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Business News/ Technology / Gadgets/  Wireless headsets trend will move into a more smart, connected space: Sennheiser’s Ogley

New Delhi: Audio products have evolved to a point where even the best-known firms are struggling to further enhance playback quality. In an interview, Pete Ogley, chief operating officer of consumer electronics at Sennheiser, explained why he believes that the future of audio technology lies in voice interfaces and data-driven decisions. Edited excerpts:

Do you think the trend of wireless headsets with in-built voice assistants like Alexa will pick up?

I think there are potentially three trends. We clearly see the wireless trend now, which gives you the convenience to cut the cord. As part of that, the new kind of interaction that customers are having is voice interaction, which started with smart speakers —the ability to speak out loud and not having to look at a screen is also increasing. I think in the “on the go" world, where you maybe don’t want your phone in your hand all the time, notifications like directions, calendar, etc., are important.

I believe the wireless trend will move into a more smart and connected space. This is the second big trend you will see in the next 0-5 years. I think that probably a third, really far-reaching trend, which is fuzzier, is that at some point in the future, we won’t be using smartphones as we think of augmented reality, mixed reality or whatever you want to call it. This may be a 10-year trend, but as a company, we’re already working with early trendsetters like Magic Leap who have just launched their first such goggle. We’re providing audio accessories which also mix the audio reality, as part of our Ambeo setup. I think 5G will help in this space by potentially connecting us to the cloud, where you don’t necessarily have to go through the phone.

Would you agree that the future of audio products is not on the audio side, but in the smart features, voice, etc.?

You’re absolutely right. The way we think about sound is changing. The ability to improve that traditional playback quality is really tough. I think the role of audio will change. Customers will always have to play back content, and they will always want immersive and exciting content. But we will need to do much more with audio as we go forward.

With app support and smartphones, what role does data play in the evolution of audio?

As products become connected, we have the opportunity—if the customer wishes to opt in—to interact with customers on a live basis. We don’t do it now, but the opportunity is there. A silly example would be, if we discern that 80% of the population likes a particular sound signature, we can design a product with that sound signature. With smart and connected products, we can make very small changes almost on the fly, that actually makes the use of the product a lot better.

But the smartest of headsets are still extremely expensive...

The first products that are cutting edge are always expensive. But they all become more affordable over time. In the same way, great audio was extraordinarily expensive 15 years ago. Now you can get good audio at a more affordable price. When I think about the latest headphones trends like becoming truly wireless —they’re expensive because they have the most cutting edge components inside them, miniaturization costs, etc. But over time as you produce more, the volume comes and mass adoption happens, the price reduces. I fully expect there will always be a premium for the very latest, but I think the speed now to make it more affordable is quicker than ever.

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Prasid Banerjee
An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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Updated: 13 Dec 2018, 11:42 PM IST
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