Android 12 adds APIs for Bluetooth LE Audio, paving the way for better Bluetooth audio
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since yesterday, you know that Google I/O 2021 is underway. This is the biggest Google event of the year, and although it focuses on developers more than it does on consumers, the announcements made therein are relevant to both demographics. One of these announcements is for Android 12 adding in an API for Bluetooth LE Audio, which is a significant announcement that will greatly enhance the end-user experience when using Bluetooth earphones and other audio devices.
Hidden among the flood of announcements was a reveal of the Bluetooth LE Audio API which provides public APIs to control the Le Audio profile. The API mentions that Android only supports one set of connected Bluetooth LE Audio device at a time.
Before we dive into the importance of this, let’s back up a little.
What is Bluetooth LE Audio?
Bluetooth Low Energy Audio was announced last year by Bluetooth SIG at CES 2020 as a new standard for low-power audio transmission over Bluetooth. This standard is separate from Bluetooth 5.1 and Bluetooth 5.2, although Bluetooth 5.2 includes the foundation stones (Isochronous Channels) that make BLE Audio possible.
Bluetooth LE Audio allows devices to transmit sound across the low-energy spectrum. It makes use of a new compression algorithm, called the Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3), that will maintain the same high audio quality that you get from Bluetooth at the moment. Thanks to this, manufacturers will be able to develop devices that offer nearly twice the current playtime without sacrificing audio quality.
Further, BLE Audio also includes supports for hearing aids, bringing the benefits of Bluetooth audio to people that require hearing aids.
Which audio devices support Bluetooth LE Audio?
For audio devices (referred to as audio sinks) to support Bluetooth LE Audio, it needs to have a newer Bluetooth chip that supports the LE Audio profile.
Late last year, Qualcomm launched the QCC305x chip for mid-tier and entry-level TWS earbuds that will come with support for Bluetooth LE Audio. This chip also adds in support for other premium audio technologies, but within the context of this article, Bluetooth LE Audio is one of its highlights.
Which smartphones support Bluetooth LE Audio?
Bluetooth LE Audio support was added through the Qualcomm FastConnect 6700 and FastConnect 6900 chips, which are combo WiFi and Bluetooth chips for smartphones.
Among other features, the FastConnect 6900 and the FastConnect 6700 chips bring Bluetooth 5.2 to Android smartphones. These chips are also Bluetooth LE Audio-ready. So if your smartphone has either of these chips, it satisfies one of the conditions needed for you to enjoy Bluetooth LE Audio.
Note that these combo chips are not integrated into Snapdragon SoCs. Because of this, simply having a high-end device with the Snapdragon 888 SoC does not necessarily guarantee that the phone will support Bluetooth LE Audio. The phone needs to pack a Bluetooth chip that supports this new tech, which will more than likely happen if it is a high-end device — it’s just not a guarantee arising from packing a specific SoC by itself.
How is Android 12’s Bluetooth LE Audio API significant?
The FastConnect 6900 and 6700 chips brought along audio sources with support for Bluetooth LE Audio. The QCC305x chip brings along the capability for audio sinks with support for this new tech. And now, the Android OS supports the audio profile, completing the equation.
Keep in mind that Bluetooth LE Audio’s new LC3 codec will not do much to improve audio quality per see. Instead, it will help with improving battery life and signal robustness. This will translate into a better user experience for a large majority of users.