Sonos Controller Evolution

by Volker Weber

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Eric March pointed out a discussion on ask.sonos.com. Executive summary: people want their old Sonos controller back. My reply: ain't gonna happen.

To those not following the design change, the old controller used to be lists of things, where the new controller got a lot more visual. Lists work well, when you have tens of thousands of things, pictures work well, if you have tens or hundreds of things. It looked conceptually more like the Mac controller which has not been updated yet.

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I would not be too focussed on the design of the app. There is a major shift happening underneath. You can see this on Android with Google Play Music, and I expect this change to spread into other services. With Google Play Music you can select your music and then transfer it to Sonos. You select and discover your music in the service app and it will tell the Sonos controller to play this music. The controller tells your players and the music plays directly from the Internet, bypassing your device. Imagine you could use the Spotify app on iOS to do the same.

Sonos is not going to roll back to the old controller, no matter how loud you scream. Save your breath, provide constructive feedback. I have a theory: start with any piece of software, then add all the features your users cannot live without, and you end up with Lotus Notes.

Comments

I get the point 'implement all user's wishes leads to bloat' but don't get the other point 'There is a major shift happening underneath' - are you saying that the users are selecting the music in another software, and using the sonos just as an 'amplifier'?

Andrew Magerman, 2014-06-21 12:24

They don't have to. But they will be able to, yes. Or at least, that is what my expectation is. It is a technology that was not available in the old controller.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-21 12:36

To me it seems that Sonos is heavily expanding their support for streaming services and pushing in that direction, while at the same time continuously ignoring important features and fixes for people with their own digital library. This is a development I do not like and which makes me putting further investments in Sonos hardware on hold.
The controller design just mirrors that development.

Martin Engel, 2014-06-21 13:18

"makes me putting further investments in Sonos hardware on hold."

That is EXACTLY how a Lotus Notes product manager gets blackmailed into adding five ways to reply to a message.

What would you consider an important feature that Sonos is ignoring?

And yes, the market is quickly moving to streaming services. Notice how Apple just bought Beats to make sure they don't fall behind now that iTunes track sales are declining.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-21 13:44

I have to say that Sonos is ignoring customer feedback too much. Several points of criticism have been brought up in comments during posts here, and the actual points are really not exactly moving anywhere.
Just take the answer of Sonos on DTS, plus the fact they just close the those threads (!):
https://ask.sonos.com/sonos/topics/please_add_support_for_dts_for_the_sonos_playbar

I second that the app is developing, the software moves on, all nice. But that answer is just so full of bla and hot air that I consider it insulting. I spent too much money and deserve more effort. I bet it must be licensing cost or inconvenience. Other competitors can do it, why not Sonos? Inconvenience, as that post makes clear they could do it and decided it against it. That thread was started so really long ago and got an answer a year after I bought this nearly. Wow.

Or playing sound from your computer (computer games), I am afraid to look that point up in the ask.sonos.com forums, I bet it will be answered negatively as well.

I have more points that I follow, and I have to say it is starting to become useless to post anything on the Sonos forums. I regret having bought the Playbar, I really do. I cannot wait for some competitor to come and do it better. I have not bought anything new since 14 months, still the minimum setup, holding back all the time.

Alexander Koch, 2014-06-21 14:12

Kannst du nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk,
mach' es wenigen recht; vielen gefallen ist schlimm.

Schiller.

Andrew Magerman, 2014-06-21 14:37

Three examples for simple but important features, which Sonos is ignoring for quite some time now, are:
1. universal search a la iTunes, instead of being forced to search artist, track, album
separately
2. better handling of compilations. For example, it is not possible at all to search the contributing artists
3. better handling of album art. Sonos is the only piece of software I use that regularly fails at displaying certain album art. For example, all tracks purchased at 7digital are causing that problem, but only with the Sonos software.

These are rather basic features for a software that manages a music library, and abundant discussions in the Sonos support forums reflect that this view is shared among the user base. Instead of resolving these long-standing issues, Sonos has decided to "change course" and redevelop/redesign existing software. That is what concerns me and makes me reconsider my decisions.

I would not call that blackmailing, instead this is a simple, individual investment decision I am certainly entitled to make. A supply of certain features generates demand on my side, and a lack of features will stifle demand.

If a product is changed in a way that does not satisfy my needs, it might not be the right product for me anymore.
If customer support and development resources are favoring new customers over long-standing, loyal customers, it might be time to become one of the new, courted customers somewhere else.

Martin Engel, 2014-06-21 15:15

I really don't care about the controller as much as many seem to do, but for me the plumbing still needs work.

Due to the library size limit, I have to add tracks to itunes, create a playlist, and then import the playlist into spotify and then play it from there on sonos. I could buy music on amazon, but amazon doesn't have all of the international stuff I am buying these days. There are other products out there that have lifted the combined library limit, and even Sonospy bypasses it. I can't believe it is really a core limit when a piece of open source software can bypass it.

I think this is a great article still: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/sonos-player/ - and agree with the strengths, weaknesses, and overall opinion. Sonos is still the best, but they could make a lot of improvements.

John Head, 2014-06-21 16:15

I like the new controller very much on my Kindle Fire HD! I like the slim layout... reminds me of the better interfaces on Windows Phone!

Ingo Seifert, 2014-06-21 16:17

John, let me translate 64k tracks to 64k dollars. That would buy you streaming services for 6400 months or 533 years. From a catalog of 20 million songs. How does that make sense?

Martin, if I search on my iPhone, I enter a search term. It will show me hits across all services. Then I hit tabs for artist, track, albums, stations, composers, blogs, mixnames, hosts, podcasts and shows. Without entering the search term again. It's just different filters on the results. That's the new controller. The old controller, the one that people demand to get back, couldn't do that. As does iTunes. Or can you search from iTunes across all services?

Alexander, is your Playbar for sale?

Volker Weber, 2014-06-21 17:43

Tagesschau-Effekt: Jeder Design-Wechsel im Tagesschau-Studio wurde bisher mit Gejammer begleitet. Aber schau Dir mal "Tagesschau vor 20 Jahren" an.

Hanno Zulla, 2014-06-21 18:56

I know I'm a control freak, but relying entirely on streaming services reminds me too much of DRM: it takes control away from me. Who is to say the streaming services couldn't change models, increase prices, remove songs I really like? I want to own my music. Software designed to optimize streaming at the expense of library management is moving away from what I want. I don't consider it the end of the world, but I do care about it and that's why.

Rob McDonagh, 2014-06-21 19:48

I'm afraid, you can still own your own music. You may own a car. And rent a boat, take a cab, ride a bicycle, go on a cruise, fly across the country. You still own your car. And do all of that with once controller. Cool, eh?

Rob, I hear you. If you go back a few years, you will find my "big rip" where I transcoded all my CDs to MP3. Big discussion was then why I did not use a lossless format. So I have all those tracks, I own that music. But frankly, I cannot remember when I last cared. It's almost all streaming today. And I am not alone.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-21 20:22

Well, I guess there is something more at hand than just the controller update:

https://ask.sonos.com/sonos/topics/ipad_5_0_horror

People really start to get angry with SONOS and the arrogance they demonstrate in the forum ...

Frank Terhorst, 2014-06-21 22:54

"This new app for Ipad is an absolute disaster in every single aspect of it"

Not sure who is going over the top here.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-21 23:17

Shocks me every time how people react when their cheese gets moved. UX-wise the new client is better than the old one. When I start listening, I select WHAT music I want to listen to. That is now prominently placed on the LEFT. Hence, my interaction now flows left to right, instead of all over.

Why would I need to see my zones all the time? It's not like I have 256 and I don't know in which room I am.

When I see how clueless my 1.5 year old son is in front of a PC and how he whizzes around any iPad app (including Sonos, of course not always grasping what he does but grasping the UX), I don't think we can do much complaining. Modern touch UIs are literally child's play. If we have to invest 2 hours of our learning time once in a while such that an app can evolve and adapt for new requirements, then my opinion is: so be it.

Frank Quednau, 2014-06-22 00:06

Volker, I appreciate the universal search works across several sources. My main issue is the search within the music library, which is not truly universal.

Manually filtering by artist, album etc. is slightly more inconvenient than in iTunes, where the result list is grouped by the different categories. But more serious are the shortcomings around compilations together with the search.

Two examples:
Let's assume I would like to listen to a certain live album by Jack Johnson, the name of which I cannot remember. I search for Jack Johnson, filter by artist and obtain three results:
Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson/Eddie Vedder, Jack Johnson/Paula Fuga (i use the iTunes compilation setting. The album artist setting would show me only Jack Johnson and remove Eddie Vedder and Paula Fuga from the artist list).
Selecting any entry reveals the album name (En Concert), but gives me only the respective tracks for the specific track artist. I now have to go back to the search or album list to select En Concert in order to listen to all tracks.

Similar for "true" Various Artist compilations: assuming I would like to listen to the album which starts with a track by Pantofis, and I have no clue which album it is. I have to browse the Contributing Artist list (I cannot even simply search for Pantofis), scroll down to and select the respective entry to reveal that the album is Mercedes-Benz Mixed Tape #19. Now back to the album list...

In iTunes, I would type Pantofis in the search field and select go to album from the result list. Done.

I just do not understand why these issues have never been addressed by Sonos. It seems that they did not care, and now that "everything is streaming", the stance is, do we really need to resolve these old issues?

Martin Engel, 2014-06-22 05:59

Yes, that is an inconvenience. The problem is there are many such inconveniences, so you prioritize them. There are people who cannot live with Sonos if it does not stream 24/96 out the TOSlink port to their external DAC. There are people who cannot live with Playbar, if it does not add DTS, a feature that wasn't there from the beginning. And then there is this random guy with a loud voice that cannot live with a player that mutes instead of pausing.

A bit higher on the list may be some other issues:

- Why do we have to educate people about the Bridge
- How do we deal with music discovery (play me something like Jack Johnston)
- How can we survive in a world that has Echonest
- How do we search for music by listening what's just playing on the radio

In my original post I gave you an answer to some of those problems. While people obsess about white space and the fact that they cannot see all zoneplayers at the same time, product management has to deal with issues that forum posters don't even see yet.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-22 08:28

Talking about inconveniences, Windows Phone does not understand disk numbers. If you organize your music my disk and then by track (1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-1, 2-2) it just plays them by tracknumber. So you might get 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 1-2. So far they have not dealt with that inconvenience.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-22 08:30

Berührt den Controller nur am Rande, aber Echo Nest kannte ich bisher nicht. Mit etwas Sonntag-Mogren-googeln kommt man schnell zur Dissertation der beiden Gründer.

http://web.media.mit.edu/~tristan/

Sehr beeindruckend finde ich. Aus dem MIT Media Lab kommen öfter erfolgreiche Gründungen die auf toller Arbeit basieren. Behavio war auch so ein Fall, gehört jetzt Google.

Wer seinen Playbar loswerden möchte, ich hätte übrigens Interesse :)

Tobias Hauser, 2014-06-22 10:32

@vowe: Some comments in the SONOS forum may be over the top, there has been however very concrete and constructive feedback what people were missing. I don't feel that this is the usual "who moved my cheese" syndrome here, it's just a fact that the new app misses what people describe as the specific "multi-room tablet experience" which the old iPad app offered.

As an early adopter of SONOS since 2007 I have always been impressed by the way they took and responded to user feedback. Now you have a (virtual or not) poorly trained SONOS rep in the forum who closes threads because they "contain to much negative feedback". To me this is an alarming development and I really hope - as a heavy user - that SONOS management takes this seriously and that they get their act together soon ...

Frank Terhorst, 2014-06-22 10:57

When I looked Sonos up in Linkedin (on a whim) out of the first 10 people I found roughly around half of them coming from Microsoft, having done Xbox stuff, 2 of them in Product Management. Several of those Microsoft folks are there for not that long yet, and who knows if the Win 8 similarities come from them. Just found it interesting.

In the end the forums discussions get more heated, but for two reasons: People pay a ton of money and have feelings, and are upset/ angry/ annoyed. Then the official answers are sometimes so poorly written, with a slightly condescending attitude at times and more often a certain righteousness in there. That is my subjective reading, but I am absolutely not alone.

But reading for hours (catching up) in the forums I have to say the problem must be higher- up, it must be - like in many other companies. The attitude that in my view shines through in the forums is just the lowest level (foot soldier) 'manifestation' what the folks up high may think? I could be wrong, I do not want to be right, I just speak from experience in a big company.

Alexander Koch, 2014-06-22 12:44

I don't know what it is with forums. My impression is that they don't bring out the best in people.

I know some of the people who make a difference at Sonos. They have been there for a very, very long time. Maybe you are just looking in the wrong direction?

Good reading: http://gigaom.com/2013/02/12/sonos-its-new-playbar-and-the-future-of-home-entertainment-can-the-good-guys-win/

Volker Weber, 2014-06-22 14:30

Well - as much as I appreciate Sonos for giving out updates and betas constantly. This last beta 5.1 is just not stable and useable on bigger set-ups. Breaking backwards-compat with iOS < 7 and weird "cannot reach update server" stuff... bumpiest experience so far. Downgraded. Now all is good in life again.

Daniel Kirstenpfad, 2014-06-22 19:22

Bugs get reported. Bugs get fixed. That's what betas are for. When it's stable, one can call it a release.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-22 19:36

For reference, I chose not to comment in detail on this thread. Nor the Sonos forum posts. I learned some time ago that Sonos is way beyond that it I'd be wasting my time.

Sonos is doing the right thing to sell new kit to new customers, I'm just a dinosaur.

Ben Rose, 2014-06-23 21:47

>The controller tells your players and the music
>plays directly from the Internet, bypassing your device.
>Imagine you could use the Spotify app on iOS to do the same.

I could, if Sonos would support Airplay. Some time ago I was convinced that Sonos is doing the right thing by locking down the system to theirown devices and controller apps. Now, after getting DLNA clients better and better, I consider that as a disadvantage, because I have no choice but using Sonos. I still like it, the new controller I do not like so far, maybe I haven't understood the concept yet. However, I use Spotify app on the road with offline music, I use Spotify app airplaying to my Linn Equipment, but I have to access Spotify through the Sonos App to make it play on Sonos. Makes no sense to me. If this changes now: great!
The other thing I frequently addressed and where I never got feedback so far is HiRes support. 24/96 etc. Not that I hear the difference on Sonos, but I do not want to store my music twice: StudioMaster for Linn and converted to CD-quality or MP3 for Sonos.

Helmut Weiss, 2014-06-24 01:54

There is no polite way to answer the 24/96 question.

Volker Weber, 2014-06-24 08:08

yes, I guess so. Anyway, I have noticed recently that some HD portals allow the download of MP3 version as well in case one has paid for StudioMaster. This avoids at least the annoying trancoding and re-tagging.

Helmut Weiss, 2014-06-24 10:25

24/96 --> ABX tests show that nobody can hear the difference, but I think the editing and remastering is commonly done at that resolution.

Linn Records does have a hi-res streaming offer --> the music is interesting, not so much the resolution.

Volker, since I'm a dab hand a soldiering, if you do meet people who insist on 24/96, I can sell them made in switzerland high-end audio cables for, hmmm, let's say 4000€/meter.

Andrew Magerman, 2014-06-24 23:27

sorry, that should read soldering. I'm useless at soldiering.

Andrew Magerman, 2014-06-24 23:28

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