On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence talks with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode about the evolving home speaker market and how Sonos is contending with competitors Amazon, Google and Apple.
You can read some of the highlights from the discussion here or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at the Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything at all, like when is Kara going to invite me on as a guest host of your other show.
KS: Well, you know.
LG: I’m funnier than Dick Costolo. Maybe not ...
KS: Guest host means people not working for Vox Media. Guest host.
LG: Yeah, but you had Casey Newton.
KS: Yeah, but that’s because he was having a new podcast. If you have a new podcast, I’ll have you on. How about that?
LG: How about we consider it new in the new year?
KS: You’re not coming. I’m lying to you completely. You’re not coming.
LG: That’s my question.
KS: Anyway, Dick was very good, and we have some more really cool guest hosts coming.
LG: I’m not funnier than Alexandra Petri, I will say.
KS: No, you’re not.
LG: She’s fantastic.
KS: She’s funny. That was ...
LG: I laughed out loud during that podcast.
KS: She was with the Supreme Court ... “Supreme Courting,” that’s the name of the show, “Supreme Courting.” Anyway, send us your questions. Find us on the Twitter or tweet them to @Recode or myself or to Lauren with the #tooembarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Friendly reminder there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed for the Vox Media Podcast Network.
KS: Yes, unless you care not for spelling, but yes.
LG: Kara, smart speakers, they’re a thing.
KS: The thing, a thing. Yes.
LG: They’re a thing.
KS: They’ve been a thing, haven’t they been a thing for a while?
LG: That’s the thing. Speakers have been around forever. Then Bluetooth speakers had their moment, which we’re both familiar with, because we both covered Jawbone over the years.
KS: Yes, Jawbone. I still have one.
LG: Now I have so many Jawbone ... I like ...
KS: Yeah, there’s a lot of Jawbones.
LG: I think someday I’m going to have a museum that hopefully rivals Walt’s personal tech museum.
KS: Of Jawbones?
LG: Except for me it’s going to be all these crappy and unwearable wearables, but I’ll look back on them lovingly and fondly. Anyway, Bluetooth speakers had their moment, and now speakers are getting voice control. They’re experiencing this kind of reinvention, in a sense.
KS: Yeah, from the Echo from Amazon.
LG: Right, due in large part to Amazon. What were your first speakers?
KS: Oh, I had a big pair of wooden-looking speakers that you plugged into the back of a stereo with a record player, I mean big. They were ...
KS: You could sit on them. They could be furniture.
LG: Were they in your family home or those were the first ones you bought as an adult?
KS: I had them in my teen room, and you have to ...
LG: What were you listening to when you were a teen?
KS: Dan Fogelberg.
LG: This is amazing.
KS: “Captured Angel.” Anyway, James Taylor.
LG: Didn’t he do a duet with Cher or something?
KS: Maybe. Did I go out with Cher?
LG: No, no, no. No. Dan Fogelberg, didn’t he? No? Maybe?
KS: I don’t know. You didn’t follow people like that then. It wasn’t such a sick media environment.
LG: I remember listening to Smashing Pumpkins on my CD player as a teenager.
KS: My first fancy, one that we’re talking in this era was the Jawbone for sure, was a Jawbone speaker, which was cool, which was really cool.
LG: Yeah, Bluetooth for audio files, the early days of Bluetooth were painful, because the sound quality was so poor.
KS: Yeah, Jawbone was the first one where it was like, “Wow.”
LG: It was you could just ... Yeah. You could just stream your music. If you’ve been following the world of speakers over the past several years, you’re probably familiar with Sonos.
KS: I have a Sonos.
LG: I have multiple Sonos.
KS: I have one on my TV, one of those bars or whatever you call it.
LG: Oh, you have a sound bar.
KS: Yeah, that. I don’t know, I just bought it at Circuit City.
LG: I have two Play Ones and a Play Three.
KS: Oh, good christ.
LG: Yes. I want to get a Sonos One, but we’re going to get to that. If you’ve been following the news lately, then you know that Sonos has its work cut out for it, because Apple will soon be launching the HomePod.
KS: Yeah. So today on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we’re delighted to be joined by the Sonos CEO, Patrick Spence. Patrick took over as CEO just a year ago. We actually debuted a Sonos device at AllThingsD 100 years ago. It’s a very good story actually. He was previously acting as president and prior to that was chief commercial officer at Sonos. He’s no stranger to competing with Apple. He was at BlackBerry before that. Oh my God. You’re like a glutton for punishment. Was it Research In Motion back then? Is that what it’s called?
Patrick Spence: That’s right.
KS: That’s right. Were you out there where you guys debuted the Sonos thing at AllThingsD? Were you there?
No, I wasn’t, but I’ve heard the story many times.
KS: Oh yeah, Steve Jobs creating it.
John tells it just great with Steve Jobs. Yes, yeah.
LG: What was the story?
KS: CEO John was ...
LG: John MacFarlane.
KS: Yeah, who’s great, who I know really well, he debuted it, and he also was a sponsor one year too, by the way. He gave away Sonos speakers. The year they debuted it, he was all excited to meet Steve Jobs. He was his big hero. He loved Steve Jobs. We had this little room where all the different speakers could show off their wares and stuff like that. We called it the Science Project kind of thing, Science Fair. Jobs walked in the room, was walking around with Walt and me looking around at everything. Just, “Hello, hello.” He made a bee-line for John. John was so excited. You could see him being like, “Oh yay!” He puts his finger on his face. He goes, “I’m going to sue you out of business,” because the wheel, the track wheel, looked like the track wheel on the iPod.
LG: Yeah, yeah.
Exactly. Yep, that’s exactly right.
LG: The click wheel?
KS: He literally was like, “I’m going to sue you, you asshole.” Lalalala. John was like, “Eh,” like, “well, okay then.”
LG: Did he ever sue?
KS: I don’t think so.
KS: He was real mean. He was real mean, but John was still happy to be yelled at by Steve Jobs, I guess. I don’t know. He was like, “That was great!” I was like, “Okay.” It was really funny.
I think John took it as a sign of respect, in terms of thinking about what he built.
KS: No, I think he was meaning to sue him. I think he was pissed. No, he was like, “You copied my fantastic design.” He was mad.
LG: That’s always one way to turn it into a win, right?
KS: Yeah, it wasn’t a win.
LG: If someone threatens a suit, and you’re like ...
KS: There was no win.
LG: “Well, I was good enough to be sued.”
KS: I was genuinely ... Then afterwards when he went like, “That asshole, fuck him,” it just was like ... John got to meet Steve Jobs, in any case.
LG: There you go. Patrick, welcome to the show.
KS: Now you’re going after him again.
It’s good to be here.
KS: I don’t think Tim Cook’s going to do that to you, but anyway.
LG: Okay, so for people who maybe aren’t as familiar with Sonos as we are, or maybe they’re familiar with the company but they haven’t tried the speakers themselves, explain Sonos’s position in the bigger speaker market, and the concept of the wireless multi-room speaker setup that Sonos is well-known for.
Yeah, so it’s important to think back to the market back in about 2005, because really the home audio market was pretty stagnant at the point that we came up with our first product. It meant lots of cables and wires. There just hadn’t been a lot of innovation. What we had recognized at that point is that a combination of computing, home Wi-Fi and digital music would really allow us to create a system that could fill a home with music.
Starting right from components that would tie in old stereo systems to building integrated speakers, I think the key thing at the end of the day is Sonos made it easy to fill your home with music, leveraging all of the new technologies that were out there. It’s really been, over the last decade, a huge run, in terms of filling millions of homes with music and really making it easy to have multiple rooms filled with music and leverage all the services that are out there. Originally, it was iTunes and downloading your music. Then we shifted to streaming music, so supporting all these music services that are out there and allowing those to easily play all throughout your house.
LG: That’s kind of amazing, because Sonos has been around for around 15 years now. When I think about the products, the company has evolved in its products, but it’s been just sort of iterative in the sense that you’ve just gone with the times. There used to be, what is it called? A bridge, and now there’s no longer a bridge.
KS: Yeah, the bridge. I remember it.
LG: It supported this service, and then eventually it supported the next service.
KS: I think Real Networks was in there somewhere.
That’s right. That’s right.
LG: Then it eventually got voice control. Right, but it’s sort of been this ... It seems like it’s been kind of a slow growth path, just in terms of the product iterations.
I’d say two things. I’d say one, the company was a little ahead of its time, quite frankly, in terms of working through some of that.
KS: It definitely was.
This is one of the important things I think with tech is making sure that you’re not spending ahead of a cycle and too far ahead of times. I think the team did a really good job of kind of measuring that along the way. Then the other thing I would say is everybody looks at tech from a mobile lens, and they think about the annual cycle of new devices and of what we call disposable tech. When you’re building something for the home, I think it’s quite different.
Since my background is in mobile, I think I’ve really come to understand that difference. When you’re building it for the home, people don’t want to see the products changing every year. You want to work on something that has longevity really and that is going to get better over time with software, for instance, and new services, but it’s got to be something that is going to take a place in your home for a matter of years.
As we think about the products and think about the things that we add to them, we’re very deliberate in terms of creating a curated set of products which are going to fill your home with music, but not create the kind of tech cycles and repurchase cycles that the world’s kind of become accustomed to with mobile.
KS: Yeah. That said, you’ve got competitors going to be doing that, bringing these new home devices, these sound devices, these music devices in the home. Now how much ... You’ve been around a long time. You’re still private. How much money have you raised overall?
We’ve done a bunch of rounds. I think it’s about 150 million, probably, to this point.
KS: That’s a lot of money.
KS: Right, because consumer electronics are very expensive. When was the last round?
The last time we raised primary was in 2012.
KS: That’s a while ago.
KS: Have you raised money since then secretly without telling us?
No, we haven’t. No, no. You’ll see we’ve done some secondaries in there, but the thing is we’re profitable and growing. We’ve been able to kind of set our own destiny.
KS: Consumer electronics is a really hard area to work in. Obviously we’ve seen Jawbone struggle. A lot of them have struggled. Has a sale been a thing that you’ve thought of? Here you have these massive competitors coming into the market. We had the Aero CEO. This is a normal question for a lot of these consumer home products.
KS: Is that a worrisome thing for you guys?
No. I think really the focus for us has been how do we build it in a different kind of way than I think most CE companies. Thirty percent of our sales come from existing customers.
KS: How interesting.
What’s different for us is we’ve built the system. As you guys know and have probably seen, you can add another Sonos to that system. What happens every time we bring out a new product like Playbar or Playbass or the Sonos One, we see a big chunk of our customers going back and buying it. Even when we don’t introduce a new product, every year consistently, the entire five years I’ve been at the company, it’s steady that 30 percent of our sales are coming from that group of people.
Really, it’s our customers who love the experience that are telling other customers or other people to go buy it, and that’s helping drive what we have there. We’ve built a really nice business in terms of having kind of a consistent level of people that are coming back and buying more. Certainly, it’s a competitive business and everything that comes around that, but there were a lot of people back when we started that were saying, “There’s no way you could ever compete with Bose and Sony” and the heavyweights of audio at the time. Here we are a decade later.
KS: Now you have all new competitors. It’s still the same thing.
Right? Yeah, exactly.
KS: It’s still the same thing.
I was joking with the team, the reward for having disrupted the game — and really, over the last decade kind of taking the home audio crowd — is to get to compete with Apple and Google and Amazon.
LG: Yeah, if you just stick around long enough.
LG: I’m going to give you a little piece of free advice, Patrick, based on my non-CEO experience, which is don’t get into fitness trackers. You’re welcome.
Okay, so now lots of people are talking about speakers because of voice, as I mentioned earlier, due in large part to Amazon, but now Google and Apple and others are making voice-controlled speakers too. It took you guys a long time, relatively speaking, to get on board with voice.
KS: Voice is a thing.
LG: You just launched the Sonos One last October, which people were very excited about. That works with Alexa. Talk about that process. Why did it take so long for that to come to ... There’s the obvious thing, which is you had to build in a certain type of microphone into the hardware itself, but Alexa’s been around for a while now. Why did that take so long?
I think part of it is, when you’re first born as a company and everybody’s telling you, “There’s no way you can succeed against all these companies,” you actually create a bit of a culture of almost defiance, to some degree of, “Hey, everybody’s telling you you can’t do it,” and you actually work through, and you have to steel yourself against doing it. To some degree, I would say, because I’ve seen this now at both RIM and here at Sonos, is you almost steel yourself too hard against that, and in some cases, you can almost look at it and say, okay, well, there’s all these things that are coming at you, and ... Really, deciding which ones are real and going to be beneficial to the customer becomes a bit of a challenge, because you’ve had to steel yourself against that.
I think there was a little bit of that for us with voice and the idea, because we’d played with it. There was a lot of different things happening in voice. At first, I’d say we looked at it, and there wasn’t quite the recognition that needed to be of, “Hey, this is a real thing.” I started ringing the alarm bell. I tried to get every new product that comes out and start using it. It was an alarm bell I rang. The team then did a really good job, we all did together, of recognizing, “Okay, this is something that is happening and something we need to jump on,” but it takes a little longer.
LG: When was that actual point? The Echo came out, I believe, in November of 2014. It sounds like you’re saying, “Okay, we didn’t know if this was just a fad or if voice control was really going to be powerful in some way.” Then you said you sounded the alarm bell. When did that happen? What was the tipping point for you?
That would have been early ’16, I want to say, is when it had become real, because you’re right. It might have come out the summer of ’15, I want to say is kind of where I think it might have been.
LG: Oh, you’re right. It was announced in November of 2014.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
LG: They just appeared on the website one day, and then searched ...
Yeah, so it became real. It became real that holiday season, in my mind. We really got on it at the beginning of ’16. Of course, you go through the cycles of, “What’s the right thing to do here?” I liken it a lot, at that time, in terms of thinking strategically about it, to what we went through with music services, which was, “Is that something that’s going to develop on its own? Where’s our strengths? Where’s our capabilities? Then, where are others’?”
Just the same way that we decided to partner with the likes of Spotify and Pandora and all the great services we do today as opposed to build our own, we said, “Hey, Amazon, Google, Microsoft are working on these voice services.” I saw them very similar to the way we’ve seen music services develop and the fact that there would be a number of them out there. This is a really a nascent area. “Why don’t we go partner with the leader in that space, Amazon?” Hence, we started working with them. And Dave Limp and that team was very open to that, which I think has been fantastic and allowed us to get the Sonos One out.
It did take us a little longer to get it out because we wanted to make sure that we did it in a really reliable way and the high-quality kind of way that we expect, but also that we’re building a platform that supports multiple voice services. That’s very important from our side.
LG: So you didn’t enter into any kind of exclusivity agreement with Amazon when you did the One?
LG: You can support other voice services on the One, technically speaking?
Correct, correct, correct. We’ve been very up front about this. I’ve been very public about this, but also I believe it’s one of the reasons that we’ve had good partnerships both with streaming services — and remember, on the streaming services side, that includes Apple, that includes Google, that includes Amazon, Spotify — is because we’re very transparent about that. I went to all of them and said, “Look, this is what we plan to do. We plan to do it just like we’ve done music services. We’re going to have multiple voice services, because we believe that’s the right thing for the customer.”
Again, I think this is a difference, versus the mobile space, where it’s a very personal device. You’re going to use maybe one set of services that matter to you. We know in the home, there’s multiple music services used. My spouse uses a different one than I do. My children use a different one than I do. With voice services, I see it developing very similarly to what we’ve seen.
KS: So you could switch from Siri, if they let you.
Correct, correct, exactly right.
KS: Right, if they let you. Are you in discussions with them right now?
We’ve been talking to everybody. I remain very optimistic.
KS: That’s not an answer. You need to actually answer.
LG: Which is the company you’ve dealt with that demands exclusivity? Which is the companies ... like, “You can’t date anybody else, it’s got to be me”?
No one has demanded exclusivity.
KS: But they haven’t given you permission to use it, right?
No one’s demanded exclusivity, and also no one has said, “You can’t have other services on your platform.” I would put it that way.
KS: It sounds like cable. They eventually gave in and put Netflix on Comcast eventually. No one thinking of the consumer ever.
Well look, the reality is we’re in millions of the most desirable homes around the world with a loyal following for customers. Amazon, Google, they have different motivations for what they’re doing at the highest level in terms of what they’re really trying to do here. I look at it and say in those cases, they’re building speakers often with a bigger picture in mind, which is this idea, right, of surge or of commerce and everything that comes with it. They’ve been eager to partner with us, because we offer an opportunity for them to be able to do what they need to do to be successful long-term.
KS: Right, presumably. Still, they all have different goals, absolutely.
KS: Let’s talk over all that voice control. Obviously it’s getting to be a bigger thing. People have been going on this for years and years. This is not a new thing. How does it change? Obviously I think probably the thing most on yours is music, but there’s other things people can do with these voice services. Can you talk a little bit about the overall market and where it’s going and how you see it going towards?
Yeah. I think it’s kind of funny, because I think you guys probably look at this too, but coming out of CES last year, Amazon was declared the winner. Then coming out of CES this year, it was Amazon and Google are both competing, but everybody’s further behind. It is so early. It reminds me of, I think it was CES 2000 and ... When was it? 2011 maybe, where there were ... No, it was before that when there were 100 tablets announced. It was the CES after the iPad. There were 100 tablets. I remember I think the Motorola Zoom was the product of the show, and yet three of them actually went out that time.
I think we’re in one of those hype cycles at this particular point in time. I think Microsoft has a great Cortana product. I’ve talked to Baidu and Tencent as well. They have great voice systems. Right now, we’re at the point where it’s these ask-anything assistants. What I think you’ll see — and obviously Amazon’s got their skills as they’ve approached this, and Google’s trying to get people to build other skill like things on top of their platform, but I think you’re going to see in the next phase a few more ask-anything assistants emerge, but also this idea of vertical experiences.
Whether it’s us or any music services, thinking about a voice service, which is in the domain of music or thinking about something that may be unique to an individual out there, any kind of experience around TV, there’s going to be a bunch of verticals that emerge, I think, over time, much like the way apps have emerged in the mobile space.
KS: That makes sense.
I think we’re just at the beginning of what’s happening in that particular area. It’s why I think it’s so important to build something that will allow customers to be able to accept any of those in the future is kind of our philosophy, right? Be open around making sure that people aren’t going to be dead-ended one way or the other.
LG: How do you think voice has changed or will change the discovery process for music? I think there’s very — just based on my consumer experience — there’s a very different experience just going to your phone or tablet or whatever it is and typing in the thing you want to listen to and pulling that up, versus using their voice. Sometimes you can be very specific. Just depending on the specificity, you could get the thing you want, but sometimes you’re just like, “Play this playlist or play this mood or this genre.” I wonder what that’s doing to content making. I wonder what that’s doing to the way people think about how they promote the content that they know is going to be searched by voice.
I don’t think we’ve figured out yet how ... People will often kick it off with — from what I’ve seen and our research shows — people will kick it off with something more general, like, “Play me some of this artist,” or, “Play me some top hits,” and kind of get into it that way. It almost begs the question of how do you start to create that interactive back and forth and to be able to say, “Hey, I like this. Play some more of this, but who is this artist?” Then start to, if we’re doing this well, be able to use the system to come back and say, “Oh, and that artist is going to be in your town in a week if you want to go see them.”
There’s a bunch of things that I hope we’ll be able to use to help artists get discovered and get heard, but I think the first phase, there’s been a lot of speculation about music with streaming and everything around it of kind of this narrowing of what everybody’s listening to, and everybody’s listening to the same songs and the same kind of approach. I’m optimistic that voice may give us a way to help people really discover other things as they get into it. It has to be a two-way conversation. We’re just in the early days of how we do that.
KS: Spotify does that a lot. I’ve seen things they suggest to me, and then I just listen to what my kid tells me to listen to.
LG: You know how people would game the phone book by starting their business with double A or triple A or whatever it is? What is the equivalent of that, of having your content surfaced via voice command, in a way? Do you start all your songs with, “Tell me a joke,” or ...
I’ll tell you a danger, quite frankly, is that if you were led by the profit motive as a service, you could play things that you’ve either bought the licensing to or you don’t have to pay as much for. You could almost sway people towards things which are less expensive for you to play than other things. I don’t think that would be great from an artist perspective or from a consumer perspective, but as you think about, I guess, the dark side of it, that is something that could occur.
KS: Absolutely. Go ahead. Sorry. I’m just going to ask one more question ...
LG: Yeah, go ahead.
KS: We got to get to our reader questions in a minute. When you’re looking at what you’re doing, you’re essentially a music service, right? Music is the main thing people use for you, correct or not?
We’ve actually expanded that. The way I talk about it is the sound platform for the home. We’ve talked about the fact we’re adding AirPlay, we’ve added all these services. We support Spotify natively now. It’s been music to this point, but really what we see is being able to play any sound in your home out loud on Sonos. That should be a super easy thing to do. We have work to do to make it happen, but that’s everything we’ve been doing on the software front.
KS: But mostly it’s music, right? It’s mostly music.
LG: Well, the Soundbar is for TVs.
KS: The Soundbar is for TV, and it’s a better TV sound. Yeah.
KS: I don’t have any other sound needs at home. I’m trying to think of what other sound.
Yeah, so TV, there’s a lot on the internet now. The sonic internet, as we think about it, really the ability to ask the internet for content, whether it’s podcasts or music or great Netflix shows or whatever may have you.
KS: More information.
Yeah, information. Exactly, and be able to bring that down. We think people want to be able to experience that in a great way. That’s really what we’re making sure we build our software platform to enable, because this is as much about software and the integration to the internet as it is about the hardware that we build.
KS: Lauren, what are your sound needs at home? I always ask, “Who is Kara Swisher?”
LG: Do you?
LG: I don’t think I want to see the answers, so I don’t ask that.
What’s the answer? What’s the answer to that?
KS: “Kara Swisher is an American technology journalist.” It’s very short.
LG: Yeah. I’m going to start using that as my sample when I need to test stuff. I use my voice control ... Voice control speakers specifically I use for timers, mostly. Almost 90 percent of the time it’s timers. The rest of the time it’s music. Then otherwise I use the Sonos for music. That’s what I use the Sonos for, and I really like it.
KS: Music. Music, music, and TV, loud, real loud TV.
LG: Okay. I have to ask you though. How afraid are you of Apple and the HomePod? What are your thoughts so far on HomePod, what you know about it?
I have great respect for Apple, for sure. They make great products. I think it’ll be interesting to see, since they’re very much kind of the way I look at it going through the stack of their services, trying to promote Apple Music. It only works with the iPhone, that type of approach. Again, the one thing I ...
KS: I have a problem with that too.
Yeah, the one thing I think gets missed a bit from all the big tech companies that are looking at this space is the idea of the home being a little different and there being multiple users and multiple services. I think consumers are going to demand that they be able to listen to any service they want, use any voice service they want. We feel good about our position, versus all the others in this space.
LG: I will say the one thing that has occurred to me recently as I’ve thought about the Google speakers and the Apple speaker versus an Alexa speaker is there’s such a sense of ownership of the accounts I have with Apple and Google. I have an iCloud account, and that’s my iMessage and that’s my mail. Then Google I have all my mail and my calendars and everything else. Alexa, I have no ... I buy cat food through it and stuff and cleaning supplies on Amazon, but I don’t actually feel a sense of ownership over ...
KS: Now you’re going to get your health care through it, in case you’re interested.
LG: Or potentially ... Yeah. That’s the future that’s zooming right at us.
KS: Oh dear.
LG: In the sense that if there are multiple people in a household and you go to query something in your Google Assistant, they’re supposed to do account switching, but are you really guaranteed there’s going to be account switching? I don’t know. It just feels like Alexa is the sort of more neutral platform, in terms of personalized information that lives on a speaker in your house.
The way I look at it is that I’m sure for both of you, you have something across each of those kind of platforms of Apple, Google and Amazon. You want to use Amazon to order things through Prime. You want to use Google to do certain searches, and you want to use maybe iMessage, but you shouldn’t have to buy three separate speakers to make that happen. I feel like that’s a little bit what’s at play today. I just don’t see that being the right approach for the long term.
KS: We’ll see.
LG: Patrick, make that happen.
KS: Make that happen.
LG: Would you?
Yeah, we’re working on it.
We’re working on it. Yeah.
LG: You’re bringing other assistants to Sonos?
Yes. Yeah, we’re working on it.
LG: Okay. When is that going to happen though? What’s the timeline?
For which, sorry?
KS: That’s what he’s working on, Lauren. He’s got to go meet those people. Then they say no, and then he goes away, and he comes back.
LG: I think it’s okay. I think it’s okay to put a little heat on.
KS: I’m sure he’s got big heat.
We have Alexa. We have Alexa on our platform today.
KS: He’s got huge heat with Amazon, Apple and Google.
We have Alexa on our platform.
KS: I’m sure the minute he calls, they drop everything.
LG: No, I mean it’s good for us as journalists to put the heat on and say when.
KS: Well of course put the heat on when. They don’t really care what we think, either.
We have a ... We have Alexa on our platform today. You can control your existing Sonos if you’re a customer with a Dot or an Echo, which I think is great, or you can buy a Sonos One and you can have Alexa integrated in that experience. We’ve already announced that we’re working on the same thing with Google. We’ll have Google Assistant this year on the Sonos One platform as well, which is going to be exciting.
I think the other thing from an open platform perspective that’s really important is AirPlay, which is something else that we’re delivering this year, AirPlay V2. We’ve looked at ... We work closely with Apple. We have a great relationship with them from the Apple Music side. It’s good technology as we think about being able to play everything through your iOS device. You’ll see us also implement AirPlay.
LG: Which is good.
We’re excited about all of that. I feel we’re ...
LG: Hold that thought.
KS: Hold that thought.
LG: We are going to get to that.
KS: Now we have some questions.
LG: We have a lot of questions about that.
Oh, all right.
KS: All right. In a minute, we’re going to read some questions about speakers and the new speaking thing from our readers and listeners, and Patrick is going to answer them. Lauren?
LG: #money, #buymesomespeakersKaraSwisher.
KS: Actually, today’s sponsor didn’t pay for this ad. We’re giving it to them for free. Here’s some guy named Peter Kafka.
LG: Oh, Peter.
KS: I’m really excited for Code Media. It actually is going to be great. We just signed up Rose McGowan and we just got an astonishing array of media-focused speakers. It’s going to be great. Lauren will be there too. Are you coming?
LG: I’ll be there.
KS: Oh wow. We’re going to tape some podcasts there with people in attendance, right?
LG: We are. It’s going to be great.
LG: Stay tuned.
KS: So exciting.
LG: Code Media.
KS: Can’t wait.
LG: I’m going to take Kara surfing.
LG: We’re going surfing.
KS: Yeah, I’m taking surfing lessons on my vacation, but we’ll get into that later.
All right. We’re back with Sonos CEO Patrick Spence. Now we’re going to take some questions from our readers and listeners. Lauren, would you like to read the first question?
LG: I would love to.
KS: We’re splitting them up.
LG: The first bunch of questions are all about supporting apps and services. This is an email from Jim Prosser. “Hey, Lauren and Kara.” Hi, Jim.
KS: Hi, Jim.
LG: “Here’s a question for Sonos CEO Patrick Spence from me, a Google ecosystem-loving Sonos customer. How close are we to getting the promised Google Assistant support for Sonos devices? Did Amazon pay you for a window of voice assistant exclusivity?”
KS: That’s a lot of questions, Jim. That’s because he’s waiting for Anthony Noto to come. He works at SoFi, and he used to work at ...
LG: That’s right.
KS: Now he’s got Anthony Noto again on his ass. Sorry, Jim. Anyways, he’s got a lot of time on his hands. Go ahead.
Interesting question. Like we discussed earlier, there’s no exclusivity on our platform. We’re trying to do this in the interest of the consumer, and we will have Google Assistant out this year. We’re working through it right now.
KS: Oh, are you from Canada?
LG: Oh, there wasn’t even a window of exclusivity?
I am from Canada, Kara. You got it right.
KS: I thought so.
LG: He said “oot.”
KS: He worked for Research in Motion.
LG: That’s right. Of course. Hello. Up in ...
KS: Where’s that up there?
Waterloo. Up in Waterloo.
KS: Oh, that poor guy. We had him at AllThingsD once, and he looked like he was going to vomit onstage. What was his name?
KS: The CEO.
No. That was Michael Lazaridis. Yes.
KS: Oh, he was mad at Kara Swisher. I remember that. Anyway, I think I asked a question about third-world countries, but I don’t remember. He didn’t like it.
Anyway, no exclusivity this year, right? Correct?
No. No exclusivity. No, no exclusivity.
LG: We’re getting Google Assistant support this year?
KS: This year, okay.
LG: The year just started, and we got 11 months to go. It’d be great if you could just carve that into a smaller window.
KS: Lauren, stop being so selfish.
This year. This year, Lauren. This year.
LG: I just want to know.
KS: You’re being selfish. Clam down. Don’t be so shellfish.
LG: You know what? I think someone taught me to be that way, and I think it might have been you. I don’t know. Sources tell me.
KS: All right. In any case, everyone create everything for Lauren. Let’s keep that in mind. All right. Email from Kevin Kelly: “Any chance Sonos will get around to supporting the Overcast Podcast app? As a more general question, how does Sonos determine what service apps are fully integrated into the Sonos system?” That’s a very good question. Is it driven by Sonos or the developer or just what you feel like doing, Patrick?
It’s determined by what our customers are really asking for and what we see happening out there. We do add more, and actually, we’ve been opening the APIs quite a bit to allow others to tie in. We’ve got an open API called Smappy that allows people to tie in. Developers, you do a little work on that, but look, AirPlay 2 is also going to enable a bunch of people to be able to play their content pretty easily on the system. We’re taking multiple paths to just make it easy.
KS: Speaking of which, there’s a second question from Eric Johnson here, just slip one in. “I bought a Sonos One speaker which works with Alexa, but I can’t play music from my local iTunes music library, even though the Sonos app can. Why is that, and when will that be possible?”
Ah, yeah. I suspect he’s referring to through voice. We use the services that Alexa ties into today, but we are doing work on the ability to tie into all the services that Sonos supports. That’s something that we’re hoping to deliver later this year as well.
LG: So the issue is that Alexa isn’t going to support your local iTunes music, so you say, “Alexa, play this,” and it’s not Alexa, because it’s Amazon, it’s not going to default to the Apple service.
Or other services, right? As you think about using Alexa or maybe Alexa doesn’t have a tie-in to Apple Music, for instance, but that’s something that we do have a tie-in to. We feel like we should be able to bridge that gap, and we’re working on that right now.
KS: All right. Next one?
LG: Dami Lee, who is a fabulously talented comic artist who also happens to work at The Verge.
KS: If you say so.
LG: She’s great. “When is YouTube integration coming? Please, I want to blast Cooking With Dog, and my family is dying.”
LG: I don’t know what ... I don’t know.
KS: What the hell is that? That’s another YouTube show. Every time I turn around, some weird YouTube show ...
LG: Googles “cooking with dog.”
KS: All right. Anyway.
We’re definitely ... We support ...
KS: YouTube is the 10th ring of hell. Anyway, sorry. Go ahead.
That’s okay. We support Google Play Music today. We’re talking to Google about that, but also, I’d also say AirPlay will give people an ability to do that. That’s one of the things that I suspect a lot of people will actually take advantage of.
KS: I see. Interesting. All right. Next question. Ben Schafer: “Okay, Sonos does not support Bluetooth but will support playing something you download locally onto your phone. Can’t I have just some form of streaming support, e.g., stream, for example, streaming Apple Podcast app?”
No, because there’s some work involved in making sure ... Quality experience, the reason we don’t do Bluetooth is actually it’s just not a great experience for the kind of reliability you need in your home, the kind of quality sound that we’re going for too. The work that has to be done to tie these services into the platform is worth it in the end. With each one, we have to do that, but again, I would say with the Apple iOS podcast, you could easily use AirPlay 2 to be able to do that.
KS: AirPlay seems to have the answers.
LG: AirPlay 2. Yeah, but AirPlay ... but what about Android?
That one you’d have to wait for the integrations as well.
LG: Right. The Airplay 2 is the solution for everybody with an iPhone, but you know ...
That’s a big group of people.
LG: There are a lot of people who don’t have iPhones.
But that’s a big group of people, particularly on our platform.
KS: Yeah, you have probably a lot.
LG: Oh interesting. What percentage of your customer base uses iPhone?
LG: Is that like 51 percent or is that like 85 percent?
KS: We have that at Recode, you know. When we do those studies, they’re all using iPhones.
LG: That doesn’t surprise me.
KS: Just saying.
KS: I know this will come as a shock: They’re all white men. Anyway, sorry. Let’s move on. Not all. A lot
LG: I think this question is from another guy. All right, Jake Palenske. I’m going to call him High Maintenance Jake, because he had three questions.
KS: Wow, Jake.
LG: “When will we see a Playbar with Atmos support, Dolby Atmos? When will we see a Sonos app for Apple TV?” Then this one’s a statement. “Please start selling extra-short power cables for all your speakers.”
KS: I agree with that one.
KS: I agree.
That’s a big issue for you?
KS: Yeah, because I like everything all neat.
KS: I’m just anal retentive.
There are a couple ...
KS: I’d like a choice.
On the last one, there are a couple partners like Flexon that sell extra-short power cables that you can get today. Apple TV we’ve been looking at. We think about this in terms of what’s the next big control mechanism. From what we’ve talked to customers about and kind of thought ourselves, we’ve put more focus on voice, quite frankly, than we have on either an Apple Watch or Apple TV, because that’s where we see a lot of the action right now. We’ll see kind of how it develops and whether Apple TV is something that we should put more resources to. I haven’t really seen a demand for that right now.
Then on Atmos, I would say that is interesting technology. We’re looking at it. There’s always so much tech and all these new standards that come through in audio. We’re pretty skeptical to begin with of are they really creating a much better experience for the listener, and is it worth it? Atmos is one that does look like it holds some more promise than many of the others that have come along. It’s one that we’re working through to see if it’s something we should add to our platform.
KS: It is Dolby. I was in a theater the other day, and literally I thought they were going to blow my head off with the Dolby whatever. It was one of those Dolby theaters, Atmos theaters.
LG: Was it the one here in San Francisco?
KS: No, I think it was in D.C. I don’t know. Whatever. I had a headache. I would say it was quite loud, and it wasn’t a movie that you would listen to. It wasn’t like a Marvel movie or “Black Panther” or something like that. It was a chatty movie, and I was like, “We don’t need Dolby for this.” Interesting.
LG: You were totally getting ...
No, but that’s really important.
KS: I know. It’s true.
That’s really important, because for instance, one of the biggest use cases of Playbar, we added this enhanced voice capability to make people be able to hear the voices on the television much better. That’s way more important than blowing somebody away, right? That’s the way we like to approach it too, which is like, “Okay, what really matters to the customer here?” Versus trying out the Alphabet soup, right?
KS: Right. Yeah, it does. That’s what I use it for. That’s why I like my Soundbar, because I can hear the voices better. It’s just a better experience and stuff like that. Although I have to say I watched “Geostorm” the other day and I wish I couldn’t have heard any of it.
Anyway, this is the next one, from Kevin Lamb. “Love the show and my Sonos speaker.”
LG: In that order.
KS: In that order. “Do you have plans on building Alexa into bigger speakers, perhaps a Sonos 3 or Sonos 5?”
The nice thing about the way we approach these things is you can rest assured that everything that we’re doing right now around voice or music services or AirPlay 2 will go into all the products that we’re working on. We want to bring this to the entire range. We’re working on making sure all of the things you see today on the One are ultimately available on our entire platform.
And again, we try not to leave our customers stranded, which is why we work so hard with Amazon to allow the Dot and the Echo to be able to control your Sonos 2. If you filled your entire home with Sonos, we don’t want you feeling like you can’t add voice into the equation, hence the work with Amazon on that front.
KS: All right, nice.
LG: So you are looking at building them into Sonos 3 and Sonos 5?
Absolutely. Yeah. Well, into other products that we have envisioned for the future. We got a lot of products we’re working on, and you can bet voice will be front and center.
LG: AirPlay 2, we did get a lot of questions about that, and you’ve mentioned it.
KS: This is topical. This is important to people.
LG: Yeah, you’ve mentioned it. Camelgrana on Twitter: “Will AirPlay 2 come to the Play One only, or will it come to my old Play One too? Thanks #tooembarrassed.” Someone with the Twitter handle Toxicpath: “Is it true that Sonos will support AirPlay 2 and thus work alongside other multi-room speakers that support AirPlay 2?” Now my understanding is that you’ve established that you’re going to support AirPlay 2 when it comes out, but AirPlay 2, you’re waiting on Apple at this point, correct?
That’s correct. We’re trying to make sure that we can support that on as many of our products as we can, but we’re still working through which ones that’ll work for.
LG: Talk about what is going to be super special about AirPlay 2 that’s going to enable all of this, things like app support and things like that we’ve talked about that’s going to enable that to happen?
Yeah, it just allows that native app support. We’ve gone and done work with Spotify, with Pandora and with Google Play Music to be able to allow that native support, but AirPlay 2 really will allow anybody to play quickly anything from the native app to a Sonos speaker. Really, Apple has done a fantastic job with AirPlay 2 to create a setup that’s much more reliable. We think it’s something that’s going to be really good for the consumer.
KS: All right. All right, next one is outdoor speakers, the last questions. Joe Couglin, “Huge fan of Sonos, but wondering why they haven’t come out with a true outdoor speaker yet?” That’s a good ... I bring some of them outside. “By the way, great podcast.” Thank you. Outdoor speaker, why not an outdoor speaker?
Yeah, definitely something ... We think about the entire home and what products we have to fit which spot of the home. That is one that we think there’s a big opportunity in. You can imagine we’re thinking ...
KS: Waterproof would be one.
Yeah, and there’s a whole bunch of different use cases around that. We’ve been looking at how do people really want to use it and do they want the rock in the garden speaker that’s permanent there? Do they want something else in terms of the experience? We’ve been working through that one, but that’s one that is very, very interesting to us.
KS: Or portable, the portable. I guess you can’t really have a portable Sonos, because you need to be with a system, right? A more portable Sonos. I guess you put it out in the garden.
LG: Yeah, untethered. Are you looking at some type of solution where it’s completely untethered? Is that what you’re saying?
We’re looking at what the best kind of customer use case will be around that. What you guys have raised is definitely the things that we’re considering as part of what we’re doing for outdoors.
LG: Michael Padden, @pado on Twitter, also wrote in about outdoor speakers saying he really needs weatherproof ones for outside, but he has some advice, which is, “Please keep it simple and don’t overload with features. Needs to be about the music, not the shopping and washing.” I was intrigued by the washing part.
KS: What’s he washing?
LG: I don’t know. What’s the washing? Do you wash your speakers?
No, don’t wash the speakers?
LG: Not the shopping comma washing.
LG: Maybe he means watching?
KS: Watching, what are you watching?
Oh maybe watching.
LG: Maybe watch, because you can watch on the Echo Show and the new Google displays.
KS: Speaking of washing, there’s a new thing in the Mission that’s driving everybody crazy, because it’s so millennial.
LG: What is it?
KS: A techie ... it’s called Laundre with an apostrophe.
KS: I don’t know. I’m just mentioning it. I’m just thinking of washing. They have nice speakers in there, by the way.
They better be Sonos.
LG: I think you have the name of your outdoor Sonos when you launch it.
LG: The Sonos Laundre. Not for washing.
KS: Not for washing. Is there a timeframe, you’re just looking at it, or just ...
Yeah, no. Yeah, we’re working on a ton of stuff. We’re not big fans of announcing products way before they’re ready. I think you can look back at our history and see. When we are ready with our new products, we gladly come tell the world. You’ll be hearing from us soon enough.
LG: They’re interested in it, Kara.
KS: They’re interested.
LG: That’s what the companies say when I ask, “Are you looking at smart glasses?”
KS: Interested. We’re interested in it.
LG: “Are you looking at things for ...” all this. They go, “It’s interesting to us.”
KS: “It’s an interesting, compelling idea.”
LG: “It’s interesting. It’s an interesting, compelling idea.”
KS: Yeah, we were talking about this health care thing with Amazon. They have no information whatsoever. It will be a health care thing. I’m like, “Eh, okay.” Then everyone was like, “whaa!” But no details whatsoever. Anyway. That’s in this genre, I guess. Speakers are coming at some point, because they’re interesting.
LG: Yeah, Sonos, make it into health care.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
KS: Then you’ll get Jeff Bezos coming after you at Code and going, “Yeah, I’m going to sue you.”
LG: That’d be a good day, huh Patrick?
Hey, we’re putting Alexa in lots of homes, so I think they’ll be thanking us.
KS: Him and Jobs have the same personality, so that could happen easily.
KS: Anyway, thank you so much, Patrick. This is very helpful. Sonos is a great product. I’ve had them for years, and they’ve always been high quality. You could go with a lot of big companies, but it’s nice to have small companies like Eero and Sonos really succeed. It’s nice to see it.
Anyway, this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Again, Patrick, thank you for joining us.
Thank you. It’s been fun.
LG: Yes, thanks so much, Patrick.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.