Audio – The Next Frontier


James Joseph | January 7, 2018

Audio is the next big thing, it’s coming and right now it’s in that perfect early adopter stage. It reminds me of when Sony lost money on each Playstation sold to ‘sneak’ a BlueRay player into customers houses. Right now Alexa devices are being marketed as “voice activated speakers” whilst the AI/audio element is ready to go when ready much like the Sony strategy.

It’s early, but the main two thoughts for me on why audio will become the next underlying technology are time and the power of the human brain. Let’s start with the latter.

Our mind has an incredible amount of processing and storage ability for almost no power consumption. That’s 3.5 Petabytes of storage. (around 4,000 digital photos everyday for your entire life) and 2.2 billion megaflops processing speed (an iPad is 170 megaflops). Yet, and here’s the really important bit, our current output method, is two thumbs.

It’s insane to think about, that we have almost the same power as a $10 million a year supercomputer (The K Computer), yet we output that power by using our thumbs on tiny screens.

Speech and audio is clearly a much faster, more efficient way for us to communicate. It’s more natural too.

The other is time, and this is possibly the most important factor to audio becoming the next stage of media. If anything sells it’s allowing us to ‘save time’. It’s the sole reason Uber has become a $40 billion beast, Uber doesn’t sell taxis it sells time. Or at least the illusion of time.

Then we have the consumption of media. Currently, media is active. You can’t read this article whilst doing something else, you can’t watch a YouTube video or TV whilst doing something else. With audio media suddenly becomes passive.

It’s why radio has stayed strong for nearly 100 years. Although that push style of media is nearly dead, the pull style of media such as podcasts and audio books are on a meteoric rise.

Technologies Alexa, Assistant, Siri and Bixby are the new frontiers. Amazon’s Alexa is quickly becoming the leader, which is a surprise given how long Apple’s Siri had a headstart. It’s estimated that Amazon sold 10 million Alexa units in 2017.

amazon alexa echo dot

By 2020 I truly believe every home will have multiple Alexa devices. Just like every home has multiple smartphone devices today. We will all listen more, there will be prime time audio shows, and Alexa skills will be the underlying asset that do most of our work. We will no longer spend five minutes ordering a product, by having to sit down at a screen and find credit card details. Just four or five words will do. There are so many applications for audio technology.

But perhaps the most interesting thought of all is just how Apple deals with this shift. The iPhone X was the smart-phones last stand. The best of yesterday. The only company who needs smart phones to win is Apple. The other four (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Samsung) either have no phone business or it makes up less than 10% of it.

It’s an exciting space that I’m eagerly looking forward to its development.