Control & Automation

Sonos Doesn’t Hate Home-Automation Channel; They Just Don’t Communicate Well

(UPDATE: new Sonos CEO responds) When Sonos surprised home-automation dealers with an auto-update that crippled some functionality, they should have communicated better. It’s not always about the technology.

Sonos Doesn’t Hate Home-Automation Channel; They Just Don’t Communicate Well
Sonos could have gone a long way by communicating better with home technology integrators prior to implementing their new home automation API.

Julie Jacobson · January 20, 2017

Update: New Sonos CEO Patrick Spence responds (bottom of page).

Home-technology integrators are ranting about Sonos’s rather abrupt auto-update, which “broke” Spotify and Amazon Music for thousands of customers who enjoy Sonos through their home automation systems.

“Like it or not, Sonos doesn’t love you anymore,” says one dealer commenting on the story we posted yesterday about the change.

“I attended a Sonos dealer conference in Manhattan several years ago, and we were told that Sonos felt the CI [custom installation] dealers were their most important channel,” says another. “I must say after selling Sonos as an authorized dealer for over 10 years … I truly don’t think Sonos considers us that important at all.”

I respectfully disagree with these sentiments. I think Sonos does care, but they don't do a very good job of showing it.

Believe it or not, their storied history of spurning integration is not the company’s worst offense when it comes to the channel. I believe their main problem is a lack of engagement and communication in the channel.

Imagine this Dialog

When Sonos announced last September its first API for integration, it was all sunshine and roses. Dealers and smart-home vendors alike cheered with approval.

But that was kind of the end of the conversation.

No one from Sonos really articulated the disruption the new API would cause. No one warned dealers that the company would push auto-updates to connected Sonos products. They just kind of surprised us one day in late December when users tried unsuccessfully to access Spotify through their home automation systems.

Commenting on RemoteCentral.com, one dealer said about the unexpected “update”:

Complaints. Every. Day.

Finger-pointing ensued.

And confusion from customers and installers alike.

You get access to favorites and that's it, no more direct access to the services ... unless you switch back to the Sonos app.

Would it have been so awful if Sonos took dealers aside at CEDIA 2016 when they dropped this “great” API news, and explained the details?

Something to the effect of: “You know we need an official API. It’s the only thing that can guarantee reliability and scalability in the future. It is also imperative to our music-service partners, who are changing the way they do business. Unfortunately, some of the functionality you had with unsanctioned drivers won’t be available in our first release. Here’s exactly what you should expect from our first official integration initiative. Here’s what your customers should suspect. Here is the time frame. We look forward to working with you closely to ensure a smooth transition and an awesome integration experience in the future. We love you.”

By all means, if your main goal for streaming music is to have it seamlessly integrated with an automation system, and if you want to use vendors that really support the channel, then skip Sonos. Duh!

And then two weeks before the auto-update: “Greetings, our beloved integrator partners. Just a reminder that in two weeks we’ll be sending out an update to Sonos players in the field. Here is what your customers should expect, and here are some suggestions for communicating with them about the changes. Did you have any questions? Love, Sonos.”

One day prior: “Tomorrow’s the big day. As a reminder, your clients will experience a disruption to the way they access Rhapsody and Amazon Music. We continue to work closely with our music-streaming partners to provide the best possible user experience for your clients. Thank you for your continued support. Love, Sonos.”

In fact, Sonos owed nothing to the integrator community. Home-automation manufacturers and dealers were deploying unsanctioned drivers, so shame on them, right?

“We’ve never had a partner program or endorsed integrations until now, so right now nothing that is out there is supported,” a Sonos spokesperson told me last year when I asked about breaking existing integrations.

I also asked: Would Sonos cripple integrations from non-partners?

Sonos replied: “[W]e currently have no plans to deliberately impact existing solutions that are not supported, but the key is that they’re currently not supported.”

So, yes, they will cripple those integrations, probably in the next few months.

Again, Sonos doesn’t owe integrators or manufacturers any warnings about a future update that might damage the user experience.

But the truth is: The integrator channel is still important to them … bigly. So they really ought to communicate with dealers, letting them know their back-door integrations will break.

Crestron does it differently

Crestron, Control4 and Savant were Sonos's first official integration partners. Crestron's implementation is different from the others. Instead of incorporating Sonos functions directly into the Crestron home-automation environment, the company created an app-within-an-app, meaning it works just like a native Sonos app ... because, well, it is. There are pros and cons with this approache.

These 'Awful' Sonos Practices Have Worked for Integrators

It may very well seem that Sonos disregards our channel. Just look at their (non) integration practices, shipping policies, inventory availability, and competitive business practices, not to mention their refusal to make special products for specialty dealers.

But all of these practices in the past have actually benefited dealers. The products don’t break, customers are always happy, referrals are plentiful and the brand is strong.

For these reasons, integrators continue to sell Sonos, no matter how much they swear they’ll defect to integration-friendly brands like Autonomic, Fusion Research, Denon HEOS, Bluesound, NuVo, Russound and so many others.

By all means, if your main goal for streaming music is to have it seamlessly integrate with an automation system, and if you want to use vendors that really support the channel, then skip Sonos. Duh!

At the end of the day, though: “Sonos is a great product for what it is. Absolutely best in class,” says another dealer commenting on yesterday’s story. “Unfortunately, it is anathema to our philosophy of providing solid and comprehensive control in a single app.”

As for Sonos, even if they continue to inhibit integration, even if they compete with custom installers, even if they don’t make special products for us … they should still show us love through better communications and channel engagement.

They have very good reasons for doing what they do – reasons that would make sense to integrators if they only Sonos shared them openly.

This isn’t just about Sonos. This little lesson is meant for all vendors who want to do business with home-technology integrators.

UPDATE: Tweet from New Sonos CEO



  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]

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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · News · Blogs · Sonos · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Bailey AV on January 22, 2017

Lets be honest Sonos isnt going to become a brick in a year and i dont think anyone could honestly believe that. Literally any other music streamer company that exists has better likelyhood of that happening.

Sonos has never made any real attempts at being CI friendly and its pretty clear they never did, and still dont, care about us at all.

What has happened over the last couple years however is the amount of companies releasing similar products has grown exponentially. Without a doubt Sonos sales have been impacted and they are looking for other avenues to increase sales - the CI channel being one of them.

Posted by Bailey AV on January 22, 2017

Lets be honest Sonos isnt going to become a brick in a year and i dont think anyone could honestly believe that. Literally any other music streamer company that exists has better likelyhood of that happening.

Sonos has never made any real attempts at being CI friendly and its pretty clear they never did, and still dont, care about us at all.

What has happened over the last couple years however is the amount of companies releasing similar products has grown exponentially. Without a doubt Sonos sales have been impacted and they are looking for other avenues to increase sales - the CI channel being one of them.

Posted by CriticalListener on January 21, 2017

TheDarkKnight - we sell nothing “inferior”.  The fact is we don’t want to sell a brick to a customer and in a year or so, that may be EXACTLY what SONOS products are.

Posted by PHD of HDTV on January 20, 2017

As a Sonos dealer who felt that half a loaf of bread was better… yada, yada, yada, I would offer Sonos to get us in the door and hopefully build repeat business. Once the initial Sonos products where installed, we would rarely hear from that customer again. I’ve talked to my Sonos Rep about margins, availability, the loss of the East Coast distribution hub and even offered ideas and suggestions on what would help the CI channel. I can tell you first hand that I had my Sonos Rep sit in my office and point blank told me that Sonos could care less about the CI channel. As a Control4 dealer we have integrated many, many projects with Sonos as the gateway streaming source. With the launch of the new restricted API, we are testing other streaming devices to fix systems that worked beautifully.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on January 20, 2017

CriticalListener, it’s interesting to me that you would actively push a product that you admit you feel is not as good…in an industry segment where you’d like to be known for your “service”.

Posted by CriticalListener on January 20, 2017

John Nemesh is right.  We complained for years that with free shipping, no sales tax, that our margins were squeezed to the point of non-existence.  They also treated us shabbily for only ordering a few $ thousand dollars of equipment, pushing us to even lower distribution channels.  We are now pushing MusicCast by Yamaha.  SONOS is better than MusicCast, but we can actually make money selling it.  And Yamaha will be around in a year.  SONOS ... who knows.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on January 20, 2017

jsayen, yes the home-automation partners are to blame as well. My understanding is that they weren’t aware of the timing on the auto-update.

Posted by jsayen on January 20, 2017

I worked inside of their booth at CEDIA demonstrating the Savant Integration and it was very clear to everyone what features would work with their new API.  Control4 also had it on display in their booth right next door with the limitations.  I’m pretty sure that all of the control companies new this was coming and shame on them if they did not tell their dealers.  I saw two dealers come from the Control4 booth and into the Sonos booth and had complete meltdowns and were quite rude to the Sonos staff.

I’ll also note that while at Savant, I met with a lot of end users to demonstrate and discuss Savant.  Sonos came up almost every time.  I would ask them why they wanted Sonos and most of the time it’s because someone told them it was great or they saw it in action.  After a few more questions, it was obvious that what they really wanted was streaming music and there are other solutions for that when they want complete integration.

Posted by jhamill1 on January 20, 2017

Since people buy our knowledge rather than product XYZ, we’ve had complete success in recommending competitive lines like Heos or Autonomic when Sonos is discussed. As long as Sonos keep spending their money to get people talking about streaming music, we’ll sell, install and support the products that meet our customers’ needs AND our needs, which are not Sonos.

Posted by dbendell on January 19, 2017

Sad! Such a small community of CI channel to have such disparity.

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Posted by John Nemesh on January 19, 2017

If this channel is so important to them, why do they market DIRECTLY TO END USERS a 20% discount if they bypass the dealer who just installed their gear???

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on January 19, 2017

You may have hit the nail on the head, Julie.  As of right now, I simply don’t buy that this is “just the beginning” of what will come from the API for integration. 

Everything I’ve read and heard in quotes from them (Sonos) points to their wanting all end users to be using the Sonos app/gui, whether it be on the integrated gui or the Sonos app on clients’ devices.  This just doesn’t work for integrated systems.  Some people may think the Sonos user interface is great (personally I hate it and prefer the old version), but either way it takes the user away from the native interface of the control platform they are using.  This is wrong.  If it makes the user use an entirely different app/device, that’s even worse.

If they do plan on building the API out to allow full integration, well then it comes back to what the article is about.  Why not just come out and say that so that we can all somewhat relax and not completely lose faith in the brand.  Instead, they string us along with these vague statements that things will get better…. or more likely just their idea of better.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on January 19, 2017

Seems everyone has felt some pain points with relation to Sonos. However, it’s not Sonos’ responsibility to reach out to a Home Automation manufacturer and say, “We know that you hacked your integration with us, so we’re going to tell you exactly what is going to break and when”. They are welcome to run their business the way that they want. In my mind, those manufacturers are the ones to blame because they’ve always known that updates and/or publishing an API could break their hacked integration. Now, they are pushing the responsibility on the dealer to troubleshoot a problem that they created.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on January 19, 2017

TheDarkNight—as mentioned in the blog, clearly Sonos has no obligation to inform anyone of changes that might affect unsanctioned integrations. It’s just that if integrators are in fact a key market for the company, they (and others like them) would be wise to communicate.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on January 19, 2017

You and I agree, Julie. I’m merely making the argument…if we’re going to be mad at someone, don’t be mad at Sonos! (or at least, be less angry vs. the Home Automation manufacturers with hacked integration)

Posted by J Sproat on January 19, 2017

I’m sure they don’t hate home-automation… In fact, it’s more likely this is the first step to becoming the next home automation platform for the DIY market.

Posted by dbendell on January 19, 2017

Sad! Such a small community of CI channel to have such disparity.

Posted by jhamill1 on January 20, 2017

Since people buy our knowledge rather than product XYZ, we’ve had complete success in recommending competitive lines like Heos or Autonomic when Sonos is discussed. As long as Sonos keep spending their money to get people talking about streaming music, we’ll sell, install and support the products that meet our customers’ needs AND our needs, which are not Sonos.

Posted by jsayen on January 20, 2017

I worked inside of their booth at CEDIA demonstrating the Savant Integration and it was very clear to everyone what features would work with their new API.  Control4 also had it on display in their booth right next door with the limitations.  I’m pretty sure that all of the control companies new this was coming and shame on them if they did not tell their dealers.  I saw two dealers come from the Control4 booth and into the Sonos booth and had complete meltdowns and were quite rude to the Sonos staff.

I’ll also note that while at Savant, I met with a lot of end users to demonstrate and discuss Savant.  Sonos came up almost every time.  I would ask them why they wanted Sonos and most of the time it’s because someone told them it was great or they saw it in action.  After a few more questions, it was obvious that what they really wanted was streaming music and there are other solutions for that when they want complete integration.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on January 20, 2017

jsayen, yes the home-automation partners are to blame as well. My understanding is that they weren’t aware of the timing on the auto-update.

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