New products, new programs
This past week I was invited to visit the SONOS Boston Headquarters in anticipation of some potential announcements for our custom integration channel. This wasn’t a shock to me as I have heard the rumours that they were actively trying to improve their relationship with the Custom Installation/Integration channel (CI Channel). Now I’m gonna preface all of this with the disclaimer that all of my opinions in this article are mine, they don’t reflect anyone else’s views but mine.
So let’s jump right in. First things first, during the event I was honored to have SONOS CEO Patrick Spence join our table for a breakfast meet and greet. It was wonderful to chat with someone who comes from the same region of Southwestern Ontario as I do, and talk about some shared local experience. I rarely get that opportunity. Though out breakfast and during Patrick’s welcome speech, he referenced the importance to SONOS of New Product, New Software, and New Partnerships. When specifically talking about the CI channels he acknowledged that they are working on listening better to their partners to be able to continue to grow our collective market. He also referenced the way their products last longer and gets better over time with a long lifetime of use. Because of these long-term updates, it means that people have a great experience over time and their usage increases. With these features, SONOS is working to provide integrators with a long-lasting product that our customers love to use. It was refreshing to be at a launch for a major product from a major consumer electronics brand to hear so much emphasis on our CI channel from everyone we talked to from the CEO on down to our testing area tour guide Bob.
With the launch of the SONOS AMP, (you can read more about the specifics here) many things quickly demonstrate that they have been listening to our community. Even with simple things like designing the AMP in black so that it looks better in a rack to more advanced things like more power with more speakers, adding true bananas plugs, a HDMI:ARC connection for directly connecting to TVs, and the ability to disable the WiFi when a network cable is connected, the new AMP is showing that dedication to the channel. Now I know what some of you are going to say: “I wanted a multiple zone rack mount device with ears, this still isn’t what I asked for!”. While I understand that sentiment but let me offer this, I too would love a multiple zone single device but this new AMP fits a number of the pain points I’ve experienced and welcome the black frame, stackable with actual nesting, banana plugs, ARC, etc. that allow me to quickly put this device into a rack or stack it on a modern media console and have the same SKU stocked in our warehouse! I’m extremely happy with this AMP and look forward to using it in the many applications it allows.
Thought the event, SONOS continued to refer to our channel as the IS channel. They have recognized that they have a large group of partners beyond the retail/consumer electronic aspect and have renamed their division within the company as Installed Solution partners and this encompassed everyone from Custom Integration to Security Installers and everyone in-between. They have equipped this Installed Solutions division with dedicated product marketing, account management, technical support. Speaking of technical assistance, there are upgrading their tech support system with specific numbers in North America to allow integrators to skip the cue and get right to the front of the line. In working to grow their communication with the channel, SONOS developed a dealer pool and an advisory council who have assisted SONOS in understanding the differences between our industry and the general consumer. To this end, SONOS has announced a new dealer portal that will be coming online with tons of new features including order management, tier progression management, shipping options and how much to free shipping, no more codes but your dealer credits will automatically be applied, bundling options and 3rd party products. They are also in the process of creating an Installed Community Forum which will be accessed via the dealer forum but will also include an option to have multiple users and manage their access. They are working on a go-to market toolkit for the Installed Solutions community with advanced dealer locators, promo materials that explain what an installer offers the consumer over the DIY approach. Last but not least SONOS plans to increase co-op funding and expand distribution to make it easier for integrators to market and access product. Take all of these things that seem simple to us within the channel but remember this is something that Sonos hasn’t always seemed to recognize is critical to our channel. After all these announcements were made, I asked the question oh how they go about trying to rebuild trust with the community and was told that firstly they recognize the need to rebuild trust with integrators. That’s the reason for the dealer panel and the expanded national presence, it’s what’s behind all of these changes. They’ve realized that our channel is using their products in ways they hadn’t even imagined and that has led them to begin building products and services based on that feedback because they a professional installer provides excellent sound that looks great.
SONOS also took this opportunity to talk about probably the biggest thing that the CI channel wants. Software and APIs. They announced new control APIs that are cloud based that will be available to third party as well as a Developer program to allow for better integrations. From the API side they the existing core playback controls with grouping and play mode as well as adding SONOS playlists. Also included is line-in switching and volume pass through. With these announcements, they also included well announcements in the form of an audio clip. This means that you will be able to have a third party device like a doorbell that when pressed will duck the audio and playback and announcement or sound clip. The new software will also allow interactions with If This Then That (ITTT) control protocols. The new APIs are open and available to anyone. You can still make use of the Works with SONOS program and SONOS certified programs. Within their software enhancements, you will see dual mono output (only available on the new AMP), volume limiting which is a great feature to lock out an upper limit of the playback device that doesn’t impede the volume gauge effect. The new Developer program includes the new modern API surface with all included documentation. They have developed a Sonos Sound Experience Guidelines to ensure that all developers understand and protect the integrity of the product. There will be a suite of tools, the ongoing expansion of the API and blogs and forums for direct feedback from developers to SONOS. All of this means likely more integrations and control options for SONOS devices. I did ask where the main control companies are with this new integration and was told they all have it and are working on it to the best of there knowledge. The hint was to look to CEDIA Expo to see what all these manufacturers have in the works.
In the effort of full disclosure, my company has been a SONOS direct dealer for years now, and although there have been times they have seemed not to prioritize our channel, my clients ask for SONOS, they want SONOS, and most importantly they can operate SONOS with little to no training. The first CONNECT:AMP we sold is still working and functioning in one of my clients’ homes 8 or 9 years later. That’s an impressive pedigree. I know there have been challenges within this manufacturer and the industry but my impression last week was that SONOS isn’t shying away from that history. They are actively trying to change that perception, they want to rebuild trust, they want to improve the relationship. I even asked about their plans for CEDIA, they’ll still have their offsite location but will be present on the show floor and will have a large number of AMPs scattered with their partners across the show floor. I can’t wait to see how dealers and partners take advantage of this renewed commitment to the industry.
~Matt D. Scott
OMEGA Audio Video, President