Tuesday October 04, 2022

Exclusive: Sonos is set to launch its voice assistant

According to sources familiar with Sonos’ plans, the company is planning to launch its voice assistant service in the next few weeks. Customers will be able to control and play music through Sonos’ whole-home sound system using the voice functionality. It will be included in a software update that will be available to customers in the US starting June 1st. An international rollout is planned. Sonos Voice will be an alternative to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Sonos supports both these services on its smart speakers, as well as voice-enabled soundbars. Sonos Voice Control will be available on all Sonos products running the company’s S2 software.
Sonos recently posted job openings for the “Sonos Voice Experience.” The company stated that its goal is to “make voice interactions completely private, more personal and more natural.” Sonos Voice’s debut will be a significant moment in Sonos’ expansion into services, as the company seeks out to increase its hardware business. Sonos Radio and the premium, higher-quality Sonos Radio HD were the first to venture into services. This offering will offer core conveniences that are similar in nature to existing competitors. Sonos product owners can play specific songs, artists or playlists with voice commands among other functions.
Sonos Voice will be compatible with Apple Music and Amazon Music. Spotify and Google’s YouTube Music have yet to be added. Sonos is concerned about privacy and the feature won’t record audio commands from users or send them to the cloud. “Hey Sonos” is the name of Sonos Voice Control. Internal tests have shown it to be faster than other assistant services for core music tasks.
Sonos declined to comment on this story, citing its policy not to comment on speculation or rumors. The company has provided glimpses of a future in which it will place a greater emphasis on software and aim to be a central hub for streaming entertainment. This could include incorporating video into its voice product. Patrick Spence, Sonos’ chief executive officer, has spoken out about these goals in interviews. On the Decoder podcast, he stated that “You’re always investing in front of the curve.” “We are hiring software engineers to expand our capabilities in areas we don’t have today. It is easier to see the great things that a company has done. It was just that we didn’t see it in that moment.
Sonos’ dispute with big tech companies like Amazon and Google over voice services has been a source of contention. Spence stated to US lawmakers two years ago that Google wouldn’t allow its Assistant service to run simultaneously with Amazon’s product on the same device. Spence claims that Amazon was not as restrictive. Sonos, Google and Amazon continue to collaborate as partners despite Sonos publicly accusing them of unfair pricing tactics, patent infringement, and it successfully sued Google over this latter. This resulted in minor changes to multi-room audio playback, volume controls in some Google software, and a change to the volume controls.

Are you interested in learning more about Sonos’ products and services roadmap? You can reach me at welch@theverge.com or via Twitter @chriswelch. Or, you can securely message me through Signal at 845-485-85455. SecureDrop and Signal are also available to send files and messages to The Verge. You don’t have to reveal your identity.

The development of Sonos’ voice feature is not something that has been kept a secret. Customers have expressed interest in the company’s voice feature development, and last year, details about the service were revealed in the Sonos mobile application (as noted by Protocol). Screenshots at the time indicated that Sonos’ voice service could be used alongside Alexa. Customers could use either by saying the wake word. However, the images revealed that Sonos’ voice service and Google Assistant cannot be paired in a similar way. This is another indication of Google’s strict control over where and how its services can be used.
At launch, the Sonos Voice Experience will remain true to its core principles. However, if Alexa is available simultaneously — Sonos calls this “voice concurrency” — users will be able give the Sonos offering another chance without having to sacrifice smart home integrations or other features that the Sonos voice service may not offer.
Sonos’ stated goal to make voice “fully private” may be another way Sonos can differentiate itself from Alexa or Google Assistant, which heavily rely upon cloud computing. Amazon claims Alexa is designed with multiple layers of privacy, security, and Google offers similar assurances. Some consumers are still wary of voice technology and Big Tech using voice interactions to advertise.
The Verge reported last month that Sonos’ next hardware product will be a budget soundbar priced at around $250. In the coming weeks, the Sonos Ray will be announced. It will not include integrated microphones for voice control, unlike the more expensive Arc or Beam soundbars.

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