On that day, Apple’s autumn launch was on its fair day. When Apple CEO Cook flashed a pair of wireless headphones like traditional Apple headsets cutting off cables on a stage, perhaps no one would have thought that the product, which had just been “mocked” by the “group”, had a strong hold on a market of 100 million units a year four years later.
The product is the True Wireless Stereo Bluetooth headset named AirPods.
Apple’s first-quarter 2020 earnings report said its wearables, home products and accessories business, including AirPods, had net revenue of $10.10 billion, up nearly 26.7 percent from a year earlier, higher than the revenue and profits of many mobile phone companies.
The emergence of Apple’s AirPods, in the Bluetooth headset market has a different spark, its momentum of development is gradually showing momentum. Market research firm Counterpoint Research estimates that 120 million tWS headsets will be shipped globally in 2019, and that figure is expected to reach 230 million in 2020 with the new year’s wave of switching.
At the same time, GFK, a market research firm, expects the market size of TWS headsets to expand from $5.4 billion in 2018 to $11 billion in 2020.
Global TWS Headset Market Shipments 2016-2020 (Source: Counterpoint Research)
Behind the TWS headset fire, the most critical fuse is undoubtedly the innovation and promotion of Bluetooth chip technology.
For a long time, Bluetooth chip is not only the core component to promote the development and application of Bluetooth headset technology, but also the most competitive market in the supply chain. Nowadays, the development of Bluetooth chip market is closely related to the technological innovation of Android chip manufacturers.
After Apple’s AirPods range of headphones swept the market in 2016, its unique patent for a low-power stereo Bluetooth chip has been a technical barrier between Apple and Android. But in the past two years, with the third-party Bluetooth chip manufacturers in the technical breakthrough, this barrier was finally torn open a mouth, instantly ignited the TWS Bluetooth chip market.
But for now, TWS Bluetooth chips are becoming a mixed market. On the one hand, Apple, Huawei, Hengxuan and Luda and other high-end players in the continuous development of a larger market at the same time, all kinds of Bluetooth chips and solutions are emerging, on the other hand, the North China camp-based players, but also in the brazen march into the low-end and “shanzhai” market.
Not only that, from Apple and Android two major smartphone user groups, to domestic and foreign Bluetooth chip manufacturers, to chip manufacturers, mobile phone manufacturers and headphone manufacturers, there is also a fierce battle between Bluetooth chip, in the market and consumer nerves, but also forced the traditional headphone industry to accelerate innovation and transformation.
This time, through the deep investigation of the TWS Bluetooth chip market, Smart Thing is analyzing the current Bluetooth chip market pattern, but also exploring the market play and “genre” of the important players from its explosive path. Under the development trend of seemingly promising scenery, what contradictions and challenges are hidden in it?
H1 chip in Apple’s AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods: The latecomer of the tWS headset market
In fact, before Apple’s strong call-to-board traditional headphone market in 2016, the traditional headphone market was in a state of long-term saturation on the one hand, and faced with a lack of innovation on the other.
Around 2015, brands such as AKG, Iron Triangle, Beats and Senheiser remain the main players in the traditional headphone market, with head-mounted and in-ear products continuing to press the earbuds for a sense of presence, while increasing the demand for features around noise reduction and built-in sound cards.
However, compared with smartphones and computers and other equipment, the cost of investment in the production of headphones at that time is relatively small, while the technical threshold is low, the production cycle is short, so a large number of small and medium-sized manufacturers quickly influx, low-end headphonemarket market gradually become saturated.
While the traditional headphone factory turned to the high-end market segment, a potential competitor, smart speakers, which is affected by demand such as home video, is also emerging.
In this pattern, although there has long been the appearance of TWS headset form products, but it is still only a small number of manufacturers in the market. In addition, there are players who do stereo Bluetooth headsets, but the product still has a wire connection. The headphones launched by these manufacturers, also only a small wave of attention, has not been widely made waves.
Bluetooth headset son from Earin in 2015
The traditional headphone market was in a state of tepidness at the time, and the turning point in all this was 2016.
In June 2016, the Bluetooth Technology Alliance (SIG) officially launched the Bluetooth 5.0 standard, which has become a driving force for the development of Bluetooth headsets with faster transmission speeds, longer transmission distances and lower power consumption.
It was at this node that Apple launched AirPods.
Just a month after its launch, the first-generation AirPods have taken a 26 percent share of the wireless headset market, according to Market Research Firm Slice Intelligence, matching the traditional U.S. headset brands Jaybird and Plantronics.
Behind the AirPods, a Bluetooth chip called W1 plays a crucial role.
With the first generation of AirPods, the W1 chip has faster, more stable Bluetooth connectivity and consumes only a third of the power of a traditional Bluetooth chip. While Apple has not revealed much about the W1 chip, with three features, the W1 chip also brings a more innovative experience to the AirPods.
Over a three-year period, AirPods shipments jumped from 15 million in 2017 to 60 million in 2019, directly targeting 71% of the market for TWS headsets.
At this point, around the TWS headset, a Bluetooth chip killing the big picture slowly spread out.
TWS Bluetooth headset shipments for 2019 (Source: Strategy Analytics)
High school low-end three camps fierce battle, Android market ecological complexity
According to Market Research, global shipments of TWS Bluetooth headsets will reach 230 million units in 2020, up 91.6% year-on-year. At the same time, the compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2022 will remain at 80%, with a blowout development.
In the TWS headset market has multiplied in the past few years, downstream terminal manufacturers flocked to, but also for upstream chip manufacturers to bring huge demand for Bluetooth chips, attracting a large number of players into the game.
According to Guosheng Securities 2019 market research report data, as of April 2019, the world has included Qualcomm, Luda, Ruiyu, Hengxuan and torch core, including 8 chip manufacturers, a total of 18 TWS Bluetooth chip solutions.
From a system point of view, TWS Bluetooth chip is mainly divided into two markets, one is holding the W series and H series of Apple self-contained, without suspense to take half of the market, the other is ecological lysing, high demand for compatibility of Android market.
From a market perspective, Apple’s AirPods series will account for more than 70% of the market by 2018, and while Apple’s share will be diluted in 2019 with more players, it still accounts for more than half of the market.
TWS headset Bluetooth chip is undoubtedly a incense, leading domestic and foreign chip manufacturers have dropped, playing each other. However, because there is always a technology gap at home and abroad, so Bluetooth chip solutions from the market-oriented positioning, but also can be divided into three forces.
Some of the major players in the TWS Bluetooth chip market
(1) Mid- and high-end market: first-line mobile phones, chip manufacturers giant Lin Li
1, Apple: H1 chip calculation is comparable to the iPhone 4
Apple has worked harder on developing Bluetooth chips after the first generation of AirPods with W1 chips opened the door to the TWS headset market.
Apple’s AirPods Pro, launched last year, features a self-developed Bluetooth chip with the H1 model. The H1 Bluetooth chip supports the Bluetooth 5.1 standard, and compared to the W1 chip, H1 also has some improvement in connectivity, battery life and power consumption.
Among them, the conversion speed between devices is increased by 2 times, the on-call speed is increased by 1.5 times, and the delay is reduced by 30%. At the same time, the H1 chip is comparable to the A4 chip it was equipped with on the iPhone 4 in the early years. But beyond that, Apple didn’t reveal much more about H1.
2, Qualcomm: self-research ingenuity wireless stereo technology
In the field of TWS headsets, Qualcomm introduced several Bluetooth chips in 2018, including CSR8675, QCC3026 and QCC5100.
Among them, the CSR8675 chip supports the Bluetooth V5.0 standard, uses active noise reduction (ANC) technology, is Qualcomm’s first integrated ANC function of the Bluetooth audio system-level chip, further improve the sound quality and noise reduction effect of the product. The chip is currently used in Sony’s WF-SP700N headset for release in 2018.
Qualcomm QCC3026 also supports the Bluetooth V5.0 standard, but does not use active noise reduction technology like the CSR8675. In addition, the QCC3026 uses Qualcomm TrueWireless stereo technology to reduce the power consumption of the chip, while also improving performance and price/performance, including the Wanderer, OPPO O-Free Bluetooth headset.
3, Huawei HiSilicon: Power consumption is 50% lower than Apple H1
Huawei’s Freebuds 3 true wireless headset, launched in 2019, features a Hysond-Based Kirin A1 Bluetooth chip.
It is understood that the Kirin A1 chip supports Bluetooth 5.1 and Bluetooth low power 5.1 dual standard, greatly enhancethed the chip’s anti-jamming capability, noise reduction ability and sound quality, the realization of dual-channel Bluetooth link.
Huawei says the Kirin A1 chip has a 190nm latency, a 50 per cent reduction in power consumption and a 30 per cent performance improvement over Apple’s H1 chip. Within 100 days of the Freebuds 3 headset’s domestic launch, shipments exceeded one million pairs.
(ii) Mid- and low-end market: extensive layout of traditional chip players
1, Luda: support Bluetooth 5.0 plus Bluetooth enhancement rate
Founded in 2001, Itata is a power amplifier (PA) company that MediaTek acquired in 2017 for $1.3 billion to further lay out the Internet of Things market.
In the field of Bluetooth chips, Rhonda has developed AB1526P, AB1532 and AB1536 and other Bluetooth chips, customers cover Philips, Lenovo, Stroller and Hewitt and other manufacturers.
Among them, the AB1532 chip supports Bluetooth 5.0 plus EDR (Enhanced Data Rate, Bluetooth enhancement rate), built-in high-performance signal processing (DSP), and increases low-power voice wake-up. In terms of sound quality, it also supports High-Res high-resolution music and high-low-frequency auto-compensation, as does multi-MIC.
2, Hengxuan: the use of 28nm process, BGA packaging technology
Hengxuan, founded in 2015, is a relatively young IC design company, developing RF SOC chips for wireless audio platforms.
For the TWS headset market, Hengxuan has launched the BES2000 series of chips since 2016, and in 2018 also released the BES2300 Bluetooth chip, Huawei Freebuds, Huawei Freebuds 2, Glory FlyPods and Meizu POP tWS headsets are using its solutions.
The BES2300 is known to use a 28nm process process and BGA (Ball Grid Array) packaging technology to support external sensor devices and eMMC flash memory. In addition, it also supports the Bluetooth 5.0 standard, as well as low-frequency forwarding technology and dual-mode Bluetooth 4.2, using adaptive active noise reduction scheme, technology, support for the third generation of FWS full wireless stereo technology, dual microphone and so on.
3, UNISOC: TWS chip new players, delay reduction of more than 30%
As an important IC design and research and development manufacturer in China, it has a long history in the field of baseband chips, AIoT chips and wireless connectivity chips has a relatively deep accumulation and experience.
In 2019, UNISOC officially launched the Ito 5882 Bluetooth chip, which supports the Bluetooth 5.0 standard, has low power consumption performance, continuous playback of more than 4 hours. In terms of delay, the two-ear delay of the Ito 5882 was reduced by more than 30% compared with the market average. At the same time, the chip also has a two-ear effect, support seamless switching, further enhance the user’s switching experience.
It is understood that the introduction of The Ito 5882 Bluetooth chip related products have been in 2019 mass production, however, UNISOC did not disclose specific customer information.
(iii) Low-end market: Huaqiang North camp low-cost blood struggle
1, Jerry: the use of intelligent non-destructive noise reduction algorithm
Founded in 2010, Jerry Technology, mainly for AI smart speakers, Bluetooth headsets, Bluetooth speakers and other IoT terminal market, design and development of wireless connectivity chip. For the TWS Bluetooth headset market, Jerry has released AC6907A, AC693X and AC6936D Bluetooth chip solutions since 2016.
The AC693X supports Bluetooth 5.0 and Low Energy Bluetooth (BLE) 5.0 standard. In terms of performance, the chip has master-to-master switching and bilateral calls, and uses ultra-small sub-packing and charging management technology to further reduce chip power consumption.
On the other hand, the AC6936D chip supports the Bluetooth 5.1 standard and uses intelligent non-destructive noise reduction algorithm to enable two-ear HD calls and seamless master-to-master switching, with a power consumption of 6mA. It is reported that the MEES F2 headset equipped with the Jerry AC6936D chip won the German Red Dot Design Award in 2019.
2, Science and Technology Blue News: support Bluetooth dual standard
Although it was six years later than Jerry, the momentum of the Chinese science blue-knheta was also not to be underestimated. The company is mainly targeted at high-performance headsets, audio and the Internet of Things, with customers including Philips, Iron Triangle, Sony and Whie.
In the field of Bluetooth chips, Csiro has introduced a number of chip solutions such as BT8912B, BT8852A, AB5376A and AB5377T. The BT8912B chip supports Bluetooth 5.0 and BLE standards, GPIO (universal input/output) wake-up or interrupt, and master-master switching.
TWS Bluetooth chip’s growing price war
From the high school low-end Bluetooth chip market layout, it is not difficult to find that the mid-to-high-end market has been mostly divided by Apple, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Cypress and other foreign enterprises, while the low-end market is mainly distributed in The Same Taiwan, china, the low-end market is almost the figure of mainland Chinese enterprises, such as Jerry, Chinese company Blue Sato and torch core and other manufacturers.
This also formed some industry insiders often likened the “European and American enterprises eat meat, Taiwan enterprises drink soup, mainland enterprises gnawing bones” Bluetooth chip market situation.
Although the TWS headset may seem like a small device, in fact, its industrial chain composition is not simple.
In the built-in component section, in addition to the Bluetooth chip, the main chip, it also needs to integrate memory chips, MEMS sensors, voice accelerometers and batteries and other devices. It is based on this complex industrial chain, the domestic TWS chip market polarization is very serious.
On the one hand, Huawei Heath and UNISOC and other layout of the high-end market of a small number of manufacturers, need to continue chip performance, integration of innovative technology at the same time, taking into account the cost-effective chip, on the other hand, a large number of manufacturers in the huge commercial interests, crazy into the low-end market, through the use of low-cost Bluetooth chips and supporting components, Offensive TWS headset cottage market.
And this also led to China’s TWS headphones low-end market homogenization of serious phenomenon. Among them, a pair of “high imitation AirPods” headphones shipping costs less than 20 yuan, the price is even less than 10 yuan.
From another perspective, the proliferation of players in the low-end Bluetooth chip market has also triggered a fierce price war between manufacturers, especially in the North China camp.
Among them, Jerry Technology and Zhongke Lanxun last year staged an unusual “wonderful” price war, the two sides in order to harvest more market share, and constantly play low-cost cards, repeatedly break the bottom line of Bluetooth chip prices.
It is understood that in other manufacturers of Bluetooth chips are still in the price level of about 10 yuan, Jerry and Zhongke Blue Ivy chip has been killed to 1.6 yuan a, resulting in the two sides of the Bluetooth chip shipments in the short term rapidly increased.
In general, the current domestic TWS Bluetooth chip market in the market blue sea driven by the market, although the market size is still expanding and developing, but there are also different degrees of market confusion, resulting in the overall market development of Bluetooth chip imbalance, homogeneity serious, innovative technology also needs to be improved.
But we also found that this market has both players like Ruiyu, Luda and Zhuo Rong who entered early, but also those who have a little later layout like Huawei Heath, UNISOC and Hengxuan, and later ones can also divide up a lot of “cakes”. And this also from the side shows that the current whole TWS Bluetooth chip market pattern is not yet mature and stereotyped.
As the TWS headset market becomes saturated, Bluetooth chip headsets may face a more intense shuffle battle.
Three competitive focal points for TWS Bluetooth chips
TWS Bluetooth headset as an “old tree sprouts” market, in part, in the Bluetooth transmission technology innovation, as well as the development of the IoT market under the wind, ushered in a new stage of development.
However, from a technical point of view, there are still many problems to be solved in TWS Bluetooth chip. Among them, The power consumption, transmission, delay, noise reduction and HIGH-definition audio codec technology of Bluetooth chip are still important technical nodes for the next generation of breakthrough.
1, reduce power consumption
Although Qualcomm, Luda and Hengxuan have introduced a number of low-power chips, the continued performance of TWS headsets is still a need to strengthen the issue.
On the one hand, TWS headsets need to be powered independently as wearables, and on the other, they need to be paired with smartphones. Therefore, the low power consumption of Bluetooth chip is one of the basic performance requirements that TWS headsets can be widely used.
At the same time, with the user on the TWS headset on video, AI voice wake-up and other more applications, as well as manufacturers in the headset integrated noise-cancelling chips, sensors and other electronic components, so that the Bluetooth chip’s low-power performance has a more stringent demand.
2, improve transmission efficiency
In terms of transmission, the mainstream transmission technology in the market is mainly Apple’s “listening” and Android’s “forwarding”.
Simply put, “listening” refers to the ability of two headsets to decode the encrypted signal sending by Bluetooth and automatically transmit audio and activate the microphone, based on a one-to-one link in advance. This approach reduces data transfer time and further improves transmission efficiency.
And “forward” requires the main headset to receive data, and then transmitted to another headset, which compared with “listening”, not only increased transit time, but also to a certain extent led to delay and high power consumption problems, but also prone to left and right ear out of sync phenomenon.
But because of patent issues, manufacturers are unable to use Apple’s “listening” scheme. Therefore, how to solve the transmission problem caused by secondary forwarding has become a technical direction that many manufacturers need to break through.
At present, including Qualcomm, Huawei, Luda and other high-end manufacturers have been through the two-way transmission scheme to a certain extent to solve this problem.
3, reduce the delay
In terms of applications, in addition to conference phones, TWS headsets are also commonly used in entertainment scenes such as music, video, and games, which has a higher demand for chip connectivity and latency.
Apple’s H1 chip stands out in this regard, with its second-generation AirPods headsets capable of switching devices twice as fast, 1.5 times faster calls and more than 30% of game audio latency compared to the first generation of AirPods with W1.
In addition, there are Huawei A1, Qualcomm QCC5126 and Swiss RTL8763B and other Bluetooth chips, in terms of delay to achieve optimization. But for manufacturers, this is still a technology that needs to be conquered and improved over the long term.
Today, apple, Huawei, Google and other mobile phone manufacturers began to develop a wealth of voice assistant, AI translation, bone texture ID recognition, health tracking and other technologies on TWS headsets, will be more performance and experience integrated into the headset, making TWS headset platform trend gradually obvious.
This trend has further stimulated the innovation and development of Bluetooth chip technology, meaning that the technical challenges required for Bluetooth chips are much more than that.
Conclusion: An important weapon behind the traditional headphone industry
From the beginning of a new brand of new Bluetooth headset products, the momentum of the outbreak into today’s fire-making TWS headset market, in which Bluetooth chips have become an indispensable key weapon behind this change.
At present, in the bluetooth chip broad prospects for development, on the one hand, because the market saturation and maturity is not high, whether in the market development, or innovative technology and application exploration, there is still a large space for development; The phenomenon of price war and shanzhai high imitation leads to the trend of the bipolar of the market is more obvious and the development is not balanced.
But in the final analysis, how to bring users a more comfortable and convenient experience, is undoubtedly tWS Bluetooth chip under one of the next important breakthrough points. At the same time, with the widespread adoption of Bluetooth 5.0 technology and the impact of consumer trends in the wearable sand market, the momentum of TWS headsets will lead to explosive growth in the next few years, and further increase the demand for Bluetooth chips.
Now, TWS headsets, like smartphones, are slowly becoming one of the “sensory” people. In the future, with the introduction of Apple TWS headsets, and the further development of the Android market, more and more consumers will become TWS headset users. Behind the unstoppable TWS headset market, Bluetooth chips will also face greater challenges and opportunities.