Sonos is a US manufacturer of wireless audio devices and active speakers, i.e. speaker boxes. The individual Sonos devices can be networked with each other via WLAN, so that music or news etc. can be played in several rooms at the same time, for example. Another advantage over the competition is that Sonos products are open to almost all major streaming services. But what is actually the story behind Sonos?
Sonos was founded in 2002 by John MacFarlane, Craig Shelburne, Tom Cullen and Trung Mai, and the company’s headquarters are in Santa Barbara, California, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The brand name is on the one hand a clever made-up word, but on the other hand it also has a direct reference to the characteristic of the products. From the Latin “Sonus”, which means “sound”, MacFarlane and Co. quickly made “Sonos”. Which was doubly clever. On the one hand, “Sonos” is a so-called palindrome, a word that makes the same sense when read forwards or backwards. And on the other hand, the special typography of “Sonos” made it possible to design a logo that can still be read and retains its meaning even if it is turned 180 degrees. This is called an ambigram.
Cooperation with Amazon, Ikea and Audi
In 2017, CEO and founder MacFarlane left the company, and Patrick Spence, previously MacFarlane’s right-hand man, took over as CEO. Since then, the brand has been able to raise its profile yet again with some clever collaborations. In October 2017, for example, the company announced that it would open its own devices to Amazon’s voice assistant, so that users can now control Sonos speakers via Alexa. The company also agreed to cooperate with other voice assistant systems on the market.
The next PR coup followed just two months later, in December 2017. The company announced its intention to develop a cross-room smart home speaker system together with the Swedish furniture manufacturer Ikea. While the Swedes were responsible for the design, Sonos took care of the technology. The company’s own “Sonos Play: 1” speaker model provided the platform for Ikea’s new “Symfonisk” family, which was finally unveiled in Milan in 2019.
While one model features a no-frills, traditional speaker box design – the box can be placed both vertically and horizontally and thus also serves as a shelf/shelf or, for example, a bedside table – the second combines the speaker with a (bedside) table lamp. In 2021, Sonos also introduced a picture frame with a built-in speaker under the name “Symfonisk picture frame with Wi-Fi speaker”.
Also last year, it was announced that Sonos would also be working with Audi in the future. Customers can now order Sonos audio systems as optional accessories for a number of models from the premium car manufacturer.
Good quality, questionable dealings with customers
As accepted as Sonos is on the market as a provider of high-quality hi-fi solutions, however, the brand’s corporate policy on handling user data and its sales practices have hurt it in recent years. The marketing department has repeatedly faced harsh criticism. For example, Sonos also uses its own software for its own products. However, if the buyer is not willing to register as a user with Sonos, he does not have any access to future software updates – which, according to Sonos itself, could naturally lead to functional restrictions.
In 2018, they went one step further and put the proverbial gun to the customer’s chest. Only those who were willing to register with Sonos could continue to use products they had already purchased. Conversely: no customer/user account, no Sonos sound (anymore). Gritting their teeth, some people might have finally managed to register. However, no one should be surprised that this behavior caused a veritable image damage.
Nevertheless, the company caused further displeasure just one year later. The fact that Sonos is constantly expanding the range of functions of its products initially benefits the customer. However, the requirements placed on the hardware also change with these expansions. This, in turn, sets limits to the continuous updating of the software at some point. The corresponding device can then no longer benefit from potential enhancements.
Trouble with “recycling mode
The Sonos solution: they introduced an exchange program for older devices at the end of 2019, which guaranteed the buyer of a new Sonos product a discount of 30 percent. Prerequisite for this discount: the customer had to put his old device in the so-called “recycling mode”. But this had nothing whatsoever to do with sustainable recycling. On the contrary, it meant nothing other than the permanent and thus final blocking of the old device. Both a further use and a second-hand resale were no longer possible, and the device, which in itself still functioned perfectly, was a case for the electronic waste container.
Read more: Sonos intentionally renders working speakers unusable
Once again, Sonos was criticized in the strongest terms, so that only a few weeks later, in January 2020, they gave in or probably had to give in. CEO Spence now guaranteed the customer that the devices would continue to be supplied with updates until May of the same year and the continued operation would thus be secured. However, it would still not be possible to use older Sonos products with younger ones with correspondingly newer software in one and the same network. So, if you will, one step forward and half a step back. Ultimately, however, Sonos obviously realized that a permanent skirmish with customers and the trade press is anything but conducive to its own image. Again, only a few weeks later, in March 2020, they decided to finally abolish the forced blocking for devices in the exchange program.
“Sonos Voice Control” is to become the “Alexa” of the speaker provider.
And in the meantime, one also produces again clearly more product-oriented and thus positive news. Since the beginning of May, it is known that Sonos is planning its own voice assistant for its networks. ” Sonos Voice Control ” is the name of the “Alexa” of the speaker producer. Of course, the question arises as to why Sonos is becoming active here, after all, they have been working neatly with Amazon’s “Alexa” for years. The answer to this question is: Sonos’ voice assistant works completely offline. Everything that users tell the speakers is processed in the devices, the answer is generated there and not by a server in the cloud.
However, there are two drawbacks. First, the Sonos voice assistant is only competent when it comes to music. If you want to lower the blinds, start the fully automatic coffee machine or know when Robert Lewandowski last scored for FC Bayern München, you have to turn to Alexa, Siri or other names. The incompetence in these areas is due to the logically very limited computing power of the Sonos devices. The other checkmark: When “Sonos Voice Control” will first raise its voice on June 1, 2022, it will initially only be in the US. When you will get an answer to “Hey Sonos” also in German language is still open.