Sonos: from connected speaker manufacturer to content producer
It was a well-kept secret. Launched on 21 April, Sonos Radio brings the speaker manufacturer into the era of content. Let’s take a look at this amazing story, which started in California almost 20 years ago, and the role of Targetspot in this radical development.
Where does the Sonos brand hail from?
Born in Santa Barbara, California, the company has been focused on the Internet of sound for almost 20 years. The year is 2002. Its four founders – John MacFarlane, Tom Cullen, Trung Mai and Craig Shelburne – have a bold vision of a technology that doesn’t exist – the possibility of enjoying good music at home without cables. Multi-room systems already exist, but fall victim to two problems: firstly, drilling holes and routing cables, and secondly, controlling the system from a single central unit (an amp).
The vision of wireless hi-fi equipment
The first step in the adventure was to map out their vision. This took them three months. The integration required Linux as the platform, but there was no control software or even a network infrastructure at the time. In order to have quality sound in every room, technology needed to be created. It wasn’t until the summer of 2004 that Sonos fixed all the bugs and fine-tuned its prototypes of the famous ZP100. The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” was the first track to be released publicly and at full volume on the brand’s first product. It would ship its very first product at the end of January 2005. The first connected hi-fi system was born: at the time it was driven by a graphic controller.
Two years later, the launch of Apple’s iPhone and App Store prompted Sonos to create its own mobile application, allowing the smartphone to take the place of the controller. The Android environment had to wait until 2011.
2009: the first Sonos connected speaker
In November 2009, Sonos launched the first truly standalone connected speaker – the Play:5 – at $400, one-third of the price of the original product. This was followed by a host of other models – the Play:3, Play:1, PlayBase, Sub, Play:One SL and now Move, the first mobile speaker.
Since the release of the Beam soundbar and the Sonos One model, the brand’s speakers have been equipped with a microphone for interaction with voice assistants, similar to the Amazon Echo speakers.
As part of its technology-independent strategy, Sonos has chosen to integrate the Alexa and Google assistants into its products. The Airplay 2 standard has also been adopted for part of the range of speakers, the main quality of which remains longevity. Indeed, the manufacturer is not so much betting on people replacing speakers, but rather on buying more of them for their connected home.
Diversification: Sonos’ future is mapped out
To firmly embed its speakers in the connected home, Sonos has teamed up with retail giant Ikea to produce a range of furniture and appliances that can generate wireless sound and blend into the décor of the home. The SYMFONISK range, which is compatible with the Sonos app, now sits inside a Wi-Fi-connected lamp, as well as bookshelf speakers, with quality offerings starting at €99, or about 50% of the price of the most affordable Sonos speakers (Sonos One). And there are more collaborations: Sonos and HAY have designed the Sonos One speaker in five colours from the Danish furniture brand’s palette.
At the end of 2019, Sonos acquired Snips, the French publisher of a voice assistant, for 37.5 million dollars. This saw the establishment of a Sonos voice assistant for an expanding environment, in line with a model philosophy in the virtualised audio market, where “the user experience must be at the heart of the product”.
The company can now look to the future by creating its own voice technology that connects users to their digital audio sources. It’s the perfect route towards greater control of hardware and software – reducing dependence on industry giants such as Amazon, Google and Apple, but without closing the door on them…
Sonos Radio: the era of content production
On 21 April, 2020, Sonos launched Sonos Radio, a free streaming radio service, monetised by Targetspot’s digital audio advertising solutions. The new service already includes no fewer than 60,000 radio stations from multiple streaming partners, as well as original Sonos programming. Nothing could be more natural if you understand users’ listening habits: today, nearly half of the listening time on Sonos is spent listening to the radio.
In fact, international radio stations are already available to customers around the world through a simple Sonos application update. The original Sonos programming is reserved for a limited number of markets: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.
The new Sonos Stations are powered by sound specialists, DJs and artists. There are 30 channels available, including: Concert Hall, Country Outlaws, Hip Hop Archive, Thom Yorke and Kids Rock. In technical terms, Sonos has partnered with Super Hi-Fi, whose technology provides artificial intelligence tools for digital music for the purpose of matching volume between tracks and commercials, fading between tracks, and the seamless integration of voice commentary. Because, yes, real presenters are at the controls of the channels launched exclusively on the platform.
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