Control & Automation

New Sonos API Disrupts Home Automation Integration, But Lays Solid Foundation

Integrators were peeved when Sonos implemented its new API for smart-home integration, stripping certain functionality from unsanctioned drivers, which will all be blocked soon. Control4, Sonos and dealers respond.

New Sonos API Disrupts Home Automation Integration, But Lays Solid Foundation
Control4 users trying to access Spotify from their home automation system got an unexpected message late last year: Sorry, you're going to have to back out of the home-automation app and go to the Sonos app.

·

A collective cheer roared from home-technology installers at CEDIA Expo 2016, when Sonos announced an API for home-automation integration starting with Control4 (Nasdaq: CTRL), Crestron, iPort, Lutron and Savant.

These partners – and most other respectable smart-home systems providers – have integrated with Sonos for many years, albeit with unsanctioned drivers created through reverse-engineering of a fairly straightforward UPnP-based protocol.

But the new API kind of snuck up on dealers and vendors alike, with their customers waking up to a brand new Sonos experience in late December, courtesy of an auto-update by Sonos.

The new experience was inferior to the original, with users unable to access Spotify or Amazon Music from the home automation system, except to select favorites created through Sonos’s own app.

Browsing and other on-the-fly functions ceased to work.

One dealer commenting on RemoteCentral.com called the unexpected update a “nightmare,” explaining: “Clients have been used to one eco system only to have to use two. … Having to go between apps is not only very annoying, some clients are having issues knowing when to do so.”

RELATED BLOGSonos Doesn’t Hate Integrator Channel; They Just Don’t Communicate Well

The rest of the dealers commenting in the thread shared his frustration: “Why did Sonos have to break what was great?”

Well, there were at least two good reasons: 1) Spotify (now) and other music providers (soon) are changing their relationships with streaming-media product providers like Sonos; and 2) The proper way to integrate in any reliable, scalable fashion is to create an API and, well, Sonos is new at it.

“The new endorsed partner integrations we rolled-out in the fall served as a level-set and a new baseline to build on moving forward,” says the Sonos marketing team in an email exchange with CE Pro. “We are building toward a platform which is both scalable and sustainable and will benefit partners, dealers and customers alike. Our endorsed partner program was the first step.”

In the case of sanctioned home-automation partners, the updates affect only Spotify and Amazon Music … for now. We can expect eventually for other services to follow suit.

“Currently, other music services supported by the legacy driver continue to function,” says Control4 VP product management Paul Williams, in an email exchange with CE Pro; “however Control4 cannot predict future operability indefinitely because such support is controlled by Sonos or the music service providers.”

For a time, Control4 kept its original UPnP-based Sonos driver online for dealers, but it was removed on Jan. 1.

Sonos explains, “While Control4’s endorsed integration doesn’t have the same level of functionality as the workaround, it is much more scalable and won’t break every time we introduce new software updates.”

As for other home-automation companies that currently integrate richly – but unofficially – with Sonos music systems, don’t get too comfortable.

Responding to a question on this topic, Sonos replies, “As we take steps to build a scalable, sustainable platform that continues to be more open and accessible to many more partners in the future, the result is that back-door integrations may be affected. Now that we have a partner program we are able to provide support for the first time and that is our focus.”

Alternatives to the Sonos Experience

In a memo to dealers, Control4 describes alternatives to the current Sonos state of affairs for customers that want deeper integration with Spotify and Amazon Music today: Denon HEOSBluesound or NAD (from Lenbrook), Fusion Research and Autonomic. (Of course, there are many others, including BluesoundNuVo, and Russound.)

For its part, Fusion Research “just finished up a completely new redesign of the C4 driver for our Fusion Music Servers,” says Fusion VP sales Ingo Schmoldt in the RemoteCentral thread.

He says Fusion engineers worked closely with the Control4 driver team “to have our driver work and install just like the old Sonos driver, so dealers would be familiar with it.”

In its memo to dealers, however, Control4 cautions, “These are good options but please note that in the future Spotify, Amazon Music, and others may impose a similar change to user experience with these device manufacturers as well.”

Alternatively, consumers can learn to love other streaming services that integrate well (including search) with Control4 and other home-automation systems: Pandora, Deezer, Napster (Rhapsody), TuneIn, TIDAL.

As it happens, Control4 supports these services natively through its EA line of controllers.

For Control4 users in particular, there is another option – OS 2.8.0 with Control4’s Shairbridge driver, which uses Apple’s Airplay wireless protocol to stream music from iOS devices to the Control4 system.

The application enables iOS users (Android with the addition of a Control Music Bridge) to stream virtually any music service into the Control4 system, with full native app capability from the music providers.

Unfortunately, the user must exit the Control4 experience to access music.

A Failure to Communicate

At the end of the day, integrators were probably expecting this disruption to the Sonos experience; however, the implementation caught many dealers – even some manufacturers – by surprise.

“Sonos had previously communicated that we may see [degradation] in the driver,” Williams says; “however, they had not communicated a specific timeframe.

When the auto-update occurred, Control4 “had to react quickly to get the information out to our dealers,” Williams says.

The company rushed out a detailed report to dealers on the ramifications of the new API.

For its part, Sonos concedes it could have provided better, more advanced warning to integrators and the industry at large, before the auto-update occurred.

“What we can do better at is communication and ensuring dealers feel more like they’re part of the necessary evolution vs. unwanted changes happening to them,” says Dane Estes, Sonos director of global platform communications.”

In a statement to CE Pro, Sonos says:

[W]e acknowledge that dealers can benefit from transparency and better direct communication as to where Sonos is headed and what the benefits are – and we want their feedback as well.  We’ve had very productive conversations with the dealers who we’ve had a chance to speak with directly.

Dealers Peeved Anyway

At the end of the day, we can probably all agree with Sonos that “the existing third-party workarounds weren’t sustainable or scalable.  Some of them provided a good short term solution for many, but not a long-term solution.”

Even so, some dealers feel cheated.

“The GUI operability is tragic and users think it's a joke,” says one.

“They appear to be doing everything that they can to drive us away,” says another.

Likewise, according to another dealer, “The API from Sonos is very limited because Sonos has never cared about the CI industry.”

Still other dealers remain optimistic.

“I think once Crestron, C4, etc. put more pressure on Sonos, the API will open up more,” an integrator writes.

Another sees the value of an official API, limited as it might be right now: “Sticking with the Sonos controller also has the advantage that customers have access to any new Sonos controller features as soon as the features are released and don't need to wait for me to develop a response to the update then distribute my code to each customer.”

Sonos promises its undying affection for the custom installation channel. Estes says:

We will continue put energy into creating experiences that customers love and focus on strong communication with dealers. We recently launched a new email alias [email protected] to better promote immediate two-way communication, among other initiatives in the works. We will also evolve our arsenal of educational resources and tools to help you better communicate with and serve their customers, and will roll these out and provide updates directly and at key industry moments like CEDIA and throughout the year.

FOLLOW-UPSonos Doesn’t Hate Integrator Channel; They Just Don’t Communicate Well 


Looking to recruit new talent? Find qualified candidates now! Visit jobs.cepro.com.



  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

Follow Julie on social media:
Twitter · LinkedIn · Google+

Julie also participates in these groups:
LinkedIn · Google+

View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.



CE Pro Magazine

Not a Magazine Subscriber?
Subscribe Today...It's FREE!!

Comments

Posted by jpatrickav on January 22, 2017

I have zero interest in sellling there products anymore . At my high side I was doing close to 20 grand a year with them dealer cost , small in my overall business but they filled a void in selling parts of the system that would talk to control 4 in some rooms where pulling a speaker line or a network cable wouldn’t work . At this point since these changes I’m done with them . I wish them the best and hope more dealers follow suit . As custom guys we have the power to not sell there products maybe once it hits there bottom line they will realize how important we were to there business. 

Posted by Julie Jacobson on January 19, 2017

Totally agree, ahardeman. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Here is MY follow-up: http://www.cepro.com/article/sonos_doesnt_hate_the_custom_home_automation_channel

Posted by antoniohardeman on January 19, 2017

I think that Julie pointed out in the piece that Spotify and Amazon Music specifically, changed their relationship with Sonos.  These streaming services are about software and they want their software in front of the consumer.  For them it is not beneficial for consumers to be able to access a Spotify playlist through Control4’s app.  It seems to me that Sonos feels that it would be beneficial to have their app in front of consumers as well.  That’s the nature of technology at this point in time.  While bundling in one app on the surface seems like the perfect solution for home control, most consumers are constantly switching between apps on their phones and tablets.  So Sonos, Spotify and others don’t see app switching as a major pain point for consumers.

And lets remember that Sonos has had a recent change in the CEO spot due to them needing to focus on competing with Amazon Voice Services (AVS) and Google Home.  Sonos is trying to enter the voice command arena with the inclusion of AVS; so it seems to me that the move to get consumers to stay within the Sonos app was inevitable.  The competition they’re facing caters to the largest number of music consumers; those that don’t have whole home audio systems but they listen to music using Amazon Echo or Google Cast equipped speakers.  Sonos needs to be in that game and they’re not at this moment.

Posted by Scene-Scape on January 19, 2017

+1,  I second Ibaltz’s comments word for word.  Fairly stated and painfully accurate.

Posted by Harald Steindl on January 19, 2017

Guys, its time to face the reality. Sonos for sure is
a) big enough and smart enough
as well as
b) took quite some time to think through all this
to know exactly what this all will mean to the CI channel.
Stuff like free shipping and special deals directly to the end user but charging shipping and low prio reg. availibility is also a clear indication.
Like it or not, Sonos doesn’t love you anymore. Fact.
Sorry to sound harsh, but whatever Sonos or anybody else in the industry said “some years” ago has zero value today. Time have changed and the music industry even more.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on January 18, 2017

Ditto on everything Ibaltz said, and then some.  I can’t fathom how some people believe that using the Sonos app as companion with other automation systems is a good idea. How is that an “integrated system”?  I honestly don’t believe they have any interest in getting their API to the point that we can actually utilize the native music search process in Control4, Crestron, etc.  For whatever reason, they have to have their app in front of the users face.  The sales of the products just never seems to be enough.  Which I would be able to understand, except that they are obviously still selling their own systems outside of third-party integrations.

Honestly, I don’t think we will ever see full integration from them anymore.  This is just the next step in widening the gap between them and CI dealers, and for some reason feeling that we don’t have anywhere else to go.  For years everyone has thought of their share of the streaming music player business as untouchable, but I would not be surprised if we will have seen a change in that by this time next year.

Posted by lbaltz on January 18, 2017

I attended a Sonos dealer conference in Manhattan several years ago, and we were told that Sonos felt the CI dealers were their most important channel as it was the CI’s who had kick started Sonos in the early days and introduced our client bases to streaming music. They said we were a big part of establishing their brand. 

I must say after selling Sonos as an authorized dealer for over 10 years.  for the following reasons I truly don’t think Sonos considers us that important at all.

1.The API is terrible and it just makes it harder for us to sell products that actually work properly within our control systems. For example, Client: “We have Sonos in our apartment now will Savant control Sonos?”  Us: “Yes, but…” There are way too many buts.

2. Sonos regularly back orders product on the dealer site while it’s available on the retail site.  Our margins are already low by industry standards and when you sell a Sonos system and tell the client it’s on back order, they respond by simply purchasing it on the retail site and they get free shipping to boot. If we’re so important why do dealers get shorted first on inventory?

3. Free shipping.  One off clients get free shipping. Dealers pay hefty shipping and it’s 5 days to the East Coast since they closed their NJ warehouse.

4. Sonos blocks us out of special retail deals. It’s a drag to have to explain to a client that the Sonos bundle available at the big box store isn’t available if they buy through us.(Oh, and again the shipping is additional as well)

Finally, Sonos is a great product for what it is.  Absolutely best in class. Unfortunately, it is anathema to our philosophy of providing solid and comprehensive control in a single app.  We will continue to try and sell alternatives to Sonos until the problems above are addressed.  It would be fantastic if Sonos showed us some love and built a single and multi-zone unit with which would be sold through dealers and would not be available for retail sales or directly from Sonos.  It could provide us better margins, an edge over retailers, and an incentive to remain loyal to their brand.  After all, if we’re their most important channel then why not create a product that works for us and stop being our competitor?

Posted by lbaltz on January 18, 2017

I attended a Sonos dealer conference in Manhattan several years ago, and we were told that Sonos felt the CI dealers were their most important channel as it was the CI’s who had kick started Sonos in the early days and introduced our client bases to streaming music. They said we were a big part of establishing their brand. 

I must say after selling Sonos as an authorized dealer for over 10 years.  for the following reasons I truly don’t think Sonos considers us that important at all.

1.The API is terrible and it just makes it harder for us to sell products that actually work properly within our control systems. For example, Client: “We have Sonos in our apartment now will Savant control Sonos?”  Us: “Yes, but…” There are way too many buts.

2. Sonos regularly back orders product on the dealer site while it’s available on the retail site.  Our margins are already low by industry standards and when you sell a Sonos system and tell the client it’s on back order, they respond by simply purchasing it on the retail site and they get free shipping to boot. If we’re so important why do dealers get shorted first on inventory?

3. Free shipping.  One off clients get free shipping. Dealers pay hefty shipping and it’s 5 days to the East Coast since they closed their NJ warehouse.

4. Sonos blocks us out of special retail deals. It’s a drag to have to explain to a client that the Sonos bundle available at the big box store isn’t available if they buy through us.(Oh, and again the shipping is additional as well)

Finally, Sonos is a great product for what it is.  Absolutely best in class. Unfortunately, it is anathema to our philosophy of providing solid and comprehensive control in a single app.  We will continue to try and sell alternatives to Sonos until the problems above are addressed.  It would be fantastic if Sonos showed us some love and built a single and multi-zone unit with which would be sold through dealers and would not be available for retail sales or directly from Sonos.  It could provide us better margins, an edge over retailers, and an incentive to remain loyal to their brand.  After all, if we’re their most important channel then why not create a product that works for us and stop being our competitor?

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on January 18, 2017

Ditto on everything Ibaltz said, and then some.  I can’t fathom how some people believe that using the Sonos app as companion with other automation systems is a good idea. How is that an “integrated system”?  I honestly don’t believe they have any interest in getting their API to the point that we can actually utilize the native music search process in Control4, Crestron, etc.  For whatever reason, they have to have their app in front of the users face.  The sales of the products just never seems to be enough.  Which I would be able to understand, except that they are obviously still selling their own systems outside of third-party integrations.

Honestly, I don’t think we will ever see full integration from them anymore.  This is just the next step in widening the gap between them and CI dealers, and for some reason feeling that we don’t have anywhere else to go.  For years everyone has thought of their share of the streaming music player business as untouchable, but I would not be surprised if we will have seen a change in that by this time next year.

Posted by Harald Steindl on January 19, 2017

Guys, its time to face the reality. Sonos for sure is
a) big enough and smart enough
as well as
b) took quite some time to think through all this
to know exactly what this all will mean to the CI channel.
Stuff like free shipping and special deals directly to the end user but charging shipping and low prio reg. availibility is also a clear indication.
Like it or not, Sonos doesn’t love you anymore. Fact.
Sorry to sound harsh, but whatever Sonos or anybody else in the industry said “some years” ago has zero value today. Time have changed and the music industry even more.

Posted by Scene-Scape on January 19, 2017

+1,  I second Ibaltz’s comments word for word.  Fairly stated and painfully accurate.

Posted by antoniohardeman on January 19, 2017

I think that Julie pointed out in the piece that Spotify and Amazon Music specifically, changed their relationship with Sonos.  These streaming services are about software and they want their software in front of the consumer.  For them it is not beneficial for consumers to be able to access a Spotify playlist through Control4’s app.  It seems to me that Sonos feels that it would be beneficial to have their app in front of consumers as well.  That’s the nature of technology at this point in time.  While bundling in one app on the surface seems like the perfect solution for home control, most consumers are constantly switching between apps on their phones and tablets.  So Sonos, Spotify and others don’t see app switching as a major pain point for consumers.

And lets remember that Sonos has had a recent change in the CEO spot due to them needing to focus on competing with Amazon Voice Services (AVS) and Google Home.  Sonos is trying to enter the voice command arena with the inclusion of AVS; so it seems to me that the move to get consumers to stay within the Sonos app was inevitable.  The competition they’re facing caters to the largest number of music consumers; those that don’t have whole home audio systems but they listen to music using Amazon Echo or Google Cast equipped speakers.  Sonos needs to be in that game and they’re not at this moment.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on January 19, 2017

Totally agree, ahardeman. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Here is MY follow-up: http://www.cepro.com/article/sonos_doesnt_hate_the_custom_home_automation_channel

Posted by jpatrickav on January 22, 2017

I have zero interest in sellling there products anymore . At my high side I was doing close to 20 grand a year with them dealer cost , small in my overall business but they filled a void in selling parts of the system that would talk to control 4 in some rooms where pulling a speaker line or a network cable wouldn’t work . At this point since these changes I’m done with them . I wish them the best and hope more dealers follow suit . As custom guys we have the power to not sell there products maybe once it hits there bottom line they will realize how important we were to there business.