When we first came across Conexant it was closing in on WiFi and broadband chips in around 2004, but it then came up against Broadcom WiFi pricing, which put it into a tailspin, and resulted in it going private under Golden Gate Capital in 2011.
In 2013 the company entered Chapter XI and now it seems to have emerged so successfully on the back of mixed signal chips which offer voice control, especially to the highly popular smart speakers market, led by Alexa, that it has been acquired just a few weeks back for $300 million.
This week that voice control leadership led it to the AI department at Baidu and opened up the colossal Chinese market for Conexant, which is perhaps why touch and biometric specialist Synaptics, snapped it up mid-June for $300 million, along with Marvell’s multimedia business for another $95 million. The plan seems to be to make a powerhouse of human interface chips, which already have a strong relationship with Apple.
Of course a supplier relationship with Apple is a double edged sword, after we have seen what it has done to Imagination (and Qualcomm) once Apple decided to pull its business. But just as likely these purchases make Synaptics more useful to Apple, not less. And with talk of Apple preparing a phone that recognizes your face before it gives you access, Synaptics might be a natural company to offer this work to.
But if you have to share a bed with Apple some of the time, it’s great to be able to pop next door to a big Chinese firm like Baidu – so that you can hedge your bets.
Conexant got into the voice processing market in 2012, and the company’s AudioSmart brand of voice input processors and embedded far-field processing software has become adopted by CE device manufacturers in numerous products ranging from Artificially Intelligent digital assistant devices and smart speakers to voice-enabled televisions and personal robots. LG Electronics has integrated a Conexant voice input processor into its smart home products and Qualcomm has used it for its Hexagon signal processor family, part of its Snapdragon range.
Last December Conexant cut a deal with Amazon for its to work with Amazon AVS, and then it cut the time to market for Alexa, already the fastest selling voice input device in the world.
Now Conexant looks ready to begin powering Chinese domestic devices with two key elements, dealing with noise and echoes when a voice needs to be understood in a noisy environment (like when music is playing) and locating where that voice is coming from, so the device can listen more intently in that direction. Shouting over Alexa is considered plain rude. After that, the Baidu AI voice assistant technology takes over.
“The voice revolution is a global phenomenon. By working with Baidu we help more third-party manufacturers bring to market innovative voice-enabled AI devices with an exceptional conversational AI experience,” said Saleel Awsare, President of Conexant. “The launch of Baidu’s DuerOS development kits and reference designs will drastically reduce development time and cost, allowing manufacturers to quickly bring their innovative ideas to market.”