Sonos, a Wireless-Speaker Pioneer, Plays Catch Up
By Yoree Koh
Sonos Inc., the pioneer in wireless speakers, was on its way to $1 billion in sales in 2015 when Amazon.com Inc.'s Echo smart speaker took off. Sonos's sales fell off a cliff.
Sonos now has a new game plan: Partnering with its rivals -- all of them.
On Wednesday, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company is announcing its first smart speaker, the $199 Sonos One, powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. By next year, the company will integrate Alphabet Inc.'s Google voice assistant, and down the road hopes to make its smart speaker compatible with Apple Inc.'s Siri and others. The partnerships would mean consumers wouldn't need to choose one tech giant's services over another -- Sonos could serve them all.
The company built a loyal fan base by letting customers play music in every room of a home through a network of wireless speakers that supported streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Speakers, though, are no longer just for listening to music.
Chief Executive Patrick Spence admits the company became "complacent" when it came to artificially intelligent assistants. Sonos "missed the turn on voice," he said in an interview.
Amazon's Echo has become a game-changing product thanks to Alexa, which can play music, answer questions, relay the day's news, provide weather forecasts and more. The Echo has captured about three-quarters of the U.S. market for smart speakers, with more than 15 million total devices sold as of June, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
On Wednesday, Google, which has the other quarter of the smart-speaker market, is expected to unveil a successor to its Google Home speaker. Apple is readying its $349 HomePod speaker for a December release.
Sonos saw itself getting shut out of a category it helped create.