The future of headphones — streaming music built right in

Matthew Paprocki, cofounder of the audio company Soundfreaq, suggests Apple may turn Beats into next-generation, music-everywhere streaming stereos.

Matthew Paprocki, cofounder of the audio company Soundfreaq, suggests Apple may use Beats to create next-generation, music-everywhere streaming stereos.

At the giant Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the exhibit halls were packed with wireless audio products. It’s all thanks to the mobile revolution. These are the listening devices of the future.

But future speakers and headphones will be quite different, predicted Matthew Paprocki, co-founder of Soundfreaq, a Southern California company that makes a range of critically acclaimed speakers.

Paprocki’s predictions may have implications for Beats, which Apple is rumored to be buying for $3.2 billion. Beats, of course, makes headphones and has a subscription based music streaming service, but Apple’s plans are unclear.

“They could take all the ingredients that Beats has and bake it into a new cake,” Paprocki said.

A veteran of Frog Design (Apple’s first design agency), Paprocki co-founded Soundfreaq in 2010. Acting as Creative Director, Paprocki leads the design and development of the company’s critical-acclaimed products. Awards include Wired’s “Gear of the Year” and iLounge’s CES “Best in Show” in 2012 and 2013.

As lead designer, Paprocki keeps a close eye on trends in consumer electronics, and predicts that wireless audio will soon start to change. Industry groups are predicting double-digit growth of the segment in the next few years. There are already 10 billion wirelessly connected devices in the market today, according to ABI Research, which will grow to over 30 billion by 2020.

Right now, Paprocki says, speakers and headphones are “pull” devices: the listener pulls music from their computer, smartphone or tablet.

But digital music is starting to gravitate towards “push” music, where someone else decides what songs to play. Push is typified buy the streaming music services, like Pandora to iTunes Radio, where a DJ or an algorithm decides the tunes.

With pull music, you need a device with a screen and a relatively complex interface. This allows the listener to select specific acts or tracks to play. But with push devices, you don’t need a robust UI at all. Think car radios with five preset buttons.

Paprocki said next-gen audio hardware will be able to have music pushed directly to the device, without the need for a tablet or computer.

“The way we see this working is hardware that does push and pull,” said Paprocki. “Headphones will work with your iPhone — or independently.”

“Push/pull makes a ton of sense,” he added. “Eventually it’s inevitable over time that this will go that way… We believe it’s the way most people will naturally listen to music and enjoy it. Apple would be a good company to pull all these pieces together.”

Paprocki said he could imagine Beats headphones with cellular chips. The headphones would stream preset Beats Music channels or playlists directly, without the need to be connected to an iPhone. The headphones could be controlled by Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant, and may assume some of the functions of an iPhone, like receiving text messages and reading them through the headphones.

“They would be very much like rumored iWatch,” he said. “They will play nice with an iPhone, but also work independently.”

Paprocki said maybe Apple would make a range of independent accessories that all connect to core services and talk to each other, but work independently and have specific functions — music or fitness, for example.

But why does Apple need Beats to do this? What’s to stop Apple building connected speakers or headphones itself?

“Because Beats figured out how to sell a large percentage of the population a $300 pair of headphones, regardless of income level,” said Paprocki. “And if Apple were going to do that, why compete with Beats?

“Right now the delivery system is pretty useless without an iPhone, iPad or computer,” he added. “Could Apple bring them together in more interesting ways? I’m not saying this is what Apple will do with Beats, but it’s a possibility.”

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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