Over the past year or so, Google has been buying up several audio hardware startups, according to a recent report from Protocol. The fact that Google’s estimated to have spent tens of millions on startups and patent portfolios of companies working on audio hardware, 3D audio, noise cancellation, and Bluetooth tech could hint that it’s planning on expanding its lineup of audio products. In many cases, it’s reportedly brought on employees from the companies as well.
Google is no stranger to the world of audio products. It’s sold multiple models and generations of wireless earbuds, and it brands its Nest Audio smart speaker as being “all about sound.” But at the moment, it doesn’t have the same range of offerings as competitors like Apple or Bose — the acquisitions could help put Google in a better position to create products like on-ear headphones or more feature-rich earbuds.
Some of the hires and job listings that the report talks about point towards the idea that Google could also be building custom silicon for audio products. That approach could make sense. Apple’s headphones use a custom chip, and Google has a history of creating specialized hardware, designing its own chips for things like security and photo processing. It even created its own SoC for the Pixel 6.
As Protocol notes, some of the deals have seemed more focused on netting patents rather than tech or talent. The string acquisitions started after Sonos sued Google (twice) for patent infringement relating to smart speaker tech. Google recently had to remove some features from certain smart home devices, thanks to a judge’s ruling that it had indeed infringed on Sonos’ patents — it’s hard to imagine that Google wants to keep making current or future products worse thanks to intellectual property disputes. Having a suite of its own audio patents could help prevent that in the future.