smart speakers

Sonos delays Google Assistant integration until 2019, private beta to launch in 2018

Posted by | Amazon, amazon alexa, artificial intelligence, computing, Gadgets, Google, smart speakers, software platform, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, technology | No Comments

Sonos today announced that Google Assistant will not be available on its products until at least 2019. The service was supposed to launch in 2018 but the company said in a blog posting it needs a bit more time. Additional information about timing will be released in early 2019, Sonos says.

Eager customers can sign up for a private beta as long as they agree to use the service extensively and respond to surveys within a few days.

Sonos products already have access to Amazon Alexa. Given Sonos’s longstanding notion of supporting all platforms, it makes sense that the company would want customers to have access to both Alexa and Google Assistant. That’s what makes Sonos compelling: They provide the hardware, and owners use whichever software platform they want.

This is clearly critical for Sonos. For a long time, Sonos provided the best-sounding smart speaker system on the market, but Amazon, Google and traditional speaker brands are quickly introducing speakers that provide similar sound quality. To keep up and justify the higher price of its hardware, Sonos needs to offer owners the best sound and the best software, and offering Google Assistant on its products is a key part of that goal.

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Google Home Mini was the best-selling smart speaker in Q2

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, echo, echo dot, Gadgets, Google, Google Home Mini, HomePod, smart speakers | No Comments

Amazon’s Echo Dot may have been a bestseller on Prime Day, but Google’s Home Mini device is now the top-selling smart speaker worldwide, according to a new report out this morning from Strategy Analytics. The analyst firm says Google’s small speaker accounted for 1 in 5 smart speaker shipments in Q2 2018, edging out the Echo Dot with its 2.3 million global shipments compared to Echo Dot’s 2.2 million.

Combined, these two entry-level smart speakers – the Echo Dot and Home Mini – accounted for 38% of global shipments, the firm found.

In total, 11.7 million smart speaker devices were shipped during Q2, with 4 out of the top 5 devices coming from either Amazon or Google.

Following the Dot, was Amazon’s flagship Echo device with 1.4 million shipments, then Alibaba’s Tmail Genie (0.8m), and Google Home (0.8m).

Apple’s HomePod wasn’t ranked in the top five, but took a 6% share of the shipments in Q2.

However, HomePod’s premium focus and higher price tag allowed it to take a sizable chunk of smart speaker revenue during this period.

While the Home Mini and Echo Dot combined accounted for 17% of smart speaker revenues, Apple’s HomePod alone took a 16% share of wholesale revenues. And in terms of devices above the $200 price point, the HomePod had a 70% revenue share.

Strategy Analytics’s report also indicated this growing market is still in flux, thanks to expected new arrivals which could impact the shares held today by existing players.

“The number of smart speaker models available worldwide has grown significantly over the last twelve months as vendors look to capitalize on the explosive market growth,” said David Mercer, Vice President at Strategy Analytics, in a statement. “Heavyweight brands such as Samsung and Bose are in the process of launching their first models, adding further credibility to the segment and giving consumers more options at the premium-end of the marker,” he added.

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You can now stream to your Sonos devices via AirPlay 2

Posted by | AirPlay, apple inc, computing, Gadgets, play:1, play:3, siri, smart speakers, Software, Sonos, TC, technology | No Comments

Newer Sonos devices and “rooms” now appear as AirPlay 2-compatible devices, allowing you to stream audio to them via Apple devices. The solution is a long time coming for Sonos which promised AirPlay 2 support in October.

You can stream to Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 speakers and ask Siri to play music on various speakers (“Hey Siri, play some hip-hop in the kitchen.”) The feature should roll out to current speakers today.

I tried a beta version and it worked as advertised. A set of speakers including a Beam and a Sub in my family room showed up as a single speaker and a Sonos One in the kitchen showed up as another. I was able to stream music and podcasts to either one.

Given the ease with which you can now stream to nearly every device from every device it’s clear that whole-home audio is progressing rapidly. As we noted before Sonos is facing tough competition but little tricks like this one help it stay in the race.

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Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, technology | No Comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

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Spotify tests native voice search, groundwork for smart speakers

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Mobile, smart speakers, Spotify, Startups, streaming music, TC, voice control, voice search | No Comments

Now Spotify listens to you instead of the other way around. Spotify has a new voice search interface that lets you say “Play my Discover Weekly,” “Show Calvin Harris” or “Play some upbeat pop” to pull up music.

A Spotify spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is “Just a test for now,” as only a small subset of users have access currently, but the company noted there would be more details to share later. The test was first spotted by Hunter Owens. Thanks to him we have a video demo of the feature below that shows pretty solid speech recognition and the ability to access music several different ways.

Voice control could make Spotify easier to use while on the go using microphone headphones or in the house if you’re not holding your phone. It might also help users paralyzed by the infinite choices posed by the Spotify search box by letting them simply call out a genre or some other category of songs. Spotify briefly tested but never rolled out a very rough design of “driving mode” controls a year ago.

Down the line, Spotify could perhaps develop its own voice interface for smart speakers from other companies or that it potentially builds itself. That would relieve it from depending on Apple’s Siri for HomePod, Google’s Assistant for Home or Amazon’s Alexa for Echo — all of which have accompanying music streaming services that compete with Spotify. Apple chose to make its HomePod speaker Apple Music-only, cutting out Spotify. Its Siri service similarly won’t let people make commands inside third-party apps, so you can ask your iPhone to play a certain song on Apple Music, but not Spotify.

To date, Spotify has only worked with manufacturers to build its Spotify Connect features into boomboxes and home stereos from companies like Bose, rather than creating its own hardware. If it chooses to make Spotify-branded speakers, it might need some of its own voice technology to power them.

Spotify is preparing for a direct listing that will make the company public without a traditional IPO. That means forgoing some of the marketing circus that usually surrounds a company’s debut. That means Spotify may be even more eager to experiment with features or strategies that could be future money-makers so that public investors see growth potential. Breaking into voice directly instead of via its competitors could provide that ‘x-factor.’

For more on Spotify’s not-an-IPO, check out our feature story:

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Samsung turns to Harman to further SmartThings development

Posted by | computing, Consumer Electronics Show, Gadgets, Google, google home, Harman International Industries, Home Automation, Samsung, smart speakers, smartthings, technology | No Comments

Harman and Samsung have entered into a strategic association that will have Harman taking up the SmartThings’ standard and carrying it forward against other Internet of Things products. Announced today, Samsung SmartThings R&D team and HARMAN Connected Services (HCS), a division of HARMAN International, will collaborate on the platform with HCS developing and supporting the […]

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Sonos One’s Alexa support comes to Canada

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, artificial intelligence, california, economy, Gadgets, hardware, smart speakers, Sonos, TC | No Comments

 Sonos One users in Canada can now join their peers south of the border in yelling requests at their connected speakers – a free update issued today enables Amazon Alexa on the Sonos One. The One launched with Alexa support in the U.S., but while the speaker has been available to Canadian buyers since late last year, Alexa voice commands are new with the update. That means Canadians will… Read More

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Amazon’s latest Echos show the smart home space hitting its stride

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo, computing, e-commerce, echo, Gadgets, hardware, Home Automation, Publishing, smart home, smart speakers, TC | No Comments

 Amazon’s Echo lineup got a refresh earlier this year that included a brand new version of its basic Echo, well as an Echo Plus with integrated smart home hub, and the stalwart Echo Dot – unchanged, but still a compelling device at its price point. The new lineup of devices also made its way to more markets this year, including an expansion to Canada just this month, which is why I… Read More

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Touchscreen Google Home device evidence spied in official app code

Posted by | Amazon Echo, Amazon.com, Android, computing, Gadgets, Google, google home, google search, smart speakers, smartphones, YouTube | No Comments

 There’s now more evidence Google is testing a touchscreen Home device. AndroidPolice points to sections of code of the latest Google app that refers to a device that sports a new on-screen interface. The APK teardown of 7.14.15 beta version revealed a long list of on-screen menus and functions that are utilized by a device with the code-name of Quartz. These abilities include YouTube… Read More

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