Sonos CEO steps down

  • 11 January 2017
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John MacFarlane, CEO and co-founder of smart speaker company Sonos is stepping down after 15 years of leading the company.

The Sonos blog has his full statement Statement.

What does this mean for the company future, does it signify serious issues or is it the company taking a new direction and needing a fresh outlook? Time will tell but given the redundancies of last year, the delay to Alexa integration, and recent debarcles with Spam on this forum, the signs are not good. Alternativley recent moves, openinh up the API for example, could show the company moving to a more open set up that differs from the values one of the Founders had.

Let's hope the company pulls through and prospers.

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Personally I think it's extremely positive. It's not as if he's being ousted in some midnight coup and he's obviously been grooming his successor.

I, for one, am happy to be involved in the Sonos system. And even if it didn't innovate from now onwards (but we know it will) it will remain my favourite and most used product in my home.
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All the best to Mr. Mcfarlane
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I look at similar companies in parallel products and I only hope the Sonos system continues to be as simple as it is now.
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Having seen more indepth coverage it does seem Mr McFarlane is stnding down for very good reasons, he is staying with the company but is rightly concentrating the bulk of his time and energy on his family, that is laudable.

As for the future I can't see it being bleak, although competitiosn will get tougher. I have three friends that bought Sonos stuff this Christmas, and to a person they are busy planning their next Sonos product purchase, I know that feeling ;)

I can see voice being a big thing, and on teh Alexa forums Sonos integration is always a hot topic... and rightly so.

It does look like a challenging time ahead but a time I think that Sonos will survive and even thrive.
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Been using Sonos products for 12 years. Have about 20 units and love the longevity of these devices. During that time there have been a lot of supposed Sonos killers come on the market which have left nearly all as quickly.

With the Echo things feel somewhat different.

As a direct comparison, the actual Echo speaker is vastly inferior audio wise to a Sonos Play 1. But Sonos always prided itself on the SMART's in their speakers. In the Echo, they recognise that the Smart functionality goes way beyond what even they imagined defines a smart speaker. Most people use Spotify/Pandora/Google Music, and if you had a choice, would you go for the Echo or a Sonos. Voice is where it's at and all it would really take is for Amazon to start releasing Echo style speakers in the Play 1-3-5 categories with great multi-room support to really disrupt Sonos' marketplace. This is what I feel Sonos is pre-empting and a tacit admission by MacFarlane that he missed the boat on voice despite seeing it in action 2 years ago.

Now Sonos development has always been a little on the slow side. I'm happy with that, my product works rock solid and for me, my Echo pales in comparison to my Sonos when the focus is solely on music. But I can't deny there is an amazing lure to starting tracks with voice in an instant without the need for any phone or clumsy apps. I have my Echo linked up with my Phillips hue lightbulbs, smart plugs etc and it does feel amazingly futuristic. I'd love some granular ability to play anything in my Sonos library via Echo commands.

My understanding was Sonos was going to develop their own voice activated speakers but seems they are now going the piggy back Alexa route. Risky if Amazon decide to cut Sonos loose but I can only imagine the costs of trying to get your own voice AI up and running. Platform agnostic is my preference but we need Sonos voice activation asap. I wonder if Sonos could even licence Alexa technology and integrate it into their new speakers down the line.

As an aside, I would have loved for Sonos to open up their api to enable others to get on board with casting audio from apps to Sonos. Some android apps I think do that but I haven't seen many on iOS other than Spotify premium. For better or for worse, the Sonos experience still largely remains within the app.

Worth remembering Sonos financially still appears in a healthy state of affairs. Sales had been on a significant upwards trajectory. MacFarlane has been great but likely feels he has taken the company as far as his vision has enabled him to do so. Technology doesn't lie still and the company needs rapid changes if it is to respond to the shifts taking place in the smart speaker marketplace. I would be pretty confident Sonos as the premier smart speaker isn't going anywhere yet, but lets hope its able to meet this challenge like it has met all previous challenges in time gone past.
Sonos never claimed it would develop their own voice control. That was wild speculation by outsiders.

Alexa is able to be licensed for native integration. Sonos has not stated if future products would incorporate this.

Sonos has developed Direct Control, an API for control from native apps, which debuted with Spotify last month. They have stated their wish is for all services to utilize this new capability.
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Amazon Echo/Alexa is probably in private beta testing now, so maybe a couple months away from you.
Amazon and Google will dominate the home voice activation market due to their size,cost and mass appeal, wifi speaker manufacturer's need to join this "voice, I want this streamed now in room whatever" or get left behind in future sales.
Sky Q is trying to establish their own visual and audio wifi network mesh to stream visuals and music to every tv in the house. Things are moving quickly...
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Assuming Google Play used a different mechanism to stream to Sonos speakers? Remember it being possible a few years ago. Just wish Sonos had developed this API a little sooner. Maybe they had a hard time convincing various streaming platforms and partners to integrate it into their apps. As things stand today, I assume most app developers are probably going to look at Echo integration first but I do hope more will include Sonos's API. It just makes so much sense to be able to stream to any of your Sonos speakers from any app.

No doubt the industry is moving extremely fast in the last couple of years. Sonos clearly recognise this and have reorganised their priorities and management team to reflect that. Home Automation is on the verge of taking off as more and more people see the benefits of voice control. Perhaps its just a fad but I think people are much more likely to use voice in the privacy of their homes than using Google now or Siri in public. Looking at CES 2017, Echo certainly seems to be the dominant platform given their first mover's advantage but we'll see how things pan out with Google. They clearly want to be in every room in your house but the speaker / music side of things is probably not their main priority given products like the Amazon Dot.

I'm certainly optimistic once Sonos sorts out this Echo integration well likely have the best of both worlds!

...No doubt the industry is moving extremely fast in the last couple of years. Sonos clearly recognise this and have reorganised their priorities and management team to reflect that. Home Automation is on the verge of taking off as more and more people see the benefits of voice control. Perhaps its just a fad but I think people are much more likely to use voice in the privacy of their homes than using Google now or Siri in public...


Actually all new technology is a fad to some degree. The trick is to correctly estimate the growth potential and identify the saturation point where that growth will suddenly level off or start to decline. Usually that tipping point happens when something transitions from being perceived as an enhancement to the technology ecosystem and instead starts to be viewed as a restriction because it is presented as mandatory rather than optional.

The transition from physical analog media to digital media had many people believing that records would only exist in museums by now but once the saturation point was reached the trend stopped and both vinyl records and the turntables to play them are still in demand.

Same can be said for the transition from physical digital media to music downloads. The sale of CDs is still declining but it hasn't reached the level where it is no longer worthwhile to produce them.

We have clearly passed the saturation point for using smartphone apps to control everything. Everyone who wants to do that has already made the transition and there is a tangible reluctance from the rest of the population to dig out a phone or tablet and fire up an app just to accomplish simple things that they used to do quickly by pushing a dedicated button.

I think you can expect the same to be true of both voice control and paid music streaming. Voice control will expand rapidly and will be ideal for selecting and controlling music as well as controlling lights and thermostats but like smartphone control it will hit a saturation point because some things are just not practical to do by voice. Some tasks, like editing a playlist, will likely prove too cumbersome to do via voice command. Paid streaming has a natural saturation point in that a significant percentage of music listeners do not have access to the kind of Internet service you can get in Santa Barbara or Seattle and will push back at dealing with frequent outages. People who tend to listen to a set collection of favorite music rather than the latest hits will also start to push back at paying a recurring fee to hear the same music instead of paying for it just once.

Change is a good thing when it is treated as an enhancement to current technology but assuming it will completely replace current technology can be just as costly a mistake as failing to recognize and embrace the newest trend when it first comes along.
http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7655293/new-sonos-ceo-patrick-spence-interview

Interview with the incoming CEO.
"I think you'll see us executing faster in terms of where we are and working together. " 🙂
Good interview. He is ex Blackberry, and there may be uncomfortable parallels between BlackBerry in about 2010, Sonos today and the Smart phone revolution that torpedoed BB.

So will it be a case of Lessons learnt or History repeating itself? Only time will tell.
Good interview. He is ex Blackberry, and there may be uncomfortable parallels between BlackBerry in about 2010, Sonos today and the Smart phone revolution that torpedoed BB.

So will it be a case of Lessons learnt or History repeating itself? Only time will tell.


LOL i was going to mention Blackberry but he wasnt the CEO and seems to have accomplished a lot there and at Sonos, but totally valid point. I thought he really nailed the interview, Im excited to see what happens.
Yes; just voice and streaming services seemed limited in scope of ambition to me when I first came across this change of intent a year ago. But this newly added third leg from the interview: "there's a lot more products around the home that will emit sound and we think they should be emitting sounds through Sonos" expands the ambition and scope for the speakers dramatically, I think, much beyond where just voice control of music would have taken them.

And thank heavens, there is still no stated intent to pander to the red herring that hides any lack of real innovation - hi res.
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Personally I love my Sonos gear for its reliability and solid networkability but I do think they have dragged their feet on support for higher resolution sound and a better quality Connect:Amp as this has forced me out in to different brands for a solution and I would guess I am not alone.
No, you are not alone, but the question that matters to Sonos as commercial operation - a view reinforced by the silence on hi res in the interview - is how many like you are out there, compared to those like I who think that there is absolutely nothing that hi res brings to sound quality that cannot be obtained via access to the same master if there is anything wrong with original redbook master in the first place.

Or like those that aren't even aware of what hi res is, and therefore not bothered about it.

As to a better sounding Connect Amp - another requirement of a market that is too small to be of interest to Sonos.
You can use a Connect with any amp you like so what would be the point of coming out with a new amplified unit that is too expensive for some and still not "high end" enough for others? I would rather see an upgraded Connect with a headphone jack and an infrared receiver that would make it easy to use with a universal remote control.