The pressing question music listeners face no longer has anything to do with getting music onto their devices. Now it’s a matter of how to broadcast music throughout their home. Bluetooth speakers have taken off because they’re a relatively simple solution for listening to music out loud–no cable required–but their simplicity can also be limiting for bigger sound systems.
On Monday, Google announced Google Cast for audio, which aims to provide listeners with a higher-fidelity option for connecting their mobile devices to new Internet-enabled speakers. Google’s casting technology has been around for a few years now, first showing up with the introduction of its $35 Chromecast dongle, but the focus on audio is new. The announcement specifically mentions upcoming Internet connected speakers from LG, Denon, and Sony.
Among the music services supporting Google Cast for audio are Rdio, Pandora, NPR One, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Google’s own Play Music. It shouldn’t be hard for other apps to come on quick, however, as a Google spokesperson said, “Currently no additional software development is required. Developers will just need to opt-in through the developer console in order to cast to Google Cast for Audio devices. Google will also provide an updated SDK allowing content partners to further optimize their experience for Google Cast for Audio devices.”
Absent is the largest on-demand streaming service, Spotify. That service has its own directly streaming protocol called Spotify Connect that allows hardware manufactures to build in the ability to beam listening from the app straight to connected speakers. Another notable name not mentioned is the company that pioneered whole-home wireless music systems, Sonos. Sonos did partner with Google last year to bring similar casting support to its speakers (different on the backend), but the functionality currently only works for Google’s All Access streaming service and Android users.
Google Cast for audio works similarly to Apple’s AirPlay, in that it connects over Wi-Fi to offer higher-quality music streams direct to connected devices. The difference is that AirPlay is only available for Apple hardware–iPhones, Macs, iPads, and Apple TV–whereas Cast for audio will work cross-platform for Android and iOS users.
AirPlay-enabled speakers have also been been pricey. If Google doesn’t impose the same licensing costs that Apple commands with AirPlay, it could make audio-casting-enabled speakers more affordable. The first speakers were announced at CES and are expected to launch this spring.