May 20, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: how a California startup helped Spotify build Car Thing, and what's next for Google's Android TV and smart home platforms.
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Making hardware is hard, especially for companies with no prior expertise in consumer electronics. So when Spotify set out to develop Car Thing, its new automotive display device, it got help from outside experts.
To make voice recognition for Car Thing work, Spotify relied on DSP Concepts, a Santa Clara-based startup that has built a software platform for audio hardware development. DSP Concepts CTO Paul Beckmann recently filled me in on how his team helped turn Car Thing from an idea into a real thing.
However, Car Thing is very different from your typical in-car entertainment system. The device functions as an interface for the Spotify app on your phone.
A carmaker also has complete control over the positioning of microphones and the acoustic qualities of each cabin component. Car Thing, on the other hand, is very much a DIY solution; consumers decide where they want to place it, and the device needs to work with whatever car they own, no matter how old or banged-up it is.
The biggest challenge: car dashboards, which are notoriously overcrowded. Among other options, Spotify ships Car Thing with a vent mount, and many consumers find that the vent grille really is the only option to add another screen to their car — which makes voice isolation all the more challenging. "The vent noise was surprising," Beckmann told me.
However, DSP Concepts could rely on some past expertise to deal with blasting ACs. The company has been helping GoPro to add wind noise suppression to the company's action cameras. Turns out that making audio work on a surfboard helps a lot when optimizing it on a dashboard.
Referencing the old adage that Inuits have dozens of words for snow, Beckmann joked: "After working with GoPro, we know 20 words for wind noise."
"The ultimate smile-to-the-face, knife-in-the-back." —A Hollywood talent agent reacting to the news that AT&T helped The Wall Street Journal write a long profile on WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, which was published three days before news of the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger broke.
"Apple and Amazon using their unlimited cash flow to subsidize 'free' lossless audio to music customers has big 'Google offering free photo storage just long enough to starve its independent competitors to death before starting to charge' energy." —Casey Newton on Apple and Amazon's new hi-fi music streaming feature.
Protocol sat down with DataStax CEO Chet Kapoor to discuss how a modern, open data stack can help companies drive high growth and the role open-source Apache Cassandra plays in reliably delivering data at scale.
This week, Google held a virtual edition of its annual Google I/O developer conference, with a stage setup that looked like it was cribbed from "The Good Place." And speaking of TV references: Google used I/O to give developers an update on its Android TV platform as well as other smart home initiatives that tie into home entertainment devices like the company's Nest smart displays.
Here's what's new for Android TV:
And now the rest of the home:
For more on Matter, which officially launched earlier this month, check out Stacey Higginbotham's FAQ. But in essence, the standard should make it easier for people to buy new gear without having to wonder whether it works with their existing setup. That's a good thing, because simplicity does matter.
(Sorry, but someone had to do it.)
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I tend to keep a close eye on FCC filings for consumer electronics products. I've been doing this for years, and figured that I've seen it all. That was until this week, when I found the Mountain Dew Voltage Connected Cup, courtesy of Circle K. The gas station chain isn't really known for gadgets, but it went all out for this one. According to a manual included in the filing, the cup keeps your drink hot, which is already a bit baffling because … Mountain Dew? It also connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and lets you collect rewards points, which can then be traded in for swag (hats, hoodies and apparently more mugs). The manual also advises to "keep your cup connected for special alerts," without really explaining what a cup could possibly alert you of. Maybe it will be a warning not to drink hot soda?
Thanks for reading — see you next week!