we have largely switched from CDs and plugging our iPods into cars to streaming music from our phones. What we generally have discovered is that the result, particularly for those of us that have high end OEM or aftermarket car audio systems, is that the result sucks. The compression algorithms take a great deal of the dynamic depth out of the music and it often sounds flat.
What CSR provides, and this is one of the reasons I have Kenwood systems in two of my cars, is a better solution called aptX. This technology came out of Ireland and Belfast University and it was specifically designed to maintain audio quality in movies and music post production into movies made by firms like Pixar and Disney 15 years ago. Then about 6 years ago it moved into professional wireless microphones and finally into Bluetooth.
The end result was a massive improvement in the sound quality in wireless speakers, wireless headphones, aftermarket radios, gaming controllers, and even one smartwatch.
Qualcomm has far more reach than CSR and should be far more able to drive the technology into OEM automotive where it is really needed.
OEM Automotive Rant
One of the problems with so many cars today, particularly high end cars, is their AV systems can be over a decade out of date and the OEMs like to build them into the dash and integrate them with other systems like HVAC so you can’t upgrade or fix them easily. One of the biggest complaints for the new Jaguar F-Type is on its high-end sound system which costs thousands over the base model and is prone to flat sound, rattles, and a very disappointing low end.
Efforts to fix it have ranged from point solutions like covering the inside of most of the panels with acoustical material, to an outfit in Los Angeles that, for around $5K, will basically come out and re-engineer it.
It amazes me that after all of these years the car companies haven’t even tried to develop a common method of selling upgrades to their cars even after Elon Musk’s Tesla basically showcased how you could develop a far more robust and lucrative OEM resale market by creating cars that could be easily updated and then resold at far higher prices. With the Musk model Tesla makes a lot of money when a Tesla is upgraded and resold, in the typical OEM model, other than replacement parts (which are often supplied directly from third-parties anyway) the OEM is pretty much locked out of the revenue stream once the car is sold.
CSR has some other interesting technologies like its low-latency System-on-a-Chip (SoC) solution which it is using in game controllers, a Bluetooth mesh network also designed for automobiles and for connected homes, a navigation solution that remains strong when a GPS signal is lost (dead reckoning), and a set of printing/scanning solutions including an IPS universal print interpreter.
This effectively expands Qualcomm aggressively into control solutions for home, car, and business gives it a much stronger navigation capability (so our cars don’t get lost so easily in the mountains or cities where satellite reception sucks), and a potential for interpretive solutions for industrial automation and robotics.
They had me at “better sound”, as I’m pretty frustrated with the sound quality out of the two OEM audio systems I currently have and am struggling to upgrade. The sound quality out of the Kenwood systems I have is pretty amazing and this is largely because of CSR’s aptX. In the end though, this acquisition means that Qualcomm can be in far more things than they now are and the quality, speed, and capability of our cars, homes, and businesses should improve sharply.
Now if we can just convince the other car makers to allow upgrades like Tesla does this doesn’t have to mean that your next car, if it isn’t a Tesla, will be obsolete when you buy it. We can always hope.