Sonos clarifies how unsupported devices will be treated

Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos clarified its stance when it comes to old devices that are no longer supported. The company faced some criticisms after its original announcement. Sonos now says that you’ll be able to create two separate Sonos systems so that your newer devices stay up to date.

If you use a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, Sonos is still going to drop support for those devices. According to the company, those devices have reached their technical limits when it comes to memory and processing power.

While nothing lasts forever, it’s still a shame that speakers that work perfectly fine are going to get worse over time. For instance, if Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

But the announcement felt even more insulting as the company originally said that your entire ecosystem of Sonos devices would stop receiving updates so that all your devices remain on the same firmware version. Even if you just bought a Sonos One, it would stop receiving updates if there’s an old speaker on your network.

“We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state,” the company writes.

It’s not ideal, but the company is no longer holding your Sonos system back. Sonos also clarifies that old devices will still receive security updates and bug fixes — but there won’t be any new feature.

I still think Sonos should add a computing card slot to its devices. This way, you wouldn’t have to replace speakers altogether. You could get a new computing card with more memory and faster processors and swap your existing card. Modularity is going to be essential if tech companies want to adopt a more environmental-friendly stance.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Your Sonos system will stop receiving updates if you have an old device

Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos has announced that the company is going to drop support for some of its products. Sonos stopped selling these devices a few years ago. While nothing lasts forever, dropping support is going to have a lot of implications and shows once again that the connected home isn’t as future-proof as expected.

Sonos points out that 92% of the products that it has ever sold are still in use today. It means that some people are still happily using old Sonos devices even though production has stopped since then.

“However, we’ve now come to a point where some of the oldest products have been stretched to their technical limits in terms of memory and processing power,” the company writes.

If you use a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, Sonos is basically going to make your Sonos experience worse across the board.

The company is going to stop shipping updates to those devices. If Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

But Sonos has decided that your entire ecosystem of Sonos devices is going to stop receiving updates so that all your devices are on the same firmware version. For instance, if you just bought a Sonos One but you’re still using an old Sonos Play:5, your Sonos One isn’t going to receive updates either.

The company says that you can get a discount if you replace your old device. But it will still cost you some money. It’s also ironic as the company promises a seamless music experience but then requires you to swap out speakers altogether.

Sonos should use this opportunity to rethink its product lineup. Planned obsolescence due to end-of-life is a great business model for sure. But it’s time to think about ways to keep your speakers for 10, 20 or even 30 years.

People in the 1980s would buy beautiful speakers and keep them for decades. Sure, they’d have to add a CD player in their system at some point. But modularity is a great feature.

Sonos should add a computing card slot to its devices. As systems on a chip, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth get faster and more efficient, users should be able to swap out the computing card for a new one without replacing the speaker altogether.

That would be a more environmental-friendly process than bricking old devices with their questionable recycle mode.

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Sonos acquires voice assistant startup Snips, potentially to build out on-device voice control

Sonos revealed during its quarterly earnings report that it has acquired voice assistant startup Snips in a $ 37 million cash deal, Variety reported on Wednesday. Snips, which had been developing dedicated smart device assistants that can operate primarily locally, instead of relying on consistently round-tripping voice data to the cloud, could help Sonos set up a voice control option for its customers that has “privacy in mind” and is focused more narrowly on music control than on being a general-purpose smart assistant.

Sonos has worked with both Amazon and Google and their voice assistants, providing support for either on their more recent products, including the Sonos Beam and Sonos One smart speakers. Both of these require an active cloud connection to work, however, and have received scrutiny from consumers and consumer protection groups recently for how they handle the data they collect form users. They’ve introduced additional controls to help users navigate their own data sharing, but Sonos CEO Patrick Spence noted that one of the things the company can do in building its own voice features is developing them “with privacy in mind” in an interview with Variety.

Notably, Sonos has introduced a version of its Sonos One that leave out the microphone hardware altogether – the Sonos One SL introduced earlier this fall. The fact that they saw opportunity in a mic-less second version of the Sonos One suggests it’s likely there are a decent number of customers who like the option of a product that’s not round-tripping any information with a remote server. Spence also seemed quick to point out that Sonos wouldn’t seek to compete with its voice assistant partners, however, since anything they build will be focused much more specifically on music.

You can imagine how local machine learning would be able to handle commands like skipping, pausing playback and adjusting volume (and maybe even more advanced feature like playing back a saved playlist), without having to connect to any kind of cloud service. It seems like what Spence envisions is something like that which can provide basic controls, while still allowing the option for a customer to enable one of the more full-featured voice assistants depending on their preference.

Meanwhile, partnerships continue to prove lucrative for Sonos: Its team-up with Ikea resulted in 30,000 speakers sold on launch day, the company also shared alongside its earnings. That’s a lot to move in one day, especially in this category.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

The time is right for Apple to buy Sonos

It’s been a busy couple of months for smart speakers – Amazon released a bunch just this week, including updated versions of its existing Echo hardware and a new Echo Studio with premium sound. Sonos also introduced its first portable speaker with Bluetooth support, the Sonos Move, and in August launched its collaboration collection with Ikea. Meanwhile, Apple didn’t say anything about the HomePod at its latest big product event – an omission that makes it all the more obvious the smart move would be for Apple to acquire someone who knows what they’re doing in this category: Sonos.

Highly aligned

From an outsider perspective, it’s hard to find two companies who seem more philosophically aligned than Sonos and Apple when it comes to product design and business model. Both are clearly focused on delivering premium hardware (at a price point that’s generally at the higher end of the mass market) and both use services to augment and complement the appeal of their hardware, even if Apple’s been shifting that mix a bit with a fast-growing services business.

Sonos, like Apple, clearly has a strong focus and deep investment in industrial design, and puts a lot of effort into truly distinctive product look and feel that stands out from the crowd and is instantly identifiable once you know what to look for. Even the company’s preference for a mostly black and white palette feels distinctly Apple – at least Apple leading up to the prior renaissance of multicolour palettes for some of its more popular devices, including the iPhone.

airplay2 headerThen from a technical perspective, Apple and Sonos seem keen to work together – and the results of their collaboration has been great for consumers who use both ecosystems. AirPlay 2 support is effectively standard on all modern Sonos hardware, and really Sonos is essentially the default choice already for anyone looking to do AirPlay 2-based multiform audio, thanks to the wide range of options available in different form factors and at different price points. Sonos and Apple also offer an Apple Music integration for Sonos’ controller app, and now you can use voice control via Alexa to play Apple Music, too.

Competitive moves

The main issue that an Apple-owned Sonos hasn’t made much sense before now, at least from Sonos’ perspective, is that the speaker maker has reaped the benefits of being a platform that plays nice with all the major streaming service providers and virtual assistants. Recent Sonos speakers offer both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, for instance, and Sonos’ software has connections with virtually every major music and audio streaming service available.

What’s changed, especially in light of Amazon’s slew of announcements this week, is that competitors like Amazon are looking more like they want to own more of the business that currently falls within Sonos’ domain. Amazon’s Echo Studio is a new premium speaker that directly competes with Sonos in a way that previous Echos really haven’t, and the company has consistently been releasing better-sounding versions of its other, more affordable Echos. It’s also been rolling out more feature-rich multi-room audio features, including wireless surround support for home theater use – all things squarely in the Sonos wheelhouse.

alexa echo amazon 9250064

For now, Sonos and Amazon seem to be comfortably in ‘frenemy’ territory, but increasingly, it doesn’t seem like Amazon is content to leave them their higher-end market segment when it comes to the speaker hardware category. Amazon still probably will do whatever it can to maximize use of Alexa, on both its own and third-party devices, but it also seems to be intent on strengthening and expanding its own first-party device lineup, with speakers as low-hanging fruit.

Other competitors, including Google and Apple, don’t seem to have had as much success with their products that line up as direct competitors to Sonos, but the speaker-maker also faces perennial challenges from hi-fi and audio industry stalwarts, and also seems likely to go up against newer device makers with audio ambitions and clear cost advantages like Anker, too.

Missing ingredients/work to be done

Of course, there are some big challenges and potential red flags that stand in the way of Apple ever buying Sonos, or of that resulting union working out well for consumers. Sonos works so well because it’s service-agnostic, for instance, and they key to its success with recent products seems to also be integration with the smart home assistants that people seem to actually want to use most – namely Alexa and Google Assistant.

Under Apple ownership, it’s highly possible that Apple Music would at least get preferential treatment, if not become the lone streaming service on offer. It’s probable that Siri would replace Alexa and Assistant as the only virtual voice service available, and almost unthinkable that Apple would continue to support competing services if it did make this buy.

That said, there’s probably significant overlap between Apple and Sonos customers already, and as long as there was some service flexibility (in the same way there is for streaming competitors on iOS devices, including Spotify) then being locked into Siri probably wouldn’t sting as much. And it would serve to give Siri the foothold at home that the HomePod hasn’t managed to provide. Apple would also be better incentivized to work on improving Siri’s performance as a general home-based assistant, which would ultimately be good for Apple ecosystem customers.

Another smart adjacency

Apple’s bigger acquisitions are few and for between, but the ones it does make are typically obviously adjacent to its core business. A Sonos acquisition has a pretty strong precedent in the Beats purchase Apple made in 2014, albeit without the strong motivator of providing the underlying product and relationship basis for launching a streaming service.

What Sonos is, however, is an inversion of the historical Apple model of using great services to sell hardware. The Sonos ecosystem is a great, easy to use, premium-feel means of making the most of Apple’s music and video streaming services (and brand new games subscription offering), all of which are more important than ever to the company as it diversifies from its monolithic iPhone business.

I’m hardly the first to suggest an Apple-Sonos deal makes sense: J.P. Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee suggested it earlier this year, in fact. From my perspective, however, the timing has never been better for this acquisition to take place, and the motivations never stronger for either party involved.

Disclosure: I worked briefly for Apple in its communications department in 2015-2016, but the above analysis is based entirely on publicly available information, and I hold no stock in either company.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

The portable $399 Sonos Move is like having two great speakers in one

Sonos has released their first ever portable speaker with a built-in battery: The $ 399 Sonos Move, which starts shipping to customers on September 24. After spending a few days with the Move, I can confidently say that it offers everything that’s great about the Sonos wireless audio system, but with all the added advantages of a speaker you can freely move around the house – or take with you on the road.

Size and sound

The Sonos Move is not a small speaker – it’s about 6.61 lbs, and nearly 10-inches tall by 6.3 inches wide and just under 5-inches deep. If you were maybe expecting it to be around the size of the Sonos One, you’re in for a shock because it’s quite a bit bigger, as you can see from the photo below.

Sonos Move Sonos One 1

Nor is the Sonos Move just a Sonos One stacked on a big battery and wrapped in a new exterior shell – the company tells me it’s a brand new design in terms of the internals, too. The company set about designing a different speaker because the Move will suit different uses vs. the One, since it’s designed to be used in all environments, including outside in open air.

The result is a speaker that can get a bit boomier than the Sonos One, with deeper lows that seem to anticipate it having to compete with a lot more ambient noise. The sound profile is also helped by a downward-firing tweeter which is used to create a wide sound stage for the Move, which in practice means it does a very good job of evenly blasting music at a spread out group at, say, a picnic or a camp fire.

Indoors and out, the Sonos Move provides the kind of quality audio you can expect from any Sonos device, and it seems nearly equally impressive on both Wifi and Bluetooth modes in my testing, though Wifi does seem to have the edge in terms of quality. You can also pair two of the Move together for true stereo sound, thought since I only had one review device on hand I wasn’t able to personally test this out.

Wireless and weather-resistance

The Move’s highlight feature is its ability to move around and operate on battery power, and that’s why it offers two different connection modes. You can use it as a standard Sonos Wifi speaker, connecting it to your Sonos account and having it show up in your Sonos app the same as any other speakers made by the company, which you can group and control as usual.

Sonos Move 9

In Bluetooth mode, you pair it just like you would any Bluetooth speaker, directly to the device from which you want to play music. A button on the back switches modes, and the first time you switch to Bluetooth the Move will automatically enter pairing mode, making it super easy to connect your phone. I was set up on Bluetooth within just a couple of minutes.

A convenient built-in handle is located on the back of the Move just above the pair, power and Sonos system connect buttons. It’s one of the highlights of the design, and since it’s part of the exterior shell, it should be rock solid in terms of durability. Overall, the device feels like it’s incredibly sturdily built, also, and Sonos advertises it as weather and shock-resistant speaker that isn’t afraid to take a tumble or handle a little light rain.

In Bluetooth mode, you won’t have access to either Alexa or Google Assistant, even if you’ve set those up on the Move to work with your home system. Nor will it work in a stereo pair with another Sonos if you’d done that, or show up in the Sonos app for multi-room control. But at home, you can just use the Wifi mode as you move it around the house or to the backyard and still take advantage of all those. While you’re out and about, you’re much more likely to just want a basic wireless speaker anyway, so not having access to these features on Bluetooth really doesn’t have any impact on usability.

During my testing, wireless connectivity was solid on both Wifi and Bluetooth modes, with no dropouts or stutters. Even leaving aside the Sonos aspects of the speaker, it’s also likely the best-sounding Bluetooth weather-resistant speakers I’ve ever tried, at this or any other price range.

Voice assistants and auto Trueplay

Sonos Move 6

The Sonos Move also features built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, both the virtual assistants that are also available on the Sonos Beam and the Sonos One. Built-in farfield mics do a great job of picking up voice commands, and if you’ve used either of these assistants before on other Sonos hardware, you’ll get the same great experience here – provided you’re on Wifi and not Bluetooth, as mentioned above.

Sonos has added a new trick to the Sonos Move using the mics it includes for use with these voice assistants, too: Auto Trueplay. This is a version of its Trueplay sound tuning feature, which it includes in other Sonos speakers. Normally, however, you have to do the process manually using your smartphone’s mic to evaluate the sound. The Sonos Move uses its own mics to adjust automatically – and it does it constantly, changing the sound profile to match your space as you move it room to room, or even outside.

In actual use, the effect is subtle, which it should be since the sound is adapting over time. But I found that it undeniably made a difference, and that listening to the same song initially upon switching the Move’s location, and then after a period of time (I tried an hour or so) produced obvious benefits in terms of the sound of the second listening.

Charging and battery

Sonos Move 5

Sonos has done a great job with all things related to their first battery-powered speaker. The built-in power source is rated for up to 10 hours of continuous playback according to the company, and in my testing, I actually got north of that, but of course your mileage will vary depending on what kind of connection you’re using and at what volume you’re playing music.

Charging is handled two ways, which is a very welcome bit of adaptability that suits the Move’s dual nature as both a Sonos network speaker and a portable audio device. There’s the charging base that comes in the box, which you can see above. This has metal contacts that provide power via connection points on the back of the Move, while providing an attractive and stable base for use in your Move’s more permanent ‘home’ location.

Then there’s a standard USB-C port located on the base above the charging contacts, which is perfect for use when you’re taking the Move on the road, or if you’re just using it outside but near an external outlet and don’t particularly feel like moving the charging base. It’s another example of how the Move can do double duty with smart design elements that don’t require any compromises on the user’s part.

Sonos Move 8

Where it fits in the Sonos line

The Sonos Move is unlike any other speaker in the Sonos lineup. It plays nice with the rest, but only to a point: The Move can’t act as rear satellite speakers or pair with the Sonos Sub, for instance, something which the rest of the lineup can all manage. Sonos says this is because the speaker was designed to move around the house, so it doesn’t make sense for it to be tied to a more permanent installation, as in a home theater or sub-supplemented arrangement.

That said, it’s a solid choice as both an addition to an existing Sonos network, or as your first Sonos device. In the first case, it’s the best way to add a patio-friendly Sonos-compatible speaker to your setup without having to drill into your walls or call home installers; in the second, it’s a great all around wireless speaker if all you really need is one, since it can follow you around the house, adapt its sound, and even pack in the car for road trips or a day at the beach.

Sonos Move 3

Bottom line

At $ 399, the Sonos Move is definitely expensive for either a Bluetooth speaker or a wireless home smart speaker. But when you consider that it’s both, and that it delivers all-day battery life on a single charge; intelligent adaptive sound to ensure it sounds best wherever you’re using it; and the ability to stereo pair and work with other Sonos devices if you want to expand your setup later, it starts to seem a lot more economical – especially when sized up against equally priced speakers that lack half those features, like Apple’s HomePod.

Gadgets – TechCrunch