The companies announced the partnership to move the virtual assistant beyond the smartspeaker on Monday. Select models of headphones already include Alexa integration—Apple and Google’s voice activated assistants are also available in certain headsets—but Qualcomm (QCOM) could radically expand the availability of Alexa-compatible headphones. The company will offer a pre-made chip that can be dropped into headsets, reducing costs to headphone manufacturers.
Qualcomm’s expertise is well suited to the project, but the work with Amazon (AMZN) also marks a departure from its traditional business model. The company’s recent reliance on processor and modem chips for mobile phones has resulted in patent fines and lawsuits, though it has been lucrative. In addition to an Alexa integration, Qualcomm indicated it would work with GoPro to integrate chips for image processing, and didn’t rule out the possibility of making chips for Google’s voice assistant as well.
One company Qualcomm probably won’t be working with is Apple. Once one of the chip-maker’s best customers, the two companies are now engaged in a legal battle that started earlier this year when Apple sued Qualcomm for charging “excessive royalties.” Qualcomm then countersued, saying Apple had stolen trade secrets and was passing them to Intel, a competitor.