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Qualcomm is making it easier for companies to build smart speakers

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There could be a ton more smart speakers next year

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At CES 2017 Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Smart speakers are the hottest new category in gadgets, and if Qualcomm has its way, there’s going to be a ton more of them starting next year.

Qualcomm is about to make it really easy for hardware companies to start building their own speakers. It’s introducing a reference design — basically, a preset configuration of chips, microphone tech, and audio systems — that companies can buy to base their products off of.

This isn’t something you’ll see a company like Amazon use. But smaller companies that want to create their own take on an Echo will be able to pick it up to quickly turn around a new product. It saves a bunch of time on testing, since Qualcomm guarantees everything will work together, which lets products get to market faster.

Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform includes most of the core tech needed in a smart speaker (aside from the actual speaker). It has far-field microphone systems, with support for beamforming, echo cancellation, and wake words. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (including aptX HD for hi-res audio streaming), as well as support for Qualcomm’s AllPlay speaker speaker syncing system. And it’s generally designed to support the integration of voice assistants, like Alexa.

AllPlay isn’t a widely used system, which somewhat tempers the excitement here. Qualcomm advertises its new platform as being able to support synchronized playback between speakers, setting up zones, and even handling multi-channel surround sound, but that all relies on someone owning a bunch of AllPlay speakers. That might be more likely if a bunch of speakers roll out in the coming years with Qualcomm inside. But until then, these are mostly just going to be standard Bluetooth speakers.

Qualcomm says the first products based on its system should arrive by the end of the year, but it expects the pace to pick up in 2018.