Sonos is getting ready to take on Alexa and Google Assistant: The company announced its very own voice assistant Wednesday. Sonos Voice Control will be available on the company’s speakers in the U.S. at the beginning of next month, with plans to launch in France later this year.
Unlike general purpose voice assistants, Sonos Voice Control will be primarily focused on music search and playback, as well as control of Sonos speaker systems. The assistant also differs from Alexa and Google Assistant in that it never uploads any audio to the cloud, but instead processes everything on the device.
That’s key to winning over people who have thus far steered clear of voice assistants, said Sonos senior sound experience manager Greg McAllister. Sonos began making speakers with built-in microphones for voice control in 2017, giving people the choice to either use Alexa or the Google Assistant through those smart speakers.
However, almost half of the voice-capable Sonos speakers it sold aren’t being used for that purpose, according to McAllister. “Time and time again, when we speak to our customers, they express that they have concerns over privacy,” he recently told Protocol.
Sonos got its hands on the technology necessary to build a voice assistant that processes queries locally when it acquired Paris-based Snips in late 2019. To finalize its assistant for the U.S. market, the company teamed up with actor Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame. The company plans to make additional voice choices available at a later time.
With the launch of its own voice assistant, Sonos is also putting a new spotlight on interoperability issues that have long plagued the industry. At launch, consumers will be able to run Alexa and the Sonos assistant on the same device and invoke them with a specific wake word. However, Google has long resisted this kind of voice interoperability, so people won’t be able to use Sonos Voice Control and the Google Assistant on the same speaker.
At the same time, Sonos also has to stay clear of playing favorites with voice commands, especially since the company is also running its own music services. To do so, Sonos is asking people to set their favorite music service in its app; if none is set, it will default to the most-used service, and consider other services as fallback options.
That’s especially noteworthy because Sonos Voice Control won’t work with every service at launch: The voice assistant is capable of sending queries to Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer and Pandora, but isn’t working with Spotify just yet.
“We are working towards having them part of Sonos Voice Control,” promised Sonos voice experience director David Leroy, without providing additional details.