Just as the way people consume music is changing, the devices they use have also come a long way— from the clunky cassette players of yore to Apple’s iPod. To keep up, audio device makers are constantly trying to spot the major trends and incorporate those into their products. According to the companies, compatibility and the ability to seamlessly connect with other devices and play multiple formats are going to be the key features that would drive the industry in 2012, both for the home entertainment and the music-on-the-go categories.
Keeping this in mind, Sony India is working on new technology for its speakers that includes USB and multi-connectivity. “Internet connectivity and multiple-format playability are some of the features that consumers are attracted to today,” said the Sony India spokesperson.
Underlining the importance of connectivity, Subrotah Biswas, country manager, India and Southwest Asia, Logitech India, said “Ubiquitous internet connectivity is itself playing a major role in the game for music streaming services. Tools like iPods, flash drives and internet radio have changed the way people think about music.”
Besides linking up to the internet, people want their devices to connect seamlessly with each other, said Sabyasachi Patra, executive director of Manufacturers Association for Information Technology (MAIT) and an avid music lover. MAIT is the industry body that represents the hardware sector of the country. For example, if you have your favourite playlist stored in a phone or a USB drive, all you need is a good docking system at home to enjoy the music. "Docking stations are one of the products in our portfolio which are witnessing rapid growth. They still form a small part of our portfolio, but their share is growing," Gunjan Srivastava, director, AVM, Philips Consumer Lifestyle India, said.
Music storage is also shifting to cloud and devices that allow live streaming are gaining currency. According to Sameer Shah, director, brand marketing, Harman International (India), “The whole concept of carrying along music is gradually becoming redundant, with the world getting so linked up. All you need is a well-connected music device. Portability and wireless are other features consumers want in their devices."
So, if you have the devices networked and the music stored on a central server, all you would need to do is stream the tunes on to your gadgets. Any effect that you require, such as surround sound, will be carried out by the server. Recognising this, Harman already has JBL On Beat Xtreme speaker dock for the iPad, iPod and iPhone, which is compact and supports Bluetooth.
Apple, which created the ‘music in my pocket’ cult, was also quick to recognise the importance of connectivity. Apple already has a service called AirPlay that allows music to be streamed. AirPlay wireless technology, when fully integrated into the speaker docks, AV receivers and stereo systems, allows users to play from their iTunes library in any room at any time. Most music devices, including the new ones from luxury audio device maker Bang & Olufsen, sport an AirPlay button. The company recently launched Beolit 12, which can be attuned to Apple products.
Philips India’s new audio devices also come with a dedicated Airplay button, but these still form a smaller share of its product portfolio. Srivastava of Philips India believes Indian consumers will take time to move to the cloud (to store playlists). "People still prefer having a storage device when it comes to music, and I don’t see that changing in the next two to three years. Yes, streaming is becoming popular among a section, but it is still very small.”
“MP4 multimedia video players, mobile phones with superior sound quality and Apple music gadgets will be hot favourites now. Audio systems with speakers and MP3 players will lose out,” said Arindam Bose, managing director and chief customer officer at Timtara.com, an e-commerce site that also sells music devices.
LG India says features such as speaker configuration, maximisation of codec playability, enhanced sound reproduction capability and digital convergence will drive the market.