66 Audio’s new PRO Voice headphones include Alexa integration. These are reportedly the first wireless headphones that enable you to use the “Alexa” wake word the same way you use it on Amazon Echo smart speakers. That means the microphone is always listening and you activate Alexa by voice. The the Bragi Dash Pro ear buds require head movement to activate and the Bose Soundsport ear buds require a tap. PRO Voice headphones are compatible with both Android and iOS smartphones and retail for $139.99.
The Challenge for Alexa on Mobile
FastCompany reported recently on the challenge of integrating Alexa into devices where Amazon doesn’t control the mobile architecture. The native integration of Google’s Pixel Buds and Apple AirPods into the mobile OS with direct access to chipset makes this much easier. By contrast, Alexa functionality must be part of the PRO Voice app which has more limited functional reach in the device. This also forced 66 Audio to work with Qualcomm to redesign the chip that controls the headphones. According to FastCompany:
Part of the problem was that Qualcomm’s existing wireless headphone chips aren’t set up for voice controls. Instead, nearly all of their power consumption goes toward basic features like audio playback and Bluetooth connectivity. To accommodate Alexa, 66 Audio had to tack on external flash memory and a separate digital amplifier, which in turn required a new circuit design.
The Rise of Hearables
AirPods created the hearables market that ties voice assistants to always available, wireless in-ear listening experience. It is impressive that these hearables accounted for 29 million users at the end of 2017, nearly matching the size of the smart speaker market. 2017 was the year of the smart speaker. 2018 will bring many more fronts where the leading voice assistant providers will battle for consumer access and affinity. 66 Audio has done Amazon a great service in bringing an Alexa-enabled device to the hearables market. However, Alexa will continue to be at a disadvantage to Google and Apple in any device that requires smartphone integration.