September 1, 2011 at 11:17 am

Sonos Reaches One Million Rooms, Credits ‘Acting Like a Band’ and Predicting the iPhone

sonos

Since 2002 — the year after the first iPod was unveiled — Sonos has built a business around making what I used to call “the ‘iPod Home’ that Apple never made.”

Sonos’s digital audio devices for the home have taken many forms over the years, but they all create a mesh network in the home that connects to your speakers, or in the case of some units, are your speakers. This lets you to toggle music from a variety of sources (hard drives, internet radio services, and on-demand subscriptions) to the various rooms in your house.

Sure, you could pay a high-end home networking installer 10 grand or so to accomplish pretty much the same thing. But why would you do that? Sonos is much cheaper, it performs smoothly, and it gets better over time with firmware upgrades and integration with new services like Spotify. Custom-installed home audio networks, on the other hand, grow obsolete.

With Sonos, your smartphones and computers can act as remote controls, but the system doesn't rely on them to deliver the music too, the way Apple AirPlay does.

This week, Sonos announced that it is now playing digital music in over one million rooms worldwide. That doesn’t mean it has one million active customers, because most people set these things up in multiple rooms. Still, it’s a big milestone, and one that indicates that some people, at least, want their digital audio played over speakers; they want it to sound good; and they want to be able to control it with whatever hardware they want (usually the iPhone or Android that’s already in their pocket anyway).

We asked longtime Sonos spokesman Thomas Meyer what the company thinks propelled them to one million rooms over the six-plus years that the company has shipped its products, and he said it was mainly due to acting like a band and having properly anticipated the day when people would use something like a PDA to control its systems (a.k.a. the iPhone and its descendants).

If we were to point to anything, it would be that we’ve really acted like a band over the past six-plus years of shipping product — constantly touring, practicing and building a loyal fan base. When these guys started the company in 2002 (and released in 2005) a lot of the product was engineered/designed for the day where you could use your PDA to control music coming straight from the Internet.

A lot of things broke our way (iPhone/apps/streaming went mainstream) that has helped us get to today. Match that with simple, all-in-one solutions like the PLAY:5 and now the PLAY:3, and business is on fire here at Sonos. [With] streaming music taking off like it is now, the mainstream consumer is now looking for a better home audio experience — one that matches their lifestyle (streaming music / have an iPhone).

If anyone threatens Sonos now, it’s Apple itself, with its AirPlay ecosystem for sending music to home stereos and entertainment systems — a system that comprises iTunes, iOS developers, Airport Express, and Apple TV. However, Sonos took the open approach by adding support for AirPlay too (this involves connecting an Airport Express to the Sonos unit), heading Apple off at the pass when it comes to competition for serious music fans who want all the options.

In addition, Sonos has two key advantages over Apple: It can run without using your computer or smartphone’s processor and/or battery; and its mesh network ensures that audio from wherever (MOG, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunes, Bit Torrent, etc.) plays from multiple rooms in perfect sync, so that it doesn’t sound weird due to phase cancellation.