Entertainment

In Sonos' war with Google, customers are the real losers

The patent dispute between Sonos and Google is far from resolved, but some device owners already had enough.

Nest Audio speakers

Installing and using some of Google’s products just got a little bit more difficult.

Photo: Google

It took Google mere hours to roll out a technical fix after the International Trade Commission sided with Sonos Thursday in the company’s ongoing patent dispute. By tweaking some setup and control functionality of its smart speakers and displays, Google aims to avoid an import ban that could otherwise go into effect in less than 60 days.

However, the changes aren’t going over well with owners of affected devices. “I believe a rebate is in order, your devices no longer work as advertised,” reads the most upvoted comment in response to a Google post announcing the changes. “So you got sued by Sonos and we pay the price? Either get some better lawyers and win the suit or pay Sonos a royalty or start issuing refunds to customers,” wrote another commenter.

Thursday’s decision came two years after Sonos had first raised the issue with the ITC. In its final finding, the commission agreed that Google had violated five Sonos patents, and issued an import ban for smart speakers and displays as well as other Google hardware, including Pixel phones, pending a 60-day presidential review.

Google’s response was to disable the ability to control the volume of a group of speakers simultaneously. The company also launched a dedicated Android app to set up a range of smart speaker, streaming and smart TV devices outside of the Google Home app, which is normally used for this functionality. Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda told Protocol that this would only affect a small subsection of consumers who were trying to install devices that didn’t have the latest firmware installed yet.

The app in question has been downloaded over 5,000 times since Thursday, according to Google Play Store data, suggesting that it has indeed not yet affected many people. However, those who had to jump through the extra hoop weren’t exactly happy about it. The app had an average rating of just 1.2 stars Monday, with people complaining about a “painful installation experience.” Many reviewers noted that they couldn’t get the app to work at all, bringing one reviewer to beg: “Dear Google, pay Sonos the royalty!”

As the dispute is starting to affect consumers, not everyone appears to be siding with Sonos. Some of the people commenting on Google’s announcement questioned the validity of the patents at the center of the dispute. A few people also simply expressed general frustration directed at all parties involved. “A simple FUCK YOU to whoever applicable,” wrote one commenter.

There is a theoretical chance that Google could get a reprieve from the ITC decision, which would allow the company to undo these changes. The commission’s decision set off a 60-day presidential review period, during which the verdict could technically get nixed. However, affected smart speaker owners shouldn’t hold their breath for Joe Biden to sweep in. First, since 2005, presidential reviews aren’t actually handled by the president himself, but by the U.S. trade representative acting on his behalf.

Second, presidential vetoes of ITC decisions are exceedingly rare. The most recent case was in 2013, when the U.S. trade representative threw out an import ban on iPhones and iPads that Samsung had lobbied for as part of its long-running patent dispute with Apple. Prior to that, only five ITC decisions had ever gotten nixed by the president.

If the ITC’s verdict stands, Google still has the option to appeal it in federal court, where it is also currently battling Sonos in two related patent-infringement lawsuits. “We plan to seek further review and will continue to defend ourselves against Sonos’ baseless claims as well as assert our intellectual property rights where Sonos is misusing our technology,” Castaneda told Protocol.

This will likely result in Google having to keep its workarounds in place for the time being, or redesign features in a way that they don’t add to a growing consumer backlash while also not running afoul of the patents that were part of the ITC decision. Of course, Google could also decide to settle the lawsuit with Sonos and agree to pay a licensing fee.

Or the company could follow a more creative suggestion. Following numerous calls to “pay Sonos” in the aforementioned comment thread, someone countered: “Don’t pay Sonos, buy Sonos.”

Fintech

Apple's new payments tech won't kill Square

It could be used in place of the Square dongle, but it's far short of a full-fledged payments service.

The Apple system would reportedly only handle contactless payments.

Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

Apple is preparing a product to enable merchants to accept contactless payments via iPhones without additional hardware, according to Bloomberg.

While this may seem like a move to compete with Block and its Square merchant unit in point-of-sale payments, that’s unlikely. The Apple service is using technology from its acquisition of Mobeewave in 2020 that enables contactless payments using NFC technology.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

Keep Reading Show less
Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.
China

Why does China's '996' overtime culture persist?

A Tencent worker’s open criticism shows why this work schedule is hard to change in Chinese tech.

Excessive overtime is one of the plights Chinese workers are grappling with across sectors.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Workers were skeptical when Chinese Big Tech called off its notorious and prevalent overtime policy: “996,” a 12-hour, six-day work schedule. They were right to be: A recent incident at gaming and social media giant Tencent proves that a deep-rooted overtime culture is hard to change, new policy or not.

Defiant Tencent worker Zhang Yifei, who openly challenged the company’s overtime culture, reignited wide discussion of the touchy topic this week. What triggered Zhang's criticism, according to his own account, was his team’s positive attitude toward overtime. His team, which falls under WeCom — a business communication and office collaboration tool similar to Slack — announced its in-house Breakthrough Awards. The judges’ comments to one winner highly praised them for logging “over 20 hours of intense work nonstop,” to help meet the deadline for launching a marketing page.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Entertainment

Spoiler alert: We’re already in the beta-metaverse

300 million people use metaverse-like platforms — Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft — every month. That equals the total user base of the internet in 1999.

A lot of us are using platforms that can be considered metaverse prototypes.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

What does it take to build the metaverse? What building blocks do we need, how can companies ensure that the metaverse is going to be inclusive, and how do we know that we have arrived in the 'verse?

This week, we convened a panel of experts for Protocol Entertainment’s first virtual live event, including Epic Games Unreal Engine VP and GM Marc Petit, Oasis Consortium co-founder and President Tiffany Xingyu Wang and Emerge co-founder and CEO Sly Lee.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Enterprise

Lyin’ AI: OpenAI launches new language model despite toxic tendencies

Research company OpenAI says this year’s language model is less toxic than GPT-3. But the new default, InstructGPT, still has tendencies to make discriminatory comments and generate false information.

The new default, called InstructGPT, still has tendencies to make discriminatory comments and generate false information.

Illustration: Pixabay; Protocol

OpenAI knows its text generators have had their fair share of problems. Now the research company has shifted to a new deep-learning model it says works better to produce “fewer toxic outputs” than GPT-3, its flawed but widely-used system.

Starting Thursday, a new model called InstructGPT will be the default technology served up through OpenAI’s API, which delivers foundational AI into all sorts of chatbots, automatic writing tools and other text-based applications. Consider the new system, which has been in beta testing for the past year, to be a work in progress toward an automatic text generator that OpenAI hopes is closer to what humans actually want.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins