One of the most serious recent threats faced by Sonos, the biggest player in connected speakers, came from Amazon, whose Echo “smart” speaker proved to be a surprise hit.
Now Sonos is embracing its
erstwhile rival to bring voice control into its own speakers. At a New
York event on Tuesday morning, the company announced a partnership with
Amazon that will allow the users to operate their Sonos devices using
Amazon’s Alexa technology.
But there’s a catch: Alexa’s voice
technology won’t be built into Sonos speakers. Instead, users will have
to purchase an Amazon device, like the Echo or Dot speakers, and use it
to control their Sonos system.
Sonos will open up a private beta
of the integration at the end of this year. The features will become
available to all Sonos owners in early 2017.
The software integration is happening at deeper level than other Alexa partners, said Sonos president Patrick Spence. Right
now, Alexa users can do a range of things using what Amazon calls as
“skills” — everything from ordering an Uber car to turning up the
temperature on an internet-connected thermostat. Sonos could build an
Alexa skill today if it wanted to, but the integration has to work well
in Sonos’ software environment too. Users will be able to, for instance,
ask Alexa to play the Beatles and then open up the Sonos app to change
the volume or switch to the next song. The two companies are working
together to make that experience seamless.
highlights just how important Alexa has become. Nobody was quite sure
what to make of the Alexa-powered Echo smart speaker when it launched in
2014. But since then, its capabilities have grown and it’s now starting
to demonstrate a compelling future where accessing a
range of internet services no longer requires fumbling around with a
phone app or sitting at a computer. Users just speak to Alexa anywhere
Amazon is listening. Amazon is estimated to have sold 3 million Echo
Sonos is having to adapt to this new world. In the
14 years since it was founded, Sonos has grown to nearly $1 billion in
annual sales and has received more than $300 million in financing, but
Amazon began stealing its thunder, as the Echo has become an
increasingly popular way to play streaming music. Earlier this year,
Sonos CEO John MacFarlane wrote a blog post announcing the company was
laying off some employees while investing more in voice and paid
streaming music services.
“Alexa/Echo is the first product to
really showcase the power of voice control in the home,” MacFarlane
wrote at the time. ”Its popularity with consumers will accelerate
innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become
Sonos denies there’s competition between the
two companies. ”We exist to fill people’s home with music — we invest in
sound quality, multi-room experience and music services,” said Spence
in an interview. “Amazon built a great platform that allows people
to order more things from Amazon. Both companies have different
ambitions in terms of where we want to be.”
Tech giants Apple AAPL -0.77% and Google GOOGL -0.49%
are also trying expand their voice-control capabilities. Apple opened
up its voice assistant, Siri, to developers in June at its annual
developers conference. And at Google’s developers conference in May, the search giant announced its own smart speaker called Google Home,
which will be released sometime later this year. Sonos thinks there’s a
possibility to integrate with all these intelligent voice systems.
lit the fire and is proving out voice services,” said Spence. “We’ll
see more and more just like with music streaming services. Amazon is at
the forefront, and we’re excited to see what others do.”