Sonos, one year under Patrick Spence

by Volker Weber

Patrick Spence with Surface, John MacFarlane with MacBook, Santa Barbara Dec 2015

Last year, when Sonos founder John MacFarlane stepped back as CEO and Patrick Spence took over, I wrote:

I met Patrick a year ago in Santa Barbara, and he is a great person. Sonos is in good hands and actually has already been for a while. But now it's official.

As you can see I was quite upbeat. I also quoted from Billboard:

Billboard: What is Sonos focused on for the new year?

Patrick Spence: Really there's three things: There's voice. There's streaming music and that's just exploding, you see that obviously in the U.S. with streaming revenue overtaking everything else and growing the industry again, which is awesome. And then the third thing is the push around the connected home. Meaning there's a lot more products around the home that will emit sound and we think they should be emitting sounds through Sonos.

Let's see what Sonos delivered:

There were a couple of things that did not ship but I am not at liberty to discuss them. I am on the record that I think the One launch was botched and that the new controller software is a dud. I am also not seeing any other products around the house emitting sound through Sonos.

What do you think has changed for the better or worse?


The new controller's gesture logic fools me _every_ time (swiping up/down). I find it more complicated to pick specific music for a specific room than before. The old gestures were much better.

I miss an Atmos evolution for the current Sonos 5.1 setup. Personally, I do not require a Sub but would very much like to have positional audio.

And I'll come forward and say that Playbase is the most ugly Sonos device so far. On top, it does not make sense for larger TV sets or those with edge mounted feet.

On the bottom line I have difficulties to name an improvement after the Playbar / 5.1 capability I am afraid.

Nimble idea: Activate / deactivate speakers based on presence as detected by motion sensors (i.e. the hue ones I have throughout the house) in combination with a personal token such as my Apple Watch: Let the music follow me around the house, turning off unused speakers as I go.

Tobias Hauser, 2018-01-11

I think a cool feature would be some NFC-functionality, so that I could control speakers with NFC-Tags, i.e. NFC-Tags for favorite Playlists, Radio-Stations, selecting Inputs.

Another nice gimmick could be an IFTT-Integration :)

Harald Reisinger, 2018-01-11

I wasn't expecting a wishlist, but more of a scorecard.

Volker Weber, 2018-01-11

Jan 2017 - Zero sonos owned.
Jan 2018 - Zero sonos owned.

Craig Wiseman, 2018-01-12

I would give them a 7 out of 10 for 2017 alone. Playbase is awesome. Sonos One was rough by that update right before Christmas fixed all my issues. And the normal Alexa stuff works great for me, but I want much more than what is there - especially with Spotify. The iOS app is rough, but I guess I get around it by just using the my sonos tab and Spotify connect on my pc's.

John Head, 2018-01-12


Hmmm. The use has become so unnerving with the new app, that Sonos is almost never used in my household anymore. The WAF as you are calling it went from 9/10 to 1/10.

Since I don’t have much sympathy for Alexa connected speakers, they didn’t accomplish anything positiv in the last year in my book.

Worse: not only did they not deliver an easier way to manage Sonos music under iOS, they made the user experience horrible. (See top;) )

I give them one more year, then I am switching the platform, if they don’t fix themselves.

Johannes Matzke, 2018-01-12

I couldn't imagine living without my Sonos system and I don't see any competitor coming close in matters of the complete package (design, sound, size, simplicity, handling,...). But I'm stuck with the older components: Playbar, Sub, Play:1. I don't like the Playbase (neither the design nor the concept of placing a TV on top of any other device) and I don't need voice control. But I'm really happy with my 5.1 living room setup and will continue adding Play:1s to every other room. What I'm really missing is a battery powered Play:1 for summer evenings on the balcony. The iOS controller is a bit hard to get used to. But there are options like SonoSequencer or ZonePlay which are working very well for me. All things considered I still recommend Sonos to others and I hope they will get back on track with there controller software.

Tobias Vogel, 2018-01-12

Software development: Mediocre. The new iOS controller software looks fancy but is strange to use. A serious setback. WAF seriously decreased.

Voice technology: I would really have liked to see Sonos develop their own voice recognition in order to implement voice control for all services.
Alexa is restricted to whatever music service Amazon will support (e.g. no Apple Music).

Hardware: Sonos imho have an attractive device portfolio. Play:3 seems a bit obsolete, considering the capabilities of Play:1 / One.

Communications: Especially their announcements regarding AirPlay support were alienating me. SONOS should know which products they will be supporting.

Sven Bühler, 2018-01-12

Software: 3/10
Usability went from ok to "what the heck!?" in 2017.

Hardware: 6/10
Playbase looks nice, Play One - couldn't care less about voice technology.

Communications: 0/10
I totally agree with Sven.

On the other hand: I just bought an Denon AVR with integrated HEOS functionality. If you think SONOS is bad when it comes to controller apps: HEOS is way worse. And yes, that is quite an achievement.

I can't find a way to hide unsused music services within the HEOS app, HEOS itself isn't capable of playing music from a simple NAS fileshare, and the user experience is even worse than with the current SONOS apps.

So, unfortunatly, even with all the mistakes SONOS made this year I don't see a replacement anytime soon.

Daniel Meyer, 2018-01-12

In the end, it's all about one thing IMHO: Sonos has a lot of competition these days, something they're not yet used to.

Thomas Cloer, 2018-01-12

The Sonos' WAF and HAF went from 10/10 to about 1/10 because of the iOS (particularly iPhone) software: it's a total train wreck.

We didn't get new hardware because of that. Additionally it appears as though Sonos is going to force new accounts on us (even though we don't use streaming services). If those become mandatory, I'll have plenty of bits available 2nd hand.

Jan-Piet Mens, 2018-01-12

New app (iOS): 2/10 => SONOS' customer support of 12/20/17 re. my complaint:

"Wir freuen uns, dass wir Ihnen behilflich sein konnten. (??)
Wir bedauern, dass Sie kein positives Kundenerlebnis mit unseren Produkten haben.
(ME TOO ...)
Zum Design der App kann ich Ihnen nur sagen, das es natürlich sowohl im Sinne von Sonos, als auch des Kunden ist, die Benutzeroberfläche übersichtlich, effizient, und zudem auch optisch ansprechend zu gestalten.
Da dies natürlich immer durch eine subjektive Einschätzung des einzelnen beurteilt wird, tut es mir leid das sie mit der Gestaltung nicht zufrieden sind. (BLAH BLAH)
Ich werde Ihr Feedback aber weiterleiten, und hoffe das sie sich mit der neuen Oberfläche doch noch anfreunden können.
Selbstverständlich befinden sich unsere Produkte in einem stetigen Optimierungsprozess anhand des Kundenfeedbacks.
Entsprechend wurde Ihr Feedback weitergeleitet.
Ihre Meinung zu unserer neuen ControllerApp wurde an unsere Entwicklungsabteilung weitergeleitet, damit auch Ihre Erfahrung in den weiteren Verbesserungs- und Optimierungsprozess einfließt."

0/10: SONOS advertisement within their apps: Just annoying.

9/10: Sound of 4x Play:1 and 2x Play:3: Still a joy from day to day. But there won't be any more along with these apps.

??/10: Voice technology. Don't want, don't need.

Stephan Perthes, 2018-01-12

I'm also underwhelmed with the overall situation: things were rushed to get them to the customer to have "something" available against the competition.

But I’d be more unhappy if they wouldn’t have delivered voice control. Yes, it still is far from perfect. But just imagine us complaining about not getting any voice control in Sonos in 2017.
They could only lose this from the beginning.

iOS App esthetics improved a lot from my perspective. The UX improvement suggestions where the biggest part of my feedback during the beta phases. Didn’t help.
However, I think all the constant negative feedback about the UX disproportionate. It’s far from good, but not down to 1 out of 10 from 9 previously. I’d rather say from 8 down to 5 or 6.

Interestingly, overall WAF didn’t decrease here. Maybe because she’s now using Alexa almost exclusively. Biggest omission for us here is grouping/ungrouping with voice. I don’t understand why the didn’t at least made a workaround like treating “everywhere” like a switch or having a command to ungroup all. SonoSequencr to the rescue.

I’m quite sure Sonos is not missing ideas at all. Some are so obvious and also many not so obvious ones have been mentioned here and there. It’s all about execution. It’s really, really hard to move forward with the promise to stay compatible and support all the old stuff.

CR100? ZP90? ZP120? S:5? All still working, didn’t lose any value since I bought them. Only thing I sold last year was the Dock which wasn’t used in a few years already.
This long term update support is possibly the most valuable thing in today’s connected world.

Concluding: even retrospectively I’d make the same decisions as Patrick. He, having done them in advance is without knowing the future is admirable.
I don’t see any competitor in front of Sonos and just very few, far away in the rear mirror. All that after a rough and fast-paced year.

Hopefully the “bottle necks” in some middle management areas can be worked out soon. Hopefully the team grows with the much broader field compared to a few years back.

Benjamin Bock, 2018-01-12

Still missing Apple Watch integration and an official API to integrate Sonos control into other Apps.

Detlev Poettgen, 2018-01-13

The SONOS iOS controller is a nightmare. I don‘t think the person responsible for the GUI design uses SONOS at home. if he does chances are he is a masochist or more likely a sadist that now has the fun of his lifetime.

Andreas Decker, 2018-01-13

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