Google just announced Android O and revealed a preliminary list of features and changes that consumers should start seeing on phones this fall. The update doesn’t sound earth shattering at this (very) early stage, but among the surprising tidbits is just how much work Android partners are putting in to help improve the overall OS. The standout, according to Google, is Sony Mobile. Sony has so far “contributed more than 30 feature enhancements and 250 bug fixes,” a Google spokesperson said.
Chief among Sony’s priorities seems to be helping Android become a better platform for wirelessly enjoying high-res audio. Or at least something close to it, and substantially better than what Bluetooth does right now. Sony has contributed its LDAC wireless audio coding technology to Android O. LDAC can transfer much more data over Bluetooth — up to a bitrate of 990kbps — than what’s typically possible from smartphones. Here’s one explainer from Sony, and here’s another.
Unlike other Bluetooth compatible coding technologies such as SBC, it operates without any down-conversion of the Hi-Res Audio content, and allows approximately three times more data than those other technologies to be transmitted over a Bluetooth wireless network with unprecedented sound quality, by means of efficient coding and optimized packetization.
LDAC is already built into Sony’s expensive Walkman players, its high-end wireless headphones (like the excellent noise-cancelling MDR-1000x), Sony-branded wireless speakers, and Xperia smartphones. But now other Android phone makers will be able to wirelessly transit higher quality audio using LDAC to speakers and headphones that have the technology included. This stands to mostly benefit Sony’s own products right now, since no one else is using LDAC and would likely have to pay a licensing fee to put it in a speaker or wireless headphones. It’s free to integrate into mobile devices, as Google confirmed LDAC is now part of the Android AOSP base code.
Will LDAC matter to most consumers listening to music on a $99 Bluetooth speaker? Nope. But as music services continue to push into lossless and high-resolution streaming (Spotify’s experimenting with it right now), this sort of thing will help audiophiles enjoy much improved audio without having to plug into the headphone jack — if their phone even has one. That’ll still be necessary for true 24-bit/96kHz listening, but this is a decent step up until Bluetooth 5 makes it out the door.