Today a speaker is not just a speaker—it’s a connected device we use to play music when we want, where we want, and from whatever service we prefer. New cloud-based, streaming media providers have given us greater control over our music libraries, creating magical and memorable experiences every time we hit “play”.
More than ever, convenience matters, and that’s where Linkplay excels.
Who Is Linkplay?
Linkplay is a turnkey Wi-Fi audio solution provider that works with device manufacturers to build connected speaker products at various price points and for a growing number of use cases. Whether you want to build a high-end product for the home or a durable portable speaker for camping trips, Linkplay offers customizable product solutions, complete with the latest technologies, to meet your needs.
In November 2016, we worked with Linkplay to introduce its turnkey Wi-Fi audio solution with an Alexa Voice Service (AVS) integration. The solution enables speaker brands and OEMs to quickly and cost effectively launch Wi-Fi speaker products with access to Alexa. In the months since launch, Linkplay has brought five portable speaker products with Alexa to market. Its most recent launch, the Omaker WoW, is the first hands-free device, and represents Linkplay’s growing expertise in enabling voice-powered interfaces on speaker products.
Linkplay is now focusing heavily on voice user interface (VUI) design and Alexa, building out a suite of technologies and processes to help its customers integrate conversational AI and hands-free voice control into their connected products.
Founded with the mission of making the audio listening experience convenient for the end consumer, Linkplay serves as a valuable partner for device manufacturers that don’t have the resources to invest and maintain IoT solutions. “Many speaker manufacturers don’t have the resources to take on this technical challenge and financial investment,” Linkplay’s CEO and Founder Lifeng Zhao, Ph.D. said. “It’s taxing for speaker brands to be good at both audio and IoT—Linkplay seeks to take the pain out of the process, enabling speaker brands to conveniently, quickly, and cost-effectively bring cutting edge products to their customers.”
How OEMs Work with Linkplay
Anyone familiar with product development knows that time-to-market is a crucial metric. Linkplay has helped a growing number of speaker manufacturers and OEMs build and launch products with Alexa in under six months, a significant accomplishment in and of itself. But perhaps more important for the manufacturer is how Linkplay designs customized solutions to get a product to market.
According to Zhao, Linkplay recognizes that not all audio devices are created equally, so the technology inside should be adjusted to support these differences. Beyond providing brands and OEMs with Wi-Fi connectivity and access to streaming media, the company plays a crucial role in identifying hardware-based solutions to streamline production and keep costs down. Linkplay offers partners a number of resources to get started, including reference designs and schematics, product design guidelines, standard software and mobile applications, toolkits for testing and debugging, self-test suites, and highly customized mobile applications.
Once a partner has defined their requirements and design, Linkplay works with the OEM to add connectivity to their products. The company’s Wi-Fi and DSP modules enable devices to access AVS, as well as streaming media providers such as Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Spotify, TIDAL, and Napster. Additionally, these modules enable AirPlay, DLNA, Spotify Connect, and QPlay protocols.
The built-in Alexa experience allows customers to ask Alexa for weather reports, traffic updates, Flash Briefings, access local information, control smart home products, and enable more than 8,000 Alexa skills.
Throughout the development process, Linkplay acts as the certification proxy. Linkplay ensures the OEM’s product meets Amazon’s UX and functional guidelines and hands-free acoustic requirements. Within these processes, Linkplay recommends mic array placements, form factor design, integration use cases such as push-to-talk or hands-free, LED requirements, and more.
“Linkplay has always been about creating great wireless audio experiences for our partners’ customers. We have relationships with most major music service providers and a robust whole home audio solution that enables customers to group and manage their speakers across the home,” Zhao said. “For us, integrating with the Alexa Voice Service made perfect sense as it enabled us to easily bring the convenience of voice interaction to our customers.”
How Omaker Launched with Linkplay and Alexa
When Omaker came to Linkplay with the idea for a hands-free speaker with Alexa, Linkplay worked with Amazon to identify the appropriate mic array and wake word engine to fit the budget and form factor. Using the Conexant AudioSmart 2-Mic solution and Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree wake word engine, Linkplay helped Omaker design a high-quality product at an affordable price.
“We chose the Conexant mic array for this product because of its high performance and cost,” Zhao said. “However, cost was only one factor—the 2-microphone array also ensured that we could fit the required technology into the form factor.”
Amazon announced the Conexant 2-Mic AudioSmart Dev Kit in December 2016. With a Wi-Fi solution from Linkplay and a recommended reference solution from Conexant, Omaker was able to build and announce its WoW speaker in time for CES 2017. It is this type of speed-to-market that makes Linkplay a valuable option for many OEMs.
“We are excited with Amazon’s vision for Alexa, and working with their team was a natural choice for us as it complements our strategy and bundled solution,” Zhao said. “Alexa’s technology allows us to implement multiple software and hardware platforms to address a variety of price points. This flexibility enabled us to target numerous product lines, such as audio speakers, sound bars, IoT devices, and enterprise applications with the most cost-effective solutions for our clients.”
What’s Next for Linkplay?
Linkplay has experienced incredible interest in its smart Wi-Fi solution with Alexa. “We are amazed by the number of requests we get from people asking how they can integrate Alexa into their products with Linkplay,” Zhao said. “Our first-to-market position proved to be a huge advantage for us, and the extreme halo effect of being associated with Amazon Alexa at CES this year helped introduce our brand and services to new customers.”
While Linkplay has enabled five Alexa products in-market today, Zhao says that’s only the beginning, and the company is off to a fast start in 2017.
“Our roadmap is evolving, and we’re constantly soliciting feedback from customers from new areas. We recently held an Alexa Summit for our speaker manufacturers and OEM customers that drew hundreds of attendees, and I believe we’ll see more of these activities in the future,” Zhao said. “From a brand perspective, we have dozens of projects in our queue for 2017.”
Linkplay has made it easy for brands to build and launch connected products with Alexa. In less than three months, the company has developed a solution that will greatly scale the number of devices with Alexa available to end consumers. Reflecting back on its core mission of making it more convenient for consumers to listen to music when, where, and however they want, Linkplay’s desire to delight its customers, focus on deepening business relationships, and embrace new technologies has helped the company to exceed expectations without any sign of slowing down.
Contact Linkplay by email if you're interested in building a product with the "Powered by Linkplay" solution.
New to voice user interface design? See how the technology works by building your own Amazon Alexa prototype for Raspberry Pi.
Have questions? We’re here to help. Visit us on the AVS Forum or Alexa GitHub to speak with one of our experts.