Move over everyone, the big boy has come to town.
Bose, the No. 1 audio brand in terms of consumer awareness, has finally entered the Internet radio/streaming audio market with a line of self-contained one-piece receiver/speaker products branded under the name SoundTouch Wi-Fi. Using its powerful marketing machine and extensive dealer/retailer network, Bose will likely immediately make an impact with these products, which are aimed squarely at Sonos, NuVo and other brands that have successfully built the category among consumers and integrators.
Based on 802.11g Wi-Fi, the SoundTouch music systems allow users to stream music from the web or from a stored collection. The units also include Apple Airplay so homeowners can access music from their iDevices. Bose plans to add other music services like Deezer, iHeartRadio and others.
Specifically for integrators, the devices are not controllable by third-party control systems, but they do maintain Bose’s “healthy” margins for resellers. Bose’s entry into the space, with its marketing, is likely to quickly increase consumer awareness of the category and create spillover opportunities for integrators.
Bose debuted the systems to national and international media this week in New York City. At launch, there are three systems:
SoundTouch 30 Wi-Fi: Measuring 10x17x7 inches (HxWxD), this unit is designed for larger spaces. Bose, which is known for its strict policing of a universal pricing policy, has this unit set at $699.
SoundTouch 20 Wi-Fi: At 7x12x4 inches, this more compact unit is targeted for bedrooms, bathrooms or other smaller sized areas of the home. It is priced at $399.
SoundTouch Portable Wi-Fi: This smaller unit has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery in a speaker about the size of book at 6x10x3 inches.
The line will expand in December 2013 with the inclusion of the same feature set in the Bose Wave SoundTouch Music System. Early in 2014, other products added to the family will include the SoundTouch Stereo JC Wi-Fi that connects to Bose Jewel Cube speakers (and an Acoustimass module for bass), weather-resistant outdoor speakers, and Lifestyle home theater systems and VideoWave TVs that will be SoundTouch enabled. Conceivably, the wireless connectivity to the speakers and TV will open up the potential for the SoundTouch devices to be used as source components in a multiroom audio or home theater setting.
The entire dealer and retail network for the company has been trained on the “one-touch” sales pitch, and the three products launching today are available for purchase immediately.
Design & Engineering
“The engineering focus for the products was portability, control and effortlessness,” says Glenn Gomes-Casseres of Bose. The company attempted to not over-engineer the product line, which was in development for more than three years, according to Phil Hess, Bose vice president.
The units have a front-facing OLED screen that gives feedback on what song or Internet radio station has been selected using metadata. The devices rely heavily on consumers’ familiarity with the “preset” mentality, in essence aiming to emulate the preset hardkey experience that most consumers have with in their car radios. On top of each unit are six simple preset buttons that can be pressed and held to preset a station, Pandora channel or iTunes playlist from a PC. There are also volume up and down hardkeys and a power button. That’s it.
Each of the three initial units also comes with an IR remote, with the remote for the SoundTouch Stereo JC having a unique round design. There is a spin wheel on the outside of the remote for volume control and the LED in the center is actually a touchscreen that can be used to pause songs.
A free downloadable app for iOS, Mac, Android and Windows is also available. The app is very clean and simple, using simple drag-and-drop or press-and-hold commands to create presets. The interface displays album art and song title information when played. There is also a “Recents” button that allows the user to access the last 50 songs listened to, along with icons for Pandora and Music Library. On the bottom of the app, there is a scroll bar that allows the user to switch between multiple SoundTouches in a home.
Right now, Bose is using only a global preset ability, meaning if there are multiple SoundTouch devices in a home, all six presets apply to every unit. But according to designer Conor Sheehan, there will soon be an ability to have individual presets for each device. The app also has a Party mode that allows you to control volume levels on multiple devices in a home. The interface can be customized by the homeowner using a Setting button to name zones, etc. There is also an Explore panel that allows the user to search artists, find Internet radio station genres, etc.
Bose president Bob Maresca says the company put the device through its paces, which is one reason it took so long for the company to enter the category. Maresca noted that even his wife, who is a complete technophobe, found SoundTouch simple and intuitive. He admits that adding Airplay and the OLED screen made the units more expensive to manufacture, but are necessary elements for simplicity and feedback. “We were not going to let this thing out until we could satisfy a wide swath of customers,” he adds.
According to Hess, the company considered Bluetooth but he notes, “it’s great for point-to-point communication, but it’s not its time yet.” He adds, “We believe SoundTouch systems will change music at home the way Bluetooth speakers changed music on-the-go.”