Before I read the news of the Sonos layoffs today, I was wondering this week about why Apple never had swooped in and bought the company, something I had long thought might someday happen.
Think about this: What if instead of buying a headset and a music streaming company in Beats - both things where there isn't a whole lot of core technology innovation and something I think Apple could have gotten for a lot less for $3 billion - what if they had acquired Sonos instead?
Things could be very different today in the race for the connected home, a race where Amazon holds pole position with the Echo, Alexa et al. And while Apple may seem well positioned in the connected home, what with HomeKit, their own fixed device in Apple TV, one half of a mobile OS hegemony in iOS, etc, the reality is they're getting massively out-maneuvered by Amazon.
Seriously. It's not even close. As I've written before, both Apple and Google went down the fairly predictable route of trying to control a key part of the stack, creating walled garden ecosystems that require significant time and investment (and community buy-in) to get up and running.
And Amazon? They created a hero product (Echo) that was really a trojan horse for their AI and voice assistant technology (Alexa), and they did so in a way that didn't require all the heavy lifting and market friction of a protocol and standard battle. They're like: "Hey, buy our product. It does amazing things" (and they were able to do so on the biggest online retail site in the western world, so that doesn't hurt either).
I think Sonos makes a good match for Apple for following reasons:
- Apple has historically owned digital music (iPod, iPhone, iTunes, Apple Music, Beats etc etc).
- Apple doesn't have a in-home presence outside of its screen-based computing devices. Sure, Apple TV does ok, but that's not what they're going to build a connected/smart home business around, is it?
- Sonos is a premium brand that largely invented a new market category (wireless speakers), something Apple, which does this fairly regularly, would appreciate it.
- Sonos could be the foundation for Apple's smart home strategy
And as for Sonos, here's why the comfortable arms of Apple would make sense:
- One of their two strategic focuses is now voice. There's a company that has a pretty good voice technology I've heard of: Apple
- They are facing the competitive headwinds in a market changed by Amazon. For years Sonos had been the main innovator in streaming music hardware, and had really been the first mainstream connected home entertainment device. Now that connected entertainment is commonplace, Amazon is changing the playbook and Sonos may need some help.
- Apple needs a digital home chief. They need someone like Tony Fadell, who can oversee the company's strategy in digital home hardware, smart home and music from a technology and products perspective. While CEO John McFarlane has been fairly intent on remaining independent, a good second choice would be the guy who reinvents Apple's digital home strategy.
Will it happen? I don't know. Maybe I should ask Alexa. She might know.