With the Pixel 2, Google joined Apple in the race to kill the headphone jack. But you can’t kill the jack if you don’t have a solid wireless solution to fall back on. Which is why, on Tuesday, Google announced that its doing a riff on one of the Apple’s coolest features, the seamless pairing of phones to Bluetooth headphones like the Apple Airpods. Now you should be able to pair your new Google headphones to your Android device with a tap.
The hassle of pairing Bluetooth devices with your smartphone is one of the primary reasons that people hate the idea of losing the headphone jack. Sometimes the phone doesn’t recognize the device, or an update is needed, or connectivity is inconsistent, or it just takes a long time to pair. Apple’s solution was the introduction of the W1 chip, a custom Bluetooth chip that offers seamless pairing on a select number of headphones. The chip makes pairing quick and simple—you just put the headphones you want to connect near the phone and a pop-up appears asking if you want to pair them. Fast Pair is a software solution for Android that should function in a way similar to the W1 chip, but one big advantage of Fast Pair is that it’ll likely end up offering more headphone options than a few pairs of Beats and a set of Apple earbuds.
Like Apple’s W1, Fast Pair will only work with a few devices for now. Google Pixel Buds or Libratone’s Q Adapt On-Ear are the first selections, and it’ll soon be compatible with Plantronics Voyager 8200 headsets too. However, Google says it is already reaching out to third-party manufacturers to register their devices to take advantage of the feature, and, in the long run, Google is much more likely to be generous with its registration process than Apple, particularly as it’s a software solution, and doesn’t require the fancy W1 chip.
In a blog post, the Google developers explained that the Fast Pair feature is rolling out on Android 6.0 and later as long as the device is running Google Play services 11.7+.
The first time you use Fast Pair, Android will recognize the Bluetooth device and pull up a photo of the headphones along with the product name, and if a companion app is available it will automatically be downloaded. The user will be asked to “tap to pair” and in seconds, you’re all set up.
There are still a few caveats that hold this feature back from being as solid as the W1 chip. Fast Pair uses Bluetooth Low Energy for discovery, but it’s still using classic Bluetooth for pairing, so the improvements to the reliability of the connection that Apple has offered aren’t guaranteed on Android. The W1 chip also offers faster charging and improved sound quality over standard Bluetooth devices.
Still, a software solution is better than no solution, and all-in-all, this is a good development! More manufacturers are going to have to make a concerted effort to improve Bluetooth because the headphone jack is going the way of the RCA cable sooner rather than later. Google’s just making it a little easier.