Christopher Stringer was a designer at Ideo, who helped create Dell’s hit ’90s design language, before he got the call from Jony Ive in 1995 to join Apple. Stringer went on to become a key figure in one of the most influential industrial design teams in history, launching dozens of products from PowerBooks to the iPhone.
In 2017, Stringer left Apple to build something new. According to a new report in the Financial Times, Stringer is now raising money to launch a product that will compete with Apple itself.
Stringer’s startup is called Syng. He cofounded it with Damon Way, who launched the tech protector brand Incase, and Afrooz Family, a master coder and former sound engineer at Apple who worked on the HomePod. Set up in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, Syng describes itself as “a future of sound company,” and it’s working on a new series of smart speakers, dubbed “Cell,” to rival the HomePod and Sonos, with the first of the line coming out in the fourth quarter of 2020. The Cell will undoubtedly be an impressive piece of machinery: Syng has lured designers from Apple, Nest, and Nike.
But according to the Financial Times, its business model will largely be based on licensing its spatial audio technology to other companies to incorporate into their products, rather than selling lots of units to the public, like Apple. Not much is known about Syng’s spatial audio technology, except that it’s largely software-based and allows speakers to adjust their volume depending on where they are in a room to create a sound that, according to Syng, is “indistinguishable from reality.”
That licensing approach is probably a good strategy: Build a mind-blowing piece of hardware to gain attention, sell what you can on your own, then let the tech giants pay to incorporate your best software technologies (or, er, sue ’em if they don’t). Over the past few years, the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, backed with clever digital assistants and bargain-bin price tags, have cornered the market on easy-to-install wireless speakers. As a result, Sonos has struggled to compete in speaker sales and has begun eyeing a radio advertising business to generate revenue. Apple, for its part, had only sold an estimated four million HomePod speakers as of last year—which means it owns less than 10% of the connected speaker market.
So even if Syng designs an incredible speaker, it cannot compete unless it has truly unique technology inside. And so, as we wait to see what Stringer and his all-star design team have up their sleeve, the truth is, it will all come down to how it sounds.
We reached out to Syng for comment but have not heard back as of the time of publishing.