Control & Automation

Integrator on Sonos: We Push Customers to Manufacturers that Support CEDIA Channel

Home-technology integrator writes, "It is now time for our industry to demand that manufacturers who want our support ... support us in return."

Integrator on Sonos: We Push Customers to Manufacturers that Support CEDIA Channel
Integrator responds to stories about Sonos's support of the home-technology (CEDIA) channel.

CE Pro Editors · January 23, 2017

We received many responses to our two stories on Sonos's new API for home automation integration: New Sonos API Disrupts Home Automation Integration and Sonos Doesn’t Hate Home-Automation Channel.

One response was from the new Sonos CEO himself, Patrick Spence:

Most responses were from integrators, many of which acknowledged the virtues of Sonos, but lamented the company's treatment of the custom-installation channel, as represented by the trade organization CEDIA. 

In an email to CE Pro, Brian Esarove of A.I. Home Automation in Stockbridge, Georgia, articulated the sentiment of many in the home-technology community. With his permission, we have reproduced the letter below (edited for grammar and clarity). - Julie Jacobson, editor


AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN IN THE CEDIA END of consumer electronics even before CEDIA existed I have seen and committed my fair share of mistakes, like specifying and selling the latest and greatest products that either never shipped, shipped well after the job was completed, or never lived up to the manufactuers' promises.

As a dealer, we now live in an environment that requires most if not all products we sell to be controllable via a two-way interface like a smart phone. To accomplish this task a "driver" or "module" must be written based on the manufacturer's API. As your article stated, the Sonos driver for all smart-home products has been unsupported in the past, with "unsupported" being the key theme in this whole saga.

As a dealer, I make the decision on what products to specify, sell, install and program. While from time to time we have clients ask for specific products by name, it is our responsibility to guide them to a product that will meet their needs and expectations.

I place all manufactures that don’t support our side of the distribution chain (CEDIA) in the “unsupported” category.

"Why would those manufacturers [like Sonos] invest the time and money to write and support drivers for multiple control platforms, when dealers will buy their products anyway?"
— Brian Esarove
A.I. Home Automation

There are multiple choices in music streaming, many of which support integration, with some going well beyond. Those are the solutions we choose to embrace.

Two years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, I received a call from the software programmer from one such company. I had been emailing back and forth with him for a few days to try and resolve some issues that the API had for the specific processor we use. I had sent an email to him (I thought) on the previous Friday with some issues I had found in the driver, but did not hear back from him that day. That Sunday I logged into my computer, only to find my email to him sitting in the outbox, which explained why there was no response. I resent the email and went about the rest of my day, as it was Sunday after all.

An hour later I get a call on my cell and answered reluctantly as I was sure it was one of my clients realizing the bulb that had burned out in their projector a month ago was not going to work for the big Super Bowl party.

Thankfully it was not. It was the programmer from the music-streaming company wanting to know if I had time to go over the issues I was having. After several hours of screen-sharing and programs being sent back and forth, the problems were resolved just in time for both of us to head out to our respective Super Bowl parties.

This company and its products fall into the "supported" category.

I won’t mention the company, as this is not meant to serve as an endorsement for any particular vendor. It's just a personal story that explains why we sell one and only one brand of music streaming devices.

People treat you the way you allow them to treat you, and companies are no different. Many dealers specify DIY-type products on their own merits, or because their clients request them by name.

So why would those manufacturers invest the time and money to write and support drivers for multiple control platforms, when dealers will buy their products anyway?

I am a certified driver developer for one of the more popular platforms, but I no longer write drivers. Why should I? Why should I spend my time and resources if I have a choice between one product that is arleady supported by the subsystem manufacturer and one that is not?

Five years ago, the landscape was different, and if a dealer wanted two-way control of a product we had to write the driver in many cases.

That was five years ago. It is now time for our industry to demand that manufacturers who want our support ... support us in return. If we don’t, their behavior will not change. If their behavior does not change, we as a group need to put those companies in the “unupported” category, and move our business to companies that care about the channel.




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Comments

Posted by jeffzek on January 24, 2017

Over the years topics like this are often brought up on various integrator forums.  Integrators get frustrated by online sales of many brands that service the CI channel and sell online.  Until you make a stand and move your business to another brand that only supports the the CI channel nothing will change. Proud to say that Zektor only sells to the CI channel.  No online sales.  Period.

Posted by Frederick Ampel on January 24, 2017

Another perspective here. As a consultant, designer and acousticïan, I do not have the same argument to make. Respectfully to the company that posted the following: “And as far as “DIY” equipment this is where thing seems to be going we throw the term “DIY” as a derogatory slight against these product but the consumer base is significantly larger than the CE pro base so why would (fill in the company of your choice here- it’s not just Sonos) sell to thousands of dealers nationwide when there are 10s of millions of consumers worldwide instead. The consumer base is what is going to drive real interoperability between systems” I would point out three critical facts - 1. Just because there are 10’s of millions of non-channel buyers DOES NOT means that there are 10’s of millions of technically competent DIY’s out there. To me DIY is HTIB, and setting up a system in a box is one thing, but doing a larger scale automation or systems project, with network cabling, and all the related issues is not something the vast majority of these millions of people are capable of or even conscious of the actual knowledge needed or tools and experience required to make it work.I know this because we get calls all the time to"pick up the pieces” from DIY projects which went sideways when the purchaser overreached one to many times, and finds themselves with a shopping cart full of hardware that won’t function. Sadly many of those millions have a much higher opinion of their own capabilities that actually exists, and so they go it alone only to quickly find themselves drowning in manuals, and products with out any systematic approach. Large numbers DO NOT mean large numbers of competent people- CEDIA and its members must establish expertise and sell that- manufacturers can choose potential volume and not recognize the massive support costs that will entail once those buyers get out of their comfort zone (which can happen as soon as they open the box). Volume and profit require a balance between margin and overhead- and in this space overhead has repeatedly proven to be the death blow to DIY products which were simply not really capable of being DIY from the outset. Remember DIY products must meet the LOWEST common knowledge level, not the most competent or highest. Suppliers who forget that usually end up with a nightmare and bankruptcy.
As user expectation continue to rise, expertise and experience must be the drives- we have to position our industry as having a purpose to go with out costs- if the “millions"out there don’t get that message then we have failed.!

Posted by Chris dePaola on January 24, 2017

The thought and concept are great, however they will be meaningless for products that are not startup’s.  The CI channel is a tiny fraction of the overall market and will make an insignificant impact on bottom lines. With that said what pressure do you think this segment can put on manufactures that don’t see a significant ROI for their engagement with us?

When a manufacturer demands you do a better job of selling their product or that you sell it at a worse margin to up “units sold” are you going to listen to them?

It also makes me laugh that so much attention is being put on Sonos. Everyone knew that they were using a non-supported and hacked together API to achieve integration.  The company then announced that things were going to change.  When they changed everyone went, “Whoa!” 

What everyone of us need to know is if these changes were brought on by the Streaming Services, ie Spotify, or if it was an internal decision only.

Posted by Integration Design Group on January 23, 2017

Different perspective here. What benefit for Sonos (or any consumer available product) would it be to provide an open API or pre built drivers when we as integrators cannot guarantee consistency for the end user experience. Programming is pretty subjective and with all the different types of control systems and interface devices how does Sonos continue with its current tech support when we change the way it works? Doesn’t really help their brand to have uncontrollable variables in the mix?  Part of the reason margins are lower is because you don’t have to directly support the end user. If you choose so you can have your customers contact the manufacturer directly, unlike the story above where the dealer was using his resources (non billable time) to solve a problem that was related to a manufacturer created driver. Our company has spent thousands of hours over the years doing just that with other manufacturers as we watch our margins shrink because of time spent helping support that product.  And as far as “DIY” equipment this is where thing seems to be going we throw the term “DIY” as a derogatory slight against these product but the consumer base is significantly larger than the CE pro base so why would Sonos sell to thousands of dealers nationwide when there are 10s of millions of consumers worldwide instead. The consumer base is what is going to drive real interoperability between systems which we already seen now. Not pretty but getting better. There is so much more to say about this topic since it scratches the surface of some bigger future issues we may encounter as integrators.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on January 23, 2017

Both the article and John’s comment are absolutely correct. I’ll add this:  We’ve supported some brands that maybe we shouldn’t have (or longer than we should have), because maybe at one time or another they worked better than others, had the best integration, and/or even the best tech support.  Sometimes a driver that is “unsupported” may work great and it is tempting to just use it when you don’t know any better.  For me, if I have been using a product for 12 years and I am familiar with it, why go another way if I can still make it work.  Well, the lesson has been learned, and its a tough one. 

The funny part is, like the article says, there’s really no reason to take these risks.  There are fully supported devices out there for just about anything we need, and they’re obviously designed for the CEDIA channel (unlike some obvious DIY products).  We all should know how to sell these devices over other DIY devices.  It shouldn’t even be an option for the client.

Posted by John Nemesh on January 23, 2017

This is 100% SPOT ON!  Too often, dealers let the client dictate the brand of gear to be used…they will “follow the path of least resistance”, so when the client says “I want [Brand S]”, the integrator will sell that product, then BEND OVER BACKWARDS trying to adapt that product to work with the rest of the system!

Wouldn’t it be better, as the EXPERT, to sell your clients a system that will do what you need it to OUT OF THE BOX, and save yourself the hassle of trying to integrate a product that doesn’t really want to be integrated?  It will save the client a lot of disappointment as well!

It’s not like there aren’t a dozen or more alternatives out there now, either.  You have systems from Bose, Yamaha, Denon (HEOS), DTS (PlayFi, supported by multiple manufacturers), Nuvo, and more out there that not only do what Sonos does, but arguably do it better!  Why the brand loyalty guys?  Because you think they have the best product?  They don’t.  Because they have better driver support?  Nope.  Because they treat dealers with respect and don’t try to sell around them?  No again.  Because they have superior margins for dealers?  No again!  Someone explain to me why this brand has such dealer loyalty, because I certainly can’t figure it out!

Posted by John Nemesh on January 23, 2017

This is 100% SPOT ON!  Too often, dealers let the client dictate the brand of gear to be used…they will “follow the path of least resistance”, so when the client says “I want [Brand S]”, the integrator will sell that product, then BEND OVER BACKWARDS trying to adapt that product to work with the rest of the system!

Wouldn’t it be better, as the EXPERT, to sell your clients a system that will do what you need it to OUT OF THE BOX, and save yourself the hassle of trying to integrate a product that doesn’t really want to be integrated?  It will save the client a lot of disappointment as well!

It’s not like there aren’t a dozen or more alternatives out there now, either.  You have systems from Bose, Yamaha, Denon (HEOS), DTS (PlayFi, supported by multiple manufacturers), Nuvo, and more out there that not only do what Sonos does, but arguably do it better!  Why the brand loyalty guys?  Because you think they have the best product?  They don’t.  Because they have better driver support?  Nope.  Because they treat dealers with respect and don’t try to sell around them?  No again.  Because they have superior margins for dealers?  No again!  Someone explain to me why this brand has such dealer loyalty, because I certainly can’t figure it out!

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on January 23, 2017

Both the article and John’s comment are absolutely correct. I’ll add this:  We’ve supported some brands that maybe we shouldn’t have (or longer than we should have), because maybe at one time or another they worked better than others, had the best integration, and/or even the best tech support.  Sometimes a driver that is “unsupported” may work great and it is tempting to just use it when you don’t know any better.  For me, if I have been using a product for 12 years and I am familiar with it, why go another way if I can still make it work.  Well, the lesson has been learned, and its a tough one. 

The funny part is, like the article says, there’s really no reason to take these risks.  There are fully supported devices out there for just about anything we need, and they’re obviously designed for the CEDIA channel (unlike some obvious DIY products).  We all should know how to sell these devices over other DIY devices.  It shouldn’t even be an option for the client.

Posted by Integration Design Group on January 23, 2017

Different perspective here. What benefit for Sonos (or any consumer available product) would it be to provide an open API or pre built drivers when we as integrators cannot guarantee consistency for the end user experience. Programming is pretty subjective and with all the different types of control systems and interface devices how does Sonos continue with its current tech support when we change the way it works? Doesn’t really help their brand to have uncontrollable variables in the mix?  Part of the reason margins are lower is because you don’t have to directly support the end user. If you choose so you can have your customers contact the manufacturer directly, unlike the story above where the dealer was using his resources (non billable time) to solve a problem that was related to a manufacturer created driver. Our company has spent thousands of hours over the years doing just that with other manufacturers as we watch our margins shrink because of time spent helping support that product.  And as far as “DIY” equipment this is where thing seems to be going we throw the term “DIY” as a derogatory slight against these product but the consumer base is significantly larger than the CE pro base so why would Sonos sell to thousands of dealers nationwide when there are 10s of millions of consumers worldwide instead. The consumer base is what is going to drive real interoperability between systems which we already seen now. Not pretty but getting better. There is so much more to say about this topic since it scratches the surface of some bigger future issues we may encounter as integrators.

Posted by Chris dePaola on January 24, 2017

The thought and concept are great, however they will be meaningless for products that are not startup’s.  The CI channel is a tiny fraction of the overall market and will make an insignificant impact on bottom lines. With that said what pressure do you think this segment can put on manufactures that don’t see a significant ROI for their engagement with us?

When a manufacturer demands you do a better job of selling their product or that you sell it at a worse margin to up “units sold” are you going to listen to them?

It also makes me laugh that so much attention is being put on Sonos. Everyone knew that they were using a non-supported and hacked together API to achieve integration.  The company then announced that things were going to change.  When they changed everyone went, “Whoa!” 

What everyone of us need to know is if these changes were brought on by the Streaming Services, ie Spotify, or if it was an internal decision only.

Posted by Frederick Ampel on January 24, 2017

Another perspective here. As a consultant, designer and acousticïan, I do not have the same argument to make. Respectfully to the company that posted the following: “And as far as “DIY” equipment this is where thing seems to be going we throw the term “DIY” as a derogatory slight against these product but the consumer base is significantly larger than the CE pro base so why would (fill in the company of your choice here- it’s not just Sonos) sell to thousands of dealers nationwide when there are 10s of millions of consumers worldwide instead. The consumer base is what is going to drive real interoperability between systems” I would point out three critical facts - 1. Just because there are 10’s of millions of non-channel buyers DOES NOT means that there are 10’s of millions of technically competent DIY’s out there. To me DIY is HTIB, and setting up a system in a box is one thing, but doing a larger scale automation or systems project, with network cabling, and all the related issues is not something the vast majority of these millions of people are capable of or even conscious of the actual knowledge needed or tools and experience required to make it work.I know this because we get calls all the time to"pick up the pieces” from DIY projects which went sideways when the purchaser overreached one to many times, and finds themselves with a shopping cart full of hardware that won’t function. Sadly many of those millions have a much higher opinion of their own capabilities that actually exists, and so they go it alone only to quickly find themselves drowning in manuals, and products with out any systematic approach. Large numbers DO NOT mean large numbers of competent people- CEDIA and its members must establish expertise and sell that- manufacturers can choose potential volume and not recognize the massive support costs that will entail once those buyers get out of their comfort zone (which can happen as soon as they open the box). Volume and profit require a balance between margin and overhead- and in this space overhead has repeatedly proven to be the death blow to DIY products which were simply not really capable of being DIY from the outset. Remember DIY products must meet the LOWEST common knowledge level, not the most competent or highest. Suppliers who forget that usually end up with a nightmare and bankruptcy.
As user expectation continue to rise, expertise and experience must be the drives- we have to position our industry as having a purpose to go with out costs- if the “millions"out there don’t get that message then we have failed.!

Posted by jeffzek on January 24, 2017

Over the years topics like this are often brought up on various integrator forums.  Integrators get frustrated by online sales of many brands that service the CI channel and sell online.  Until you make a stand and move your business to another brand that only supports the the CI channel nothing will change. Proud to say that Zektor only sells to the CI channel.  No online sales.  Period.