Is it time for another hardware controller?

  • 3 February 2021
  • 18 replies
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ok my thoughts on this, maybe (probably) not yours but interested in constructive opinions and viewpoints (excuse typo in heading).
 

I’m not sure how many in here now will have ever used the CR200.

 

I’m sure back then it cost a lot to make and that Sonos didn’t sell too many and that phones/tablets seemed the way forward.

 

We now have voice control which is of course amazing, but it’s not good for browsing and discovery.  And the app we have now is — well, it’s ok.  It doesnt look great, it works and it’s ok. But does anyone else think it doesn’t feel like 15yrs of evolution from the CR200?

 

Android tablets can be bought cheap from China in bulk and I don’t understand why Sonos don’t just buy in an unbranded model, lock it in with the Sonos app and have a known stable hardware platform that they can develop on, and that will appeal to the install market they are courting.  A dedicated controller feels premium as a controller in a way your phone doesn’t.  
 

I love my Sonos and would never be without it.  But it never felt more fun than when you were able to pass round the CR200 and it was SO well designed that anyone could just use it.  

Andrew 

 

 

 


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My opinion is that Sonos realized that the software change pace outstripped the ability for any single device to maintain the appropriate capability, by being locked in to a single CPU and memory constraints. It would be much easier to do what they are currently doing, relying on someone else (Android, Apple) to keep the ever increasing pace of those issues in mobile devices, and just develop for what the current standard is. 

It would be a challenge to predict in three years exactly what requirements the Sonos software needs from a controller perspective. Why not count on a third party device? 

Secondarily, Sonos has much more expertise in sound reproduction devices than they do in the creation of a controller. The investment in such a ongoing team would probably be considerable. 

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I hear what you are saying.

But the situation now is different to when the CR200 was pulled.   Very  high powered devices now are abundant, and cheap from a no-name Chinese supplier ready for rebadging, and more than capable of running a single tasked app like S2.  Android is free, and the Sonos app already written.  Just tweak the hardware with some stop / play buttons, have the device boot into the app, and suddenly you have a very nice controller for much less than what it cost to sell the CR200.

 

And the cost to maintain the app for a known hardware device would be far less than maintaining compatibility across numerous versions of IOS and Android, with different screen sizes / resolutions etc.  

The elegance of the CR200 I guess has , for me, not faded.  It terms of overall experience it just seems to me streets ahead of what we have now.  Love Sonos, just  not the app !!!

 

And whatever this ‘new’ version is will be obsolete within x months. For the reasons I listed. 

I get the appeal, it just doesn’t seem to make any economic sense for Sonos to be in that market. It isn’t their ‘lane’. 

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Sadly, I think this is a great idea & I agree that it makes no economic sense. 

We kept using our original CR100s until mid-2020 when somebody unfortunately did a software update.  They were clunky & outdated things (from the pre-iPhone Age of Gadgets - palm pilots, pagers, Blackberries, digital cameras) but for 14 years they were the best things about our Sonos system (which I generally love).  They were really well designed and built (you could see that when you took them apart to replace the battery), and far better than any phone app - came on quickly with their motion sensors, always in the same place in the house, always charged in their cradles, always worked, easy to use for small kids & technophobes and visitors who had never seen a Sonos (our CR100s probably created about five new Sonos customers), had dedicated volume and mute buttons - you can just hit one physical button when the phone rings - and great alarm clock functionality with a physical snooze bar, etc. 

But, back to the topic, I think Sonos would only do a dedicated controller unless it would be a really distinctive and high-quality one, fitting its brand.  Such a thing would probably cost $400-500 and possibly be obsolete in 5 years given hardware limitations.  Since the iPhone app came out in 2008, I think people - myself included - would not pay that when you can have a smartphone app that is 75% as good as the CR100 was, for free.  So no market there.

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Why on earth would a dedicated controller cost $500?? You can get laptops that cost far less than that!

 

My point was that the hardware has already been ‘done’, in as much as Chinese factories are churning out Android compatible tablets ready for rebranding for small sums of money (Amazon sell theirs here in the UK for £50 and probably still manage to make a small profit).  And the software has already been ‘done’.  It’s approx 150MB and won’t strain any hardware out there for years to come.

 

So rejig the basic tablet with a  few buttons for play/stop/volume, rebrand it ‘Sonos’, preload the software they have already  written and sell it for £$150 and still make a profit.  
 

This is entirely Sonos’s ‘lane’ — they are predominantly a hardware company.  They don’t make any money on their software at all, but they could  do if they sold it preloaded on a tablet.  
 

I totally agree it didn’t make sense before when the hardware was very expensive.  But it isn’t now, it’s incredibly cheap.  It’s already being made.   A dedicated Sonos controller for £$150 —  really, you wouldn’t buy one ???

 

 

 

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Spouse has finger issues that make touch controlled devices a problem, a controller with real buttons would be perfect for her needs.

Pretty much a CR-100 but with up-down buttons instead of the tracking surface.

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We LOVED our CR100s and used them all day long (until they were purposely BRICKED). 

Seems the S2 app on iOS and Android is even more sluggish, ugly, and awkward to navigate than the S1 and certainly less useful than the PC desktop app which this household prefers to the clunky iOS app. 

Sonos has to get better at the user interface level.  The apps aren’t even consistent in that regard across platforms. 

We’d LOVE a dedicated controller. 

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Nailed it with the key benefits.

  • instant on
  • fast response
  • dedicated volume/mute buttons
  • always Charged, in its cradle.

not flat, in the car, attached to ear, doing something else. In terms of use the controller beat the app hands down. But I don’t see another hardware controller coming soon, or ever. 

Lowest common denominator wins and they are now competing with Bluetooth speakers, or Amazon echos for the volume market. They will ultimately lose that fight to Google/Amazon. The whole house top end system is not their target market anymore. 
 

I’d agree they could utilise a donor hardware piece to reduce cost, and provide an upgrade path with updated chipsets. But don’t think it likely. I suspect that more control will be handed over to the likes of Spotify and they will become just another hardware platform with no real USP. 

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Yup, once Sonos went public the primary focus shifted to the shareholder (and executive bonuses) not the paying consumer.  This all-to-typical short-sighted/quarterly earning-focused approach often diminish once great product/tech/consumer-focused companies.   Yes some stay afloat and even prosper, but many just die on the vine once they jilt their loyal consumers and forget their core competency. 

Sure, Sonos reported stronger than expected quarterly profit… that happens when you cut your staff, support, services, and software dev to the bone, then you’re bound to see good (short-term) results and fat bonuses. 

The S2 app is a slow, ugly, counter-intuitive interface to some amazing hardware. 

Hope Sonos can catch that once great whole-home, quality audio experience (I sunk over $10 into over the last 10 years for).  Hope may spring eternal, but patience wanes.  

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The S2 app is a slow, ugly, counter-intuitive interface to some amazing hardware. 

 


I find the S2 app great. It’s blazing fast and responsive for me. Easy to navigate and don’t mind the colour theme. 
 

What device are you using to navigate? Could it be your wifi that’s slow?
 

Yup, once Sonos went public the primary focus shifted to the shareholder (and executive bonuses) not the paying consumer.  This all-to-typical short-sighted/quarterly earning-focused approach often diminish once great product/tech/consumer-focused companies.   Yes some stay afloat and even prosper, but many just die on the vine once they jilt their loyal consumers and forget their core competency. 

 

Sonos stopped selling the CR100 and 200s years before they went public.  It’s quite a stretch to claim that they were removed for corporate profits with that sort of foresight.  The obvious answer is that people just weren’t buying the controllers since they could just use the phone and tablets they already owned for control.

 

 

Sure, Sonos reported stronger than expected quarterly profit… that happens when you cut your staff, support, services, and software dev to the bone, then you’re bound to see good (short-term) results and fat bonuses. 

 

 

While part of the recent success has been due to reduce costs, they have increased sales revenue pretty significantly as well. 

 

The S2 app is a slow, ugly, counter-intuitive interface to some amazing hardware. 

Hope Sonos can catch that once great whole-home, quality audio experience (I sunk over $10 into over the last 10 years for).  Hope may spring eternal, but patience wanes.  

 

 

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The S2 app is a slow, ugly, counter-intuitive interface to some amazing hardware. 

 


I find the S2 app great. It’s blazing fast and responsive for me. Easy to navigate and don’t mind the colour theme. 
 

What device are you using to navigate? Could it be your wifi that’s slow?
 

As established by top tier support, it’s NOT my WiFi (latest high-end router), all other devices blazing fast, testing confirms no wifi traffic issues.  

Using latest iOS 14.x on less-than 2yr old apple phones/pad, Fire HD tablets. 

S1 on SAME system was much faster to load, refresh, etc.  

Support knows there are wide-spread issues with S2 lagging, glad yours doesn’t. 

 

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Yup, once Sonos went public the primary focus shifted to the shareholder (and executive bonuses) not the paying consumer.  This all-to-typical short-sighted/quarterly earning-focused approach often diminish once great product/tech/consumer-focused companies.   Yes some stay afloat and even prosper, but many just die on the vine once they jilt their loyal consumers and forget their core competency. 

 

Sonos stopped selling the CR100 and 200s years before they went public.  It’s quite a stretch to claim that they were removed for corporate profits with that sort of foresight.  The obvious answer is that people just weren’t buying the controllers since they could just use the phone and tablets they already owned for control.

 

Danny, always the die-hard Sonos supporter and I do appreciate your thoughts.  But I beg to differ on why the CRs were dropped.  Sonos made claim that these would NOT keep up with current hardware/firmware changes coming down the pike - not due to slow sales (oh and something about them catching on FIRE - which was retracted shortly after).   And my comments about going public was NOT tied to the CR issues, just observations about Sonos and tech companies in general after 10+ years with Sonos products/support/testing/community comments and a lifetime career in tech. 

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Thanks for interesting comments.  This has strayed from the controller topic, but I’ll bite on the comments from kassey22000:

I see where you are coming from, but I’m much less negative than you are about the company, even if you are riffing on some material that I put out there.  Their focus was always on making money and growth, as a for-profit company.  That focus let them lose money on their first generation of customers, which I was happy to be a part of, in order to be able to make better stuff and grow, which they have done.  And they recognize the value of a happy customer base, as they have repeatedly said that their best sales channel is word of mouth from existing customers selling friends on Sonos (as I have done, see above). 

That said, there is a natural tension between making amazing new stuff and keeping old customers happy by making those improvements backward-compatible, and at some point that tension hits a breaking point, which is interesting to watch for.  It hit that breaking point with the CR100-bricking in 2018, and with the S1/S2 split last year.  (Now, for example, how do they get S1 customers like me to buy the new Mini-Move or Super-Sub or whatever other new gadget they put on the market, when its incremental benefit is outweighed by the incremental loss of capability in previously purchased gear, the opposite of the earlier exponential gain that Sonos customers got from buying more Sonos stuff?)  To repeat my point above, I agree with you that Sonos’s management has seemed to put less emphasis on the backward-compatible side of that dichotomy in the last few years than they did previously.

Finally you raised compensation.  In that regard, though this may be an unpopular opinion here, I think Sonos warrants commendation for NOT having super highly paid executives, by (admittedly ridiculous and out of control) US corporate standards.  Compare, eg, the CEO’s base salary, $550,000, to that of peers, many of whom (aside from Warren Buffet and his $100,000 salary) get several times that.  Sonos execs may be currently getting rich because the stock price increased by about 5X in less than 12 months, but in my book they have earned such good fortune.

Full disclosure, I am a small Sonos stockholder as well as a longtime customer.  I think reading their investor materials helps make me a smarter customer.  (Also this works as a sort of hedge; if Sonos gets acquired by, say, Apple in, say, three years, the sure-to-result decrease in value and usefulness of my audio gear will be offset by the gain in value of the Sonos stock!)

The CR100 was discontinued in 2009 (support dropped in 2018), the CR200 in 2012 (still supported in S1).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonos

Danny, always the die-hard Sonos supporter and I do appreciate your thoughts.  But I beg to differ on why the CRs were dropped.  Sonos made claim that these would NOT keep up with current hardware/firmware changes coming down the pike - not due to slow sales (oh and something about them catching on FIRE - which was retracted shortly after).  

 

 

These are the reasons Sonos stopped supporting the CRs.  It’s not the reason they stopped selling them.  They stopped selling them long after they stopped   If CRs were highly desired by consumers, I have no doubt that Sonos would be selling a CR300 or 400 these days.  As well, at least some of Sonos multiroom audio competitors would be selling controllers like the CRs, but to my knowledge it doen’t exist.  Seems like that would be an easy way to win over customers, if customers wanted them.

I personally don’t care whether Sonos makes controllers or not, other than the fact that I want the company to be successful so that they continue to make good products and support what line of speakers.  That said, the fact that you essentially needed to have a controller originally is what kept me from getting the original ZPs.  I could afford $400 for the Connect:Amp, but not another $400 for a controller to go with it.  Once Sonos had the app controller, I was on board.

 

And my comments about going public was NOT tied to the CR issues, just observations about Sonos and tech companies in general after 10+ years with Sonos products/support/testing/community comments and a lifetime career in tech. 

 

Like many people, myself included, we think we can easily predict a company’s future based on what we see.  Assuming we understand the market better than Sonos can.  I was not happy when Sonos laid off some good people, and I thought we would have seen the effect of it by now.  Sonos is actually doing better than they have before.  Maybe you’re right and it’s going to eventually catch up to them, but right now Sonos is just doing better.

That said, there is a natural tension between making amazing new stuff and keeping old customers happy by making those improvements backward-compatible, and at some point that tension hits a breaking point, which is interesting to watch for. 

 

 

That’s a completely different debate  though.  The question raised by OP was whether it made sense for Sonos to make it’s own controller again, not about how long Sonos should support products that it no longer sells.

 

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Danny - yes, agree.  Lots of good points in here.

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