When it comes to multi-room speaker systems, Sonos is generally seen as the king of the hill. But while it’s seen massive success in the smart home market for years, Sonos has yet to add support for Amazon’s voice-controlled Alexa digital assistant. This makes it one of the rare mainstream smart home brands not to have done so.
Still, Sonos has been very vocal about the fact that Amazon Alexa support is coming at some point in the future – we just don’t know when.
Fortunately, this week Sonos published details of a very telling update to its privacy update, offering a major hint that Alexa support is nigh.
“The most important thing for you to know is that Sonos does not keep recordings of your voice data. It goes to the voice assistant service (for example Amazon) that you’ve activated on your Sonos system.”
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It continues: “Because Sonos is a platform that partners with streaming services and other home devices, we do share some data with our partners that is necessary for making the partner service work on Sonos and providing a quality experience.”
The post, penned by Sonos Chief Legal Officer Craig Shelburne, adds: “When information is shared, it will be with a product or service you have requested or authorised. We’ve included this information in past versions, but in the current version we’re much more specific and clear about what information we are collecting and sharing with these partners.”
At present, the only way to get an Amazon Alexa device to work in conjunction with a Sonos is by using a 3.5mm audio cable to connect an Echo device (like the Amazon Echo Dot) to a single Sonos speaker. This routes the audio through the speaker, but voice capture is still handled by the Echo itself.
However, customers have long been requesting the ability to ask Alexa to play music through Sonos speakers, which would prompt audio to begin playing wirelessly over Wi-Fi, rather than through a physical line-in.
The new policy, however, suggests that Sonos will go one step further, and will actually integrate Alexa into the speakers, capturing voice using its own devices:
“Voice control works by your voice enabled Sonos Product ‘listening’ for a specific wake word. Please not that not all Sonos Products are voice enabled,” the policy reads. “You are notified that it is recording by a visual indicator such as a light on the Product.”
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But there’s a big catch here: this means Sonos products need microphones to properly work with Alexa. Interestingly, Sonos doesn’t advertise the fact, but its latest Sonos Play:5 speaker actually comes with two inactive microphones built in. These microphones were added with the intention of providing smart home functionality down the line, and now it seems clear how they’ll be used.
With microphones in the Play:5, Sonos will be able to offer a similar experience to that of an Amazon Echo. It’s not clear whether getting Alexa functionality in the Sonos will be free, but we’d imagine Echo owners will be able to command the Sonos speakers without charge going forward.
This also means that older Sonos devices without microphones will have more limited functionality – unless Sonos develops some kind of microphone accessory, of course. There’s also the long-rumoured possibility that Sonos might launch a new speaker with dedicated Alexa functionality, although there’s been no confirmation of such a device launching any time soon.
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