Sonos Boss Apologises For Update Controversy

The boss of speaker maker Sonos has written a public letter to its customers, to apologise for a decision to prevent older speakers from receiving software updates.

In the letter, CEO Patrick Spence said the company would deliver updates to all products “for as long as possible”. But crucially, the firm did not not retract its earlier decision.

Earlier this week, Sonos had angered its users once again when it said that it would no longer provide software update or new features for older speaker equipment from May 2020.

Customer anger

That came after Sonos had already angered customers with its recycling scheme that saw useable devices being bricked, and turned into a piece of unusable components.

That problem concerned the trade-in program for older Sonos speakers. Any customer with older Sonos speakers can trade up to a newer Sonos speaker with a 30 percent discount.

In order to do this however, users must activate a ‘Recycle Mode’ through the Sonos app, which after three weeks will brick the old Sonos device – a process that adds to the e-waste problem.

And the company’s announcement this week that its older products would no longer receive new features or updates from 20 May, added to the anger, expressed on social media by Sonos customers, some of whom have invested thousands of pounds on speakers.

Way forward

In recognition of this, CEO Patrick Spence wrote a letter to Sonos customers.

“We heard you,” wrote Spence. “We did not get this right from the start. My apologies for that and I wanted to personally assure you of the path forward.”

“First, rest assured that come May, when we end new software updates for our legacy products, they will continue to work as they do today,” he said. “We are not bricking them, we are not forcing them into obsolescence, and we are not taking anything away.”

“Many of you have invested heavily in your Sonos systems, and we intend to honor that investment for as long as possible,” he added. “While legacy Sonos products won’t get new software features, we pledge to keep them updated with bug fixes and security patches for as long as possible. If we run into something core to the experience that can’t be addressed, we’ll work to offer an alternative solution and let you know about any changes you’ll see in your experience.”

And Spence also addressed the issue for customers who have speaker networks that includes both older and newer Sonos speakers.

These customers face having to set up two speaker groups to allow the correct updates to come through.

This is because once a single speaker in a speaker network can no longer receive new software, it will prevent the rest of the speakers in the network from receiving updates.

And without updates, these speakers will eventually stop working.

“Secondly, we heard you on the issue of legacy products and modern products not being able to coexist in your home,” wrote Spence about this issue. “We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state. We’re finalising details on this plan and will share more in the coming weeks.”

“While we have a lot of great products and features in the pipeline, we want our customers to upgrade to our latest and greatest products when they’re excited by what the new products offer, not because they feel forced to do so,” said Spence. “That’s the intent of the trade up program we launched for our loyal customers.”

“Thank you for being a Sonos customer. Thank you for taking the time to give us your feedback,” he concluded. “I hope that you’ll forgive our misstep, and let us earn back your trust. Without you, Sonos wouldn’t exist and we’ll work harder than ever to earn your loyalty every single day.”

Financial squeeze

At the heart of th matter is that Sonos is reportedly being squeezed by the popularity of smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, both of whom sell speakers at significantly cheaper prices compared to Sonos.

Earlier this month Sonos announced it is now suing Google, after it alleged that the search engine giant had stolen its smart speaker technology.

Sonos also intends to sue Amazon for patent infringement, but lacks the resources to undertake two such lawsuits at once.

Both Google and Amazon deny they infringe Sonos technology.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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