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Smartphones, Tablets Power Bluetooth Bonanza

NEW YORK – A surge in Androidbased smartphones and tablets is combining with surging iPhone and iPad sales to power an influx of stereo- Bluetooth tabletop speakers from established companies and startups.

The speakers include Bluetoothonly tabletop speakers and iPod/ iPhone-docking speakers with Bluetooth.

Among the installed base of smartphone users, 48 percent use an Android smartphone, and 32 percent use an Apple smartphone, Neilsen found in a February survey of consumers.

To reach the Android majority, tabletop-speaker suppliers have turned to Bluetooth because the Android standard does not mandate a standardized dock connector or standardized way of streaming music through a data port to a docking speaker.

Suppliers, however, are also targeting Bluetooth speakers to iPhone users even though scores of iPod/iPhone-docking speakers are available. iPhones are replacing iPods as consumers’ portable music sources, and iPhone users would like to keep their phones within arm’s reach to take calls rather than dock them in a docking speaker at the other end of a room, explained Nick Murrells, Altec Lansing’s computer and docking audio general manager.

Likewise, tablet users like to keep their tablets on the coffee table or on their laps, said Raleigh Wilson, Altec’s co-president.

“Smartphones are such an integral part of consumers’ daily lives that they value the ability to play back music wirelessly while holding the device in their hands to check Facebook, message with friends or manage their appointment calendar,” Murrells said. “This is a big advantage over traditional docking speakers.”

“Consumers continue to gain awareness of the benefits of Bluetooth and are more comfortable with pairing as households now have several phones, laptops, tablets that are Bluetooth-ready,” he added.

Although tabletop speakers with Wi-Fi and Apple Air- Play are available for use with Apple’s Wi-Fi-equipped mobile devices, those speakers are more expensive, still not very common, and do not include portable AC/DC models, suppliers said. For households that own a mix of Apple and Android devices, a Bluetooth speaker connects to all devices, they added.

To leverage the growth of iPhones and Android phones, brands such as Coby, Klipsch’s Energy, Eton, iLuv, Spectra’s Jensen brand, House of Marley, Soundfreaq, TDK Life On Record and Philips Consumer Lifestyle are launching their first Bluetooth-only speakers, and companies such as Accessory Power and iHome are expanding their selections. Startup company Braven is using Bluetooth speakers to enter the CE market, and startup Nyne Multimedia is launching its brand with a mix of Bluetooth-only speakers and Bluetooth-equipped iPod/iPad-docking speakers.

Like previous Bluetooth speakers, the new models not only stream music stored on a mobile device but also audio from stored movies, games and apps, including Internet radio apps.

Some of the new products, such as a trio of planned Bluetooth-only speakers from TDK Life On Record, decode AAC files streamed over Bluetooth to improve sound quality over Bluetooth’s own SBC codec. Apple streams music over Bluetooth in AAC from new iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Likewise, select Bluetooth speakers from Braven, and five new docking speakers from Samsung, include AptX lossless decoders to improve Bluetooth sound quality when streaming music via Bluetooth from AptX-equipped devices such as Apple Mac OS X computers, new HTC One-series Android smartphones, and 30-pin Bluetooth dongles installed on iPods, iPhones and iPads, AptX licensor CSR told TWICE.

The Braven and Samsung AptX products will join a $199-suggested Altec Lansing InMotion Bluetooth speaker with AptX at a suggested $199 and multiple Creative Sound Labs AptX Bluetooth speakers.

The AptX technology is also incorporated in such mobile devices as the Motorola Razr, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, Creative ZiiO tablet and Creative Zen Xfi-3 player, CSR said.

The AptX codec delivers CD-quality sound by eliminating the compressed-music artifacts that Bluetooth’s SBC audio codec makes more noticeable when an MP3 file or other compressed- music file is transmitted wirelessly, CSR said. AptX converts compressed music to PCM, then re-encodes it into compressed AptX for over-air transmission via Bluetooth.

Neither the Consumer Electronics Association nor The NPD Group break out sales of Bluetooth-only speakers, but NPD found sales of Bluetooth-equipped iPod docking speakers on the upswing. In 2011, 2 percent of the 5.7 million docking speakers sold at retail had Bluetooth, and that share rose to 3 percent of 798,000 units sold in the first quarter of this year.