A week removed from its 14th birthday, web-connected speaker company Sonos had a lot to share during an event held this morning (Aug. 30) at NeueHouse, a high-end co-working space located two blocks from Madison Square Park in Manhattan.
Through an event which dutifully ticked off the standardized must-haves of a technology company presentation — excitement, length, features-that-help-better-integrate-said-tech-into-your-life, a token celebrity (Pusha T was seated in front of Amazon’s Mike George, the latter who grinned widely throughout), understatedly fine t-shirt selections — Sonos revealed some small, and large, changes to its popular product line.
The headline news, as that Amazon exec’s presence indicated, is that Sonos and Amazon have made Amazon’s voice-assistant software Alexa, via its smart-speaker product line Echo, play nicely with Sonos’ speakers. During his presentation, George, in cowboy boots that looked to be made of orc leather, called the partnership “inevitable.” It will allow users of both products (an Echo device is required) to voice-direct playback on their smart speakers at home. Voice technologies more generally have had a growth spurt in sophistication this year, and the pairing of Sonos with a leader in the space — Amazon, Google, Hound and to a lesser extent (for now), Apple — was indeed inevitable. That Sonos’ new friend is Amazon isn’t surprising, considering that Amazon’s introduction of the Echo jumpstarted consumer interest in the space. Sonos and Amazon are expected to launch in beta later this year, with a “full voice experience,” according to George, planned for 2017.
Sonos is also pushing into China, announcing a partnership with QQ Music, the streaming service owned by that company’s largest tech company, Tencent. (Tencent’s tech primacy is a recent occurrence). Not to be outdone, Sonos is also partnering with Airbnb, with Sonos Chief Marketing Officer Joy Howard saying the company is “offering” (probably not for free?) new Airbnb hosts Sonos systems.
A smaller update came in the news that Spotify and Pandora users would be able to control their Sonos systems through those companies’ streaming apps, instead of through the Sonos app specifically, as is required now.
Finally, the company announced its participation in Berklee College of Music’s Open Music Initiative, a part of its Rethink Music campaign that was first announced in June. “We want to help create an open-source framework for music rights and music rights licensing,” Panos Panay, the head of Berklee’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship (ICE), told Billboard at the time of OMI’s launch. In a statement on the partnership, Sonos says it will, somehow, “champion high-quality music experiences worth paying for, a major hurdle for continued growth.”
Doubling down on its position, the presentation ended with a Q&A session led by Howard and featuring Pusha T, Sonos CEO John McFarlane and Pandora’s Lars Murray, vp of industry relations, which focused on the music industry’s continuing, and rocky, transition to streaming, which Pusha T called “the first access point for all fans,” and which he said has “a little ways to go” before its co-existence with the traditional record business is harmonious.
Murray alluded to Pandora’s company’s plans for multiple pricing tiers of its forthcoming streaming service, often cited by industry analysts as a hindrance to streaming services reaching true scale (defined at this event as reaching the milestone of one billion people paying for streaming services). “A lot of research is gonna go into that,” Murray said. If nothing else, he said that the industry’s travails with streaming probably wouldn’t get worse — since they’ve gotten as bad as possible.
At the end of the chat, Pusha T was asked whether streaming technologies had affected his creative process. Answering, the rapper and GOOD Music president also encapsulated what music listeners think about the many-factioned streaming ‘wars’ currently raging; “I don’t create with any vehicle in mind… I just create.”