Earlier this month, Apple announced a new service giving customers access to the entire iTunes Music store and their own music libraries as a streaming service. Better yet, it enables Siri control over streaming music. It’s the kind of control we've never had before with on-demand streaming services.
In a few short years, our industry has gone from installing knobs on the wall, to keypads in the wall, and back to knobs on the wall, leaving our customers to get out their smartphone or tablet and type in what they're looking for. For a while, that's been fine. The mainstream introduction of that capability came in 2008 with the advent of the Apple App Store. Fast forward to 2015. That's no longer new or exciting to our customers. They're familiar with Sonos. They've seen the commercials, their friends have it, and our showroom demo of asking them what their favorite music is and instantly playing it has become meh at best.
We're always looking for new ways to simplify technology for our customers. With voice control getting better and better thanks to Siri and other voice recognition engines, the promise of "Play Reflektor by Arcade Fire in The Living Room" is now very real. The software is there, but what about the hardware? Up until now, Sonos hasn't supported voice control natively on any device (or maybe Apple hasn't supported Sonos, but who cares? The result is the same). I asked our Sonos rep about support for Apple HomeKit the last time we got together, and the reception was tepid at best. I'm not sure Sonos understands how important Apple Music and Siri-based control of that music is (or maybe they do and are figuring out what to do about the big block of cheese that's slowly moving in the wrong direction for them). Here's the Sonos official quote about its integration plans with Apple Music:
“Sonos will not have Apple Music on it at launch, but we fully expect to support them when they’re ready to focus on the home listening experience. Right now they’re fully focused on mobile.”
If Apple Music is everything we think it's going to be (and Apple isn't making Newtons or QuickTake cameras anymore), then we need to consider our customers and how Apple Music fits into their home technology systems. The standard response from Sonos when asked about adding Apple functionality to its systems has always been, "Add an Apple Airport Express for AirPlay compatibility.” That's not compatibility, that's a Band-Aid.
Let's turn the conversation on its ear. What if Apple decides to start making more hardware that's compatible with Apple Music? Do they know anything about making self-contained end-to-end products? Hmmm... They just launched a watch. I'm pretty sure they can figure out where the speaker guys at Beats Audio sit in Cupertino. Would Apple buy Sonos or just put them under? Maybe they'll stay away from that because they don't really have a history of going end-to-end with their products. Maybe they won't.
We're watching the largest company on the planet begins to flex its muscles out of mobile and PC and into the multi-room environment. If your customers haven't started asking you about Apple Music, consider how large the streaming music industry is. Pandora exists because it was first and you don't have to think about what's next (one touch to music). Spotify offered lossless music for a fee. Then there's Deezer, Tidal, Rhapsody, TuneIn, iHeartRadio… you get the idea.
Remember Kazaa, Napster, scour.net, or Limewire? They existed because of friction. What was the friction? You couldn't easily buy digital music, so people did so illegally. Fast forward to 2003 and the proceeding years saw a sharp decline in music piracy once the iTunes Music Store proved reliable.
Where's the friction now? No one music streaming service has everything. You have to use a variety of services to get everything you need. Apple Music promises to end that. Artist exclusivity? Low quality? Lack of selection? On June 30, that changes in a big way.
When your customers ask you about Apple Music, consider Apple's track record. We're going to join them, engineering solutions supporting Apple Music and will begin using Siri in our demo room. To continue delivering a "wow" experiencing, that's where we need to be.
I'm sure the fanboy comments await. If I'm a fanboy of anything, I'm a fanboy of simplicity. Apple does simple (one of the hardest features to deliver) really well. So does Sonos. I would love to see the two figure out how to work together natively. Our job is to deliver simplicity to our customers and figure out how to best design a revenue model around that promise.
I've always said the thing I love most about our industry is change. On June 30, we get a huge helping of if.
Stay frosty and see you in the field.