Big changes ahead for Sonos

by Volker Weber

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Sonos is announcing changes to its privacy policy:

Next week, we’ll be introducing some important updates to our privacy statement. Sonos owners and anyone who visits our website will be asked to acknowledge this new policy when we update our software and systems in the coming days.

Sonos is opening up. There will be new ways for Sonos players to interact with other services. And that means that Sonos has to exchange data with other entities and they need your approval. Read the whole blog post to understand how you are still in control. You can run a tight ship, or you can integrate with other services. It's up to you.

A few blogs have taken this change as a hint for an imminent Alexa/Sonos launch and I would like to guide your expectations here. Take a look at other services on Alexa and you will find that they are not available everywhere. One example of many: Logitech still has to bring Alexa integration for Harmony to our shores. There are two obstacles: language and backend. Of course you need to make certain languages work and German would most likely be one of the earlier ones after you did Traditional English (UK) and Simplified English (US). But there is also the backend. Let's hear it from a developer who has a product:

... it is only available to Amazon US accounts, as it uses Alexa Skill features that are only available to the US. (The en-gb and de-de Alexa implementation at Amazon is a poor stepchild of the en-us version).

If he cannot make his app work in the US, UK and Germany alike, chances are that Sonos is facing similar hurdles. On the other hand: since Sonos is collaborating with Amazon, they have a much better lever to get these issues fixed.

This leads me to another expectation I need to guide. As you know the second generation Sonos PLAY:5 has two microphones that are unused. I was wondering what this was all about and you have to acknowledge that the player was a five year project. The world has shifted during this time frame and I would assume that those microphones were planned to be used for room correction, something that is now done with Trueplay Tuning, which came out for all PLAY speakers and subsequentally for PLAYBAR (and PLAYBASE). It made those microphones redundant.

Could you use the microphones for Alexa? Yes and no. There are two issues: farfield voice recognition and the discovery of the wake word. Echo speakers "wake up" when you say "Alexa". That is done locally. It records a small buffer at all times and when it discovers Alexa in that buffer it starts to record and send that recording to the Amazon backend. You need to run code within your speaker to discover this and I do not expect the PLAY:5 to be able to do that. For farfield voice recognition Echo speakers have seven microphones. It will be difficult to get the same results from only two.

My conclusion: you will need a separate Alexa-enabled device to control your existing Sonos speaker. The Echo Dot is a good candidate. Or you would need new Sonos speakers that have similar capabilities already built in. None have been announced.

I am not overly excited about Alexa. I have been using it for half a year, and beyond switching things on and off, it has not been very useful, especially if there is loud music playing from a diferent source.

But there is a lot more potential in those changes that Sonos is announcing. Remember that Sonos also announced integration into home automation systems. And I expect Sonos to make those interfaces public, which opens up completely new opportunities for bridging control in and out of Sonos. So far this was only possible via the reverse engineered uPnP protocol. Exciting times ahead.

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Comments

Bin gespannt. Die deutsche Privacy Policy lässt ja durchaus was erwarten: "Die Sprachsteuerung wird bei deinem sprachunterstützten Sonos Produkt durch einen bestimmten Weckbefehl aktiviert. Hinweis: Nicht alle Sonos Produkte bieten eine Sprachunterstützung. Genauer gesagt bedeutet dies, dass dein sprachunterstütztes Sonos Produkt die Umgebungsgeräusche puffert und diese immer wieder neu aufzeichnet, allerdings auf lokaler Ebene ohne diese Informationen zu übertragen oder zu speichern, bis es ein Wort oder einen Satz erkennt, der das Gerät dazu veranlasst, eine aktive Aufnahme zu starten."

Volker Berding, 2017-08-17

This shows all the more the trouble Sonos will be facing once Apple enters the international stage with HomePod. The living room might be safe for the time, all other rooms are up for grabs. Exciting times indeed.

Markus Dierker, 2017-08-17

What will Apple be trying on the HomePod (which has 6 microphones)?

Benjamin Bock, 2017-08-17

> Traditional English (UK) and Simplified English (US)

made my day 😂

Samuel Orsenne, 2017-08-19

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.

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