How Sonos’ new voice assistant might tackle Alexa and Google Assistant


As a substitute constructing an assistant to order pizzas and play trivia video games, Sonos is specializing in music.

How Sonos’ new voice assistant could take on Alexa and Google Assistant
[Photo: courtesy of Sonos]

The already-crowded world of voice assistants is getting some new competitors, with Sonos saying at present it would launch its personal voice assistant on June 1.

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Whereas a lot of Sonos audio system already help Alexa and Google Assistant, the corporate’s new voice assistant will give attention to audio playback. “Hey Sonos” voice instructions will work with Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Pandora, and Sonos Radio to start out, with extra audio companies to come back sooner or later. In a twist, the preliminary voice will come from Giancarlo Esposito, the sonorous-voiced actor finest identified for his position as Gustavo Fring in Breaking Dangerous and Higher Name Saul.

Giancarlo Esposito [Photo: courtesy of Sonos]

Sonos can also be saying a $279 soundbar referred to as the Sonos Ray—albeit with out Sonos Voice Management in-built—and is releasing new colours for its transportable Sonos Roam speaker, together with “Olive,” “Wave,” and “Sundown.”

Launching a brand new voice assistant could seem confounding given the recognition of current choices, however Sonos argues {that a} extra targeted voice assistant is healthier for privateness and responsiveness. Sonos will course of all voice instructions on-device, which means no recordings or transcripts ever depart the speaker itself. (Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, by comparability, all course of voice instructions on-line, they usually can retailer recordings of your instructions in case you allow them to.) By having its personal assistant, Sonos may also allow new options, reminiscent of transferring audio between audio system with only a voice command.

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“Music continues to be in some ways the killer app for voice,” says Ted Dworkin, Sonos’ senior vp of product administration and buyer expertise. “So who higher to come back ahead with a purpose-built voice assistant that may attraction to our viewers as we develop?”

The case in opposition to generalists

Sonos could also be onto one thing with its narrower strategy. Whereas Amazon and Google as soon as pitched voice management as the following large factor in private computing, their good audio system are principally common for music playback and easy queries, such because the climate forecast or a chunk of trivia. A survey by VoiceBot discovered that 39.8% of individuals use good audio system for music daily, versus simply 4.9% for purchasing, 5.4% for recipes, and 6.7% for textual content messages.

VoiceBot has additionally discovered that smart speaker adoption is stalling out. After years of double-digit development within the share of U.S. adults who personal good audio system, that share has solely elevated 2.2% over the previous two years, now sitting at 36.6%. Final December, Bloomberg’s Priya Anand additionally reported that Alexa gadget development has slowed down, and that including new options hasn’t elevated engagement, citing inside planning paperwork.

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[Photo: courtesy of Sonos]

All of which means that there’s room for voice assistants which might be much less bold and extra targeted on a selected process. Rebecca Zavin, Sonos’s senior vp of software program, notes that as a result of its assistant isn’t dealing with normal queries, it will possibly extra simply deal with voice instructions on the speaker itself. (The assistant’s launch was possible fueled by Sonos’ 2019 acquisition of Snips, a agency that provided local voice control for privacy reasons.)

“No audio content material ever leaves your audio system,” she says. “No transcripts of your audio ever depart your audio system. Nobody will ever take heed to them or learn them, they’re totally contained in the speaker system. And it’s potential as a result of we’re constructing it customized for music.”

Sonos additionally argues that the on-device nature of its assistant makes voice instructions snappier. Whereas the corporate declined to supply particular comparisons with different audio system, assistants reminiscent of Alexa and Google Assistant actually have room to enhance on responsive instances; even easy instructions reminiscent of “flip the amount up” can take a number of seconds.

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[Photo: courtesy of Sonos]

“The flexibility to command it, to have the ability to play in sure places and solely these places, to make it quieter and louder in sure places, to have the ability to do follow-on queries—all of that shall be extra correct and extra performant than you’ll discover in general-purpose assistants,” Dworkin says.

That mentioned, Sonos will nonetheless help Alexa or Google Assistant on Sonos Beam, Arc, and One audio system. Customers will even be capable of alternate between “Hey Sonos” and “Alexa” voice instructions simply by utilizing completely different wake phrases. (Sonos has accused Google of blocking the ability to run voice assistants concurrently, so customers should activate Google Assistant within the Sonos app whereas disabling all different assistants.)

“We love our different voice companions, they serve a objective in our ecosystem and for our clients, and we proceed to help them,” Dworkin says.

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Reclaiming the ecosystem

Sonos Voice may additionally exist, on some degree, to spice up the multi-room audio capabilities on which Sonos constructed its model.

Synchronizing music throughout a number of audio system has turn out to be a table-stakes function for Amazon Alexa audio system, Google Assistant and Chromecast units, and Apple’s HomePods and AirPlay 2 protocol. Multi-room audio is even simpler on these units than with Sonos audio system, as a result of you’ll be able to launch music throughout a number of audio system with only a voice command, use the AirPlay controls constructed into iOS, or use the Chromecast controls constructed into hottest music apps.

By comparability, enjoying music throughout a number of Sonos audio system requires a visit to the Sonos app, or utilizing Sonos’ AirPlay help as a substitute. Whereas the Sonos Beam, Arc, and One help Alexa and Google Assistant voice instructions, they don’t tie into these assistants’ multi-room options.

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[Photo: courtesy of Sonos]

With voice management, enjoying music throughout a number of Sonos audio system could as soon as once more really feel like a first-rate expertise, and it’s arriving as Sonos’ ecosystem is selecting up momentum. On the finish of 2021, the corporate had audio system in 12.6 million households—up from 10.9 million the 12 months earlier than—and every of these properties have three Sonos audio system on common. Listening hours had been additionally up 19% 12 months over 12 months.

If Sonos’s voice assistant works as marketed, it might ship the form of ecosystem stickiness that bigger voice assistants are nonetheless greedy for. And it’ll occur as a result of Sonos is sticking to audio as a substitute of attempting to do every thing.

“We actually need to give attention to music,” Zavin says.”It’s what we love, it’s our ethos, and we expect that’s why it’s beneficial.”

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