Sonos today announced an integration that’s just shy of wonderful, but still pretty fun: You’ll soon be able to control everyone’s favorite connected speakers from the comfort of your Amazon Echo. And that’s just for starters.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the suite of Sonos announcements today is that they’re all features that don’t exist already. The company’s range of speakers have always been great, offering excellent sound quality and stable wireless connectivity. But you’ve always needed to cue up music and control what’s playing on them with Sonos’s own app, which often provides a less-compelling experience than the streaming services’ own offerings.
That’ll change soon, though. Today, Sonos announced two new ways to control its system via third-party wares. First, you’ll soon be able to fire up Spotify, select your Sonos in the devices menu, and control the speakers directly from the app. It’s not the same thing as selecting a Bluetooth source; cueing up your songs will allow the speakers to stream them directly via Wi-Fi. The Spotify Connect features also let you hand off tunes from your headphones and car stereo to your home system when you get there. Those features will be launched as a public beta update to the Spotify app in October, with the official launch coming in 2017.
And then there’s Echo. Although there won’t be any Alexa ears built right into Sonos’s speaker—which would be an integration worth some genuine excitement—you can now control them via the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap. You can use voice commands to have Alexa tell you what’s playing, navigate tracks, and pause and play. That trick is not quite available yet, but it’s coming as a free Echo device update in 2017.
So why no direct Alexa integration in the Sonos speakers themselves? For one thing, most Sonos speakers don’t have microphones inside them. And the Play:5 speaker, which does have microphones built into it, isn’t optimized for the same kinds of things that Amazon’s Echo lineup can do.
“There are mics built into the Play:5 in kind of a future-proofing way,” says Antoine Leblond, VP of software development for Sonos. “The thought behind that was our TruePlay [speaker-tuning] technology, there’s a way of doing that using internal mics… But they’re near-field microphones. For far-field voice recognition, you have to think of microphone arrays that can do things like noise cancellation, echo cancellation, and things like that. The configuration of the mics in the Play:5 isn’t really suited to that.”
Leblond also hinted that more third-party apps may soon be able to directly control your Sonos system. Pandora is on the short list, and more services may be coming.
“All these services are no longer competing on how many tracks they have,” Leblond says. “They’re all pretty good. What they’re competing on is experiences, and they love to keep people inside their apps.”
If you really want to, you can continue to control your speakers the old-fashioned way through the Sonos app. It’s getting a free update on September 7, adding more-streamlined controls and quicker ways to built playlists.
It’s not quite as deep an Alexa integration as both Sonos and Amazon fans might have hoped for. But it’s a start, and hopefully a sign of a Sonos that’s more versatile in all sorts of ways going forward.