Sonos has been in the multi-room audio game a long time. It saw the music streaming boom coming and it created a platform to take full advantage of it.
The company is very different to when it first started shipping the ZP100 in 2005. It's now a public company, it announced some very interesting third party collaborations in the last year and by the end of 2018, two speakers in its range will have multi voice assistant support.
We sat down with Patrick Spence, Sonos CEO, and Pete Pederson, VP of global communications and sustainability, to talk about Google Assistant, smart speakers rivals and why Sonos sees these devices as stepping stones.
When is Google Assistant coming to the Sonos One?
When Sonos announced the Sonos One in October 2017 it said it would be adding Google Assistant support in 2018. The Sonos One has offered Amazon Alexa from launch but Google Assistant has yet to arrive, with the company now looking at some point in 2019, with the company calling for public beta testers.
"We are making good progress. The team is testing it. We are going through the experience checklist. We aren't going to ship something where we aren't happy with the core experience of playing music out loud and making sure you can control it easily with your voice," says Pederson.
"It's complicated work for sure, but it is getting there."
So, there's a little longer to wait until Google Assistant arrives on Sonos devices.
How will the Google Assistant experience compare to Alexa?
The Alexa experience isn't as rich on the Sonos One as it is on the Amazon Echo and you miss out on a couple of features, but that's not necessarily going to be the case for Google Assistant too.
"Google knows how to build platforms. They think about where it goes." says Spence, before going on to tell us that Google Assistant is easier to work with as a platform.
"For the most part, the Google Assistant platform is built more full stack. Right now with Alexa, there are new features and then we have to do a bunch of work to bring that new feature onto Sonos."
"The Google Assistant platform is a little different than that so it allows us to more easily take all of the stack. Languages still take a little more time - it's not like you flip switch and get all the languages, which is what we would like - but it is more advanced than Alexa in that sense."
We get the same sense from the Google Assistant experience on other devices: it's a more unified experience across devices - not to mention seamless integration on Android phones.
But what about the smart speaker competition?
One of Sonos' advantages is that it will eventually offer a choice of assistant from the same device. It doesn't tie you into Alexa or Google Assistant like the Echo and Google Home speakers do and ultimately, Sonos offers a wider range of sources in its system, from local network music to Apple Music, which neither other system does.
But Sonos One is more expensive than those devices and significantly more costly than something like the Google Home Mini or the Amazon Echo Dot - which will effectively bring the "smart" to any existing system.
Sonos doesn't see that as a problem though, with Spence referring them as "cheap and cheerful", a "stepping stone" to something that will "sound better" and "look better" from Sonos.
"We work pretty closely with Amazon and Google ... It's all about this battle that the two of them have to get their voice assistant out in as many places as possible, as quickly as they can. I don't think people that were going to spend £50 to buy one of those products ... were ever in the consideration set for somebody that was going to buy a Sonos One," says Spence.
"But I do think that if you have a taste of voice and a taste of music in one of the ecosystems, it is something that then, over time, we could get the opportunity to get them to step up ... It's better for us if they get the Home Mini or the Echo Dot versus just a typical Bluetooth speaker because it's then a little bit closer to what Sonos will ultimately be."
So Sonos really sees Amazon and Google's cheaper devices as a gateway to Sonos, not as an alternative.
"I look at them as potential stepping stones to get more people accustomed to using voice and playing music out loud. At the end of the day, they are used for playing music and doing timers and that's it. If we can ride off that by having the open system and a product that's going to last in your home for many years rather than just something cheap and cheerful, then we are going to be in a good position," continues Spence.
"[Amazon and Google] are doing a good job of getting people listening out loud to music which is a good thing. It is our job to tell them hey, you can do that and it will sound better and it will look better in your home and it will be open to all the services so you aren't just trapped in one ecosystem."
So Google Assistant will take a little longer to arrive on the Sonos platform, but it looks like Sonos' focus is on getting that experience right.