Sonos CEO hints Google Assistant will arrive on speakers in time for holiday shopping

Sonos CEO hints Google Assistant will arrive on speakers in time for holiday shopping

August 3, 2018 0 By Nazmul Khan

The US-based smart speaker company Sonos went public on Nasdaq today, launching an initial public offering valued at $16 per share. Hours later, its shares jumped over 25 percent for a high of $21, at the time of writing.

“We’re raising our profile a bit and stepping onto the bigger stage. I don’t think it could be better timed,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence says in a phone call with The Verge. “It’s the next phase of us growing up as a company.”

Going public means Sonos will have more cash to take on smart speaker rivals. But as it goes head to head with tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google, it runs into the interesting conundrum that its rivals are also its much-needed allies. As the company reported in its IPO filing, a risk it faces is that those rivals could pull their services in favor of developing their own smart speakers. If Sonos speakers lost their Alexa integrations, they would likely become a lot less attractive to consumers.

Spence says that he doesn’t foresee Amazon or other companies pulling out of Sonos devices, because they’ve found a “mutually beneficial” relationship. “I’m confident that Amazon will continue to want to get Alexa onto more devices and homes.”

Google Assistant integration with the Sonos One speaker has been teased since last year, and still hasn’t happened yet. Spence says that the integration can be expected “later this year.” When pressed on the December 31st deadline he had just set forth for Sonos, Spence says the feature was important to have ready for the holiday sales period. “We’re working as hard as we can and so is Google to get it ready for that time,” he says.

Another concern that Sonos customers share is whether it will continue to update older speakers even as it expands its offerings to new devices. Last month, support for AirPlay 2 came to the latest Sonos speakers, including the Sonos Beam, Sonos One, and second-generation Play:5, but older devices were left out of the software update. In the IPO filing, Sonos explained that in the near future, it would no longer be “practical or cost-effective” to continue offering backward compatibility for older products. Concerned customers took to Sonos forums to question whether this would really happen and which devices would get left out.

The reason AirPlay hasn’t come to older devices is because of “a computing power and memory constraint that starts to come into play,” Spence explains. “We’re going to continue to try and support as far back as we can — it’s what we’re known for,” he says. “The further you can go back, and the longer you can make those products last, people will stick with you longer and people will buy more.” He says that 93 percent of Sonos products ever shipped are still active.

While Sonos has found success in the US, Canada, and some European countries, the company has yet to become a serious contender in Asian markets, which make up a considerably smaller cut of product sales.

Sonos manufactures its products in China, meaning it’s warily watching the country’s ongoing tariff war with the US. Spence says it’s hard to say what impact tariffs have on its products in China now, but ultimately, “it’s going to be a fee or a tax that consumers are going to have to shoulder.”

Spence says Sonos is also looking at partnering with Tencent, Baidu, or another major domestic tech player to get a Chinese-language voice assistant onto its devices. Sonos is also seeing demand from India, he says, where some people have been buying devices from the US and the UK and bringing them back to India. And the company may have its sights on Japan, which has a large music market.

While Spence doesn’t have much to share on future products, he does say that the company is likely to stick with devices in the $149 to $749 price range, rather than dip lower to compete against rivals like Google and Amazon with more budget offerings. “You’ll see more products that address the home in a unique way, and going outside the home as well,” says Spence. Sonos’ experimental partnership with Ikea might also be repeated in the future, but only if the results pan out. He says, “I want to prove it out and feel good about [it first].”

Nilay Patel contributed to this report.

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