Google obtains Synaptics IP in audio-related buying spree

Google’s first two attempts at the massive wireless audio market didn’t go over very well, but its latest iteration of the Pixel Buds A series has been well received overall. Now, in keeping with a desire to “distinguish” its future proprietary audio products, Google has quietly acquired audio-related IP, including an entire Synaptics team.

The people from Protocol uncovered several deals Google has made over the past few months, including the purchase of startup Dysonics and its 3D audio technology, as we’ve covered before.

The biggest news outside of this purchase is a previously unknown deal from late 2020 that saw Google take over some of Synaptics’ audio hardware business. $35 million. The deal gave Google audio hardware patents and patent applications that cover “active noise-canceling headphones” among other things. The deal also included Synaptics staff, with former VP and GM of Audio Trausti Thormundsson moving to Google as chief product officer, according to his LinkedIn.

In 2021, Google additionally acquired audio IP from now-defunct startup RevX Technologies. The startup had built a device to optimize in-ear monitors for performing musicians and garnered praise from some artists. The deal also saw patents for noise cancellation for headphones via in-ear microphones transferred to Google, and RevX CTO Dennis Rauschmayer works under Google as an “algorithm architect”.

Google too spent $17.4 million to acquire French startup Tempow, which was building the “first operating system for true wireless headphones” and working with Motorola and TCL. Most Tempow employees moved to Google as a result of the deal, and IP also changed hands, which Protocol speculates could be a defensive measure against lawsuits such as the recent loss to Sonos.

Adding to the intrigue surrounding this spending spree are Jobs from Google to run an “experimental acoustics lab” in Irvine, California, where former Synaptics employees are located. Other open positions seek to develop custom silicon for audio products to “[bring] life of the key features that set our proprietary devices apart,” which is surely referring to the Pixel Buds. The list reads, with emphasis on ours:

In this role, you will bring technical and commercial expertise working on silicon solutions. You will lead audio hardware and software collaboration between the silicon engineering team, advanced research teams, and device hardware/software groups. You will be define a custom audio silicon that brings to life the key features that set our proprietary devices apart. By working cross-functionally, you’ll solve problems with custom audio silicon, create multi-year roadmaps that intersect with our long-term device strategy, and secure executive support.

Google also hired former Bose engineer Peter Liu in early 2021. Liu was instrumental in developing the Bluetooth LE standard.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Google has in store for the audio market with all these recent hires, but it’s clear the company has ambitions in the space beyond its current offering. With 2020’s $180 Pixel Buds no longer available and no real successor on the horizon, it’s definitely time for another high-end audio product from Google.

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Kimberly B. Nguyen