Sonos is betting its future on software. Having already wowed consumers with its wireless, high-fidelity speaker system, the company is sharpening its focus on the apps people use to stream music and other audio content. Today, Sonos breaks out of its own mobile apps for the first time in the U.S. by launching a tight integration with Google Play Music.
The Android-only integration will let users stream music directly from the Google Play Music app to their Sonos speakers. Until now, one had to use the official Sonos app to pipe audio to their wireless speakers. With today's update, Google Play is available as one of the many third-party content sources within the Sonos app, but it also works the other way around: Google Play Music users will be able to tap an icon and send the audio to Sonos automatically—not unlike AirPlay or Chromecast.
While the recently redesigned Sonos app sports a universal search function that works across music sources, it represents an our-way-or-the-highway approach that Sonos recognizes a need to move away from. That shift starts today.
"This is the beginning of a bigger idea that we've been working on for a very long time," says Sonos cofounder Tom Cullen. "As all the music sources and controls move from a physical receiver with a bunch of knobs to a set of sources that live on the Internet controlled by an app, then a modern audio platform really needs to be able to play sounds from their sources."
This is the first integration of its kind between Sonos and a U.S.-based music service. In 2012, Sonos launched a similar integration with QQ Music, a Chinese streaming service with over 50 million mobile music subscribers.
The Google-Sonos partnership might seem curious at first glance, given how new Google's music streaming service is compared to household names like Spotify and Pandora. But while it's a new entrant in a crowded space, Google Play Music has the might of Android's install base behind it, and it shows: It was the fastest growing online music service in 2013, according to IFPI. The service's growth has also been fueled by its international expansion—it's now live in 25 countries—and its November 2013 launch on iOS.
"We wanted a way to bring Sonos into Google Play, in addition to bringing Google Play into Sonos," says Paul Joyce, the product manager for Google Play Music.
Demand for at least the standard Sonos integration (through the Sonos Controller app) has been very high among Google Play Music subscribers since its launch, says Joyce. Evidently, demand was similarly high among Sonos users, which led to a dialogue between the two companies about how to make it happen.
"Once we were clear of the [Google Play Music] All Access launch, we had a chance to sit down with Sonos and talk about how we could really do something special together," says Joyce. "We usually like to launch things with a twist—something nobody has ever seen before. After some technical conversations, we were able to settle on our twist."
Sonos has been on a bit of tear of its own recently. After a steady stream of venture capital funding, the company—which now controls over 80% of the Wi-Fi speaker market—announced last month that its revenue doubled in 2013, to $535 million. Its approach to wireless, high-fidelity home audio has won Sonos quite a bit of buzz, especially as it has expanded its product line to include compact speakers like the Play:1 and Playbar at price points accessible to more consumers.
Meanwhile, as the market for wireless speakers heats up, competitors gunning for Sonos have proliferated. New speaker systems from the likes of Pure, Qualcomm, and Samsung are just the latest to jump in on the networked home audio game.
For Sonos, the Google Play integration is just the beginning of a much bigger strategy: to become the means by which just about any sound on the Internet is heard out loud in high quality. Although Cullen won't say which services they're looking at integrating with next, it's clear from talking to him that they're only getting started with this type of partnership.
"Someday, the modern audio platform will be almost entirely defined in software, with the exception of smart speakers," says Cullen. "The ultimate goal for us is every sound on the Internet played out loud on Sonos. We want to keep shortening the path between discovering the music however you discover it and hearing it out loud in high fidelity. Google and QQ are really just examples of the potential."