CosmOS is the limit for the future of smart earbuds

CosmOS is the limit for the future of smart earbuds

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Today’s best Bluetooth headphones and earbuds sound great and are packed with features, so much so that it’s often hard to go wrong when shopping. Portable audio is, in many ways, a solved problem. However, headphones are comparatively a “dumb” product next to your smartphone or new smartwatch, in the sense that they’re tied to the manufacturer’s pre-installed features and limited customization options contained in proprietary apps. Wouldn’t headphones be even more powerful and useful if you could install new features at will and even bring your favorite ones from an old pair to your new one?

this is the offer Sonicle’s Cosmos, a slimline operating system designed for headphones, earbuds, and other hearing aids. We sat down with Sonic Solutions architects Gary Spittle and Johnny McClintock (formerly aptX) at IFA 2022 to learn more about what’s coming with the newly dubbed Headphones 3.0 paradigm.

How do you imagine an OS without a screen?

oneplus nord buds ear side

Zarif Ali / Android Authority

When you think of operating systems, your mind probably goes to Android, iOS, Windows or something similar. Thanks to their distinctive GUI and design language, it’s easy to see what they look like, but it’s far more difficult to imagine an OS without a screen. However, what makes these systems useful is what they allow users and manufacturers to do; Whether it’s easily installing an app, upgrading to a fancy new processor, or innovating with a flexible display, the OS is the glue that holds it together, ensuring a consistent experience from product to product.

The current headphone location doesn’t work like this at all. There’s no unified platform or OS, which means that features vary wildly between manufacturer product line-ups, and even. Big fan of Sony’s LDAC codec? Sorry, you can’t get it on your AirPods Pro. Like to pair fast with the Pixel Buds Pro? You won’t find it on every other brand either. Worse, headphone consumers are still entirely led by manufacturers who have to figure out what you want, spend years developing said feature, and then hope until the product hits the market. It is still relevant. It’s a slow and old-fashioned way of doing things – even TVs have moved on to adopting user-led, app-based experiences.

A Listenable OS opens the door to user-led rather than manufacturer-led experiences, more like a smartphone.

In a nutshell, CosmOS is designed to free consumers from the shackles of manufacturer dictation, giving them the power to run the features and apps they care about on their headphones and other listenable devices. But the use cases go far beyond simply moving general audio features from phones to headphones. Sonic envisions fitness and wellbeing, gaming, hearing enhancement, and industrial applications that all fall under its umbrella.

For example, Sonical recently announced a partnership with Segotia to bring neuro-sensing consumer and medical applications to the platform. We discussed several other early use cases in detail, such as in-ears to measure heart rate, temperature, and alertness, sound enhancement and augmentation for hard of hearing and tinnitus sufferers who just went from an audio playback device to headphones. can take. Something more widely useful. A Headphone 3.0, if you will.

It is much more than just music, the earbuds of the future could enhance your fitness, gaming, medical and other needs.

Sonical won’t be the first company to want to put the OS inside your headphones. Bragi OS Started down this path in 2015 and partnered with Skullcandy and Klipsch in 2021 to provide common features like head gestures and hands-free voice control. That said, there are some very notable differences between Bragi OS and Cosmos when it comes to ambition and implementation.

Making it an (augmented) reality

Sony Xperia 1 III Google Assistant

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Part of the problem with what makes modern headphones smart is that they aren’t built to run anything we might consider traditional applications. Their tiny power efficient processors run number crunching algorithms—such as decoding the Bluetooth codec, capturing wake words, and implementing basic noise cancellation—quickly and efficiently, but (mostly) they are more general-purpose or machine learning- based computing. This is essential for defining next generation use cases. Even for smart use cases like voice assistants, they still rely on a tethered smartphone.

For example, Gary told us about the difficulties we face today moving from basic catch-all noise cancellation to being able to isolate background noise while leaving nearby conversation unaffected. For that, you need machine learning capable of making distinctions about your environment. Alternatively, perhaps your favorite music app records heart rate readings from your ear, providing a legitimately relaxing personalized chillout playlist, rather than the same generic list that everyone listens to. These are much more complex problems than today’s headphones address and require more advanced silicon to make them a reality.

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds you can buy

Sonical is also taking care of half that issue, designing its own chipset built specifically to run the Cosmos, listenable apps, essential DSP functions, and advanced machine learning, all with the very limited power of modern headphones. without breaking the budget. It doesn’t make sense, and Gary admits that maximizing the potential of CosmOS will require the silicon advancements we’ve seen in mobiles over the past decade, with powerful processors built on more efficient manufacturing processes. But if Apple is already using its H1 chipset to deliver “computational audio,” it’s clear that the premise of the concept is already viable today.

The headphones aren’t equipped to run apps and AI, but new processors may change that.

Conveniently, custom silicon bypasses the issue of attempting to support the countless third-party chipsets on the market – a nearly impossible feat given the changing capabilities of the silicon in use today. But it does provide Sonic an opportunity to simplify Cosmos, offering developers a consistent feature set and robust APIs that remove the need to fully understand the silicon underneath. Traditionally, programming for Bluetooth chipsets has been pretty low level, as some might say. It’s efficient but doesn’t gel very well with adding and removing applications at will. By introducing a full-fledged thin OS with a hardware abstraction layer, CosmOS takes a more plug-and-play approach to software, making development feel a bit more like a modern app.

The downside is that CosmOS won’t run on anything and everything; It needs partners for both silicon and software. While undoubtedly some players will be willing to embrace the freedom on offer here, others may be more protective of their tight and profitable ownership ecosystem. As Johnny put it; “It’s time to close the doors.”

What is killer app?

music apps

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Leaving the security of our favorite playlists to try something new and advanced is a difficult habit, and perhaps the biggest challenge facing CosmOS as a successful concept. Some may feel that this is a solution in search of a problem, and like most new ideas, the decision can be hasty based entirely on the advent of “killer apps”. By risk, CosmOS isn’t hanging its prospects on a single breakout idea, but it could be for the best in the long term.

Though it has grand ambitions, Sonical has no desire to artificially steer the stage in any particular direction. It is only providing the paddle that will allow third parties to navigate the muddy waters of consumer needs. Google took a similar approach with Android, and we’d certainly say that it has resulted in a faster pace of innovation from both product and app vendors over the years than Apple’s wallowing. Instead of trying to predict future consumer needs with a single killer app, CosmOS could represent a similar paradigm-shifting moment when phones transitioned to touchscreen OSes. It was hard to imagine the breadth of implications before the change, but it’s impossible to imagine going back to the old ways now.

Once everyone loved feature phones but now life cannot be imagined without apps and touchscreens. Could headphones undergo a similar paradigm shift?

As such, there are many ways partners can choose to implement CosmOS, even in the consumer sector. One option is to stick more closely with current phone-to-headphone models, using plugins drawn from various existing apps to enhance and improve today’s experiences. These plugins can include your favorite music streaming app, health tracker, or even hearing enhancement software. The important difference is that you are not bound by the manufacturer’s pre-installed features only.

The more impressive long-term vision was a completely unattractive experience Gary and Johnny outlined, where a wireless earbud charging case acts as a connectivity hub, enabling content streaming over Wi-Fi or 5G and Bluetooth or Bluetooth connectivity for the earbuds. Passes ultra-wideband connections. and any other connected device. In this scenario, headphones are a standalone product, whether you’re listening on the go, connected to a laptop for video calls, or sitting down for a gaming session, taking their apps and features with you. Perhaps we have already seen the first possible step in this direction with the JBL Tour Pro 2 and its touchscreen charging case?

See all: Turn That Old iPod Wireless With These Simple Earbuds

Sounds revolutionary in theory, but the proof of all these great ideas will be in the actual products. Sonical has been working on CosmOS for several years and is in the working prototype stage of development. Headphone partners are in the works, and we look forward to hearing a lot more about the platform coming at CES 2023. Stay with us

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