As Google continues to develop an ecosystem that it hopes will challenge Apple and Samsung, the company seeks to beef up future Pixel Buds to make them look different and feature capabilities that help them stand out in a market that is getting crowded. To make that possible, Google has been spending its money buying up intellectual property related to audio.
According to Protocol (via 9to5Google), Google has shelled out tens of millions of dollars over the last 15 months buying intellectual property, acquiring talent and purchasing technology related to the “audio hardware” category. The spending spree started in December 2020 when it purchased parts of Synaptics’ audio hardware business. The transaction was never reported and filings made with regulatory agencies suggest that Google paid its one-time partner $35 million.
Google is spending money in an effort to improve its audio-based devices like the Pixel Buds
This deal netted Google a number of patents and patent applications related to “Active Noise Canceling Earbuds,” and “Balanced stereo headphones.” Besides IP, Google also picked up some valuable executives such as former Synaptics VP and GM of Audio Trausti Thormundsson. On LinkedIn, one of Thormundsson’s co-workers in Mountain View explained that the team is now working on “Silicon – Audio – Power – Wearables.”
The regular Google Pixel Buds
Protocol also reports that Google acquired 3D audio startup Dysonics for an undisclosed amount of money. This company could be responsible for any spatial audio features that Google decides to add to future Pixels and Pixel Buds.
The search giant didn’t stop there. Google bought the IP of RevX Technologies. No longer in business, the firm earned some plaudits from several big-name musicians for its portable device that “optimized” the in-ear monitors worn by musicians on stage. The list of those performers who wore the product includes ex-Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas, and jazz/rock drummer Cindy Blackman.
Patents picked up in the purchase of RevX Technologies include the use of in-ear microphones for noise cancellation. You can see what Google appears to be working on just from looking at the companies it has purchased. Last May, Google spent a reported $17.4 million to buy French company Tempow which was working on “the first OS for true wireless earbuds.”
The smartphone manufacturers that Tempow was doing business with included Motorola and TCL. Many of Tempow’s employees now receive a Google paycheck and the IP that Google bought includes patents with titles like “Switching between multiple earbud architectures” and “low latency Bluetooth earbuds.”
Google was sued by Sonos for patent infringement
Acquiring as many patents as possible is important to Google. You might recall that back in January, the company faced an exclusion order from the International Trade Commission (ITC) that could have banned the importation of Pixel phones into the U.S. This came about after Google was sued by speaker manufacturer Sonos over the use of five patents.
In the lawsuit, Sonos accused Google of taking advantage of its partnership with the company to use its IP without permission. Google was forced to quickly disable some features on its Nest speakers to avoid having to follow the ITC’s exclusion order. Among the features turned off was the group volume controller which allowed multiple speakers to have their volume changed by adjusting one setting.
Google appears to be developing its own audio chips
Job postings are one quick and dirty way to see what Google has in mind. Several job openings show that the company is looking to develop custom audio-related silicon “that brings to life key features that distinguish our first-party devices.” This has been going on for roughly a year and it reveals how serious Google is about stepping things up with the Pixel Buds and audio in general.
Pixel fans seem to have plenty to look forward to as Google continues to build the aforementioned ecosystem for the brand.