How Sonos shat the bed

If you ever want to see how a company can destroy years of goodwill in a few seconds, look no further than the recent Sonos kerfuffle involving software updates. Sonos has been around since 2001 and their original gear – speakers and a clever little tablet that predated the iPad by almost a decade – was revolutionary.

Over time the gear normalized, reaching a sort of stasis between high-end audio and low-end streaming systems. For most users, a Sonos setup was superior to a Bluetooth whole-home system but not as good as customized and high-priced audio gear.

That said, you could easily spend thousands to outfit your home in Sonos gear and be happy about it. The stuff just worked, the app was great, and the entire experience was better than average.

Then Sonos said they would stop supporting old hardware and, to boot, any new hardware on the same network as your old hardware would also be effectively obsolete.

People didn’t like that.

In a story that spread around the world, Sonos became the center of tech attention for a few days as customers railed against the company. Jim Louderback, a long-time tech reviewer, was upset:

What Happened?

Two things went wrong here. Sonos has long been an underdog in the CE space, a sort of “open secret” among tech nerds. In an era when Sony and Samsung were struggling to offer whole-home solutions and the classic manufacturers like Bose and Denon saw whole-home as a bespoke solution, Sonos was turning houses into party central without much fuss.

That said, a good set of speakers is a good set of speakers and Sonos claimed that they offered a good set of speakers. However, by claiming they were tech products, the company failed its dedicated fans. They turned their speakers into an iPhone.

Further, the entire company has changed in the past few years, much to the chagrin of fans. The company has become a lifestyle brand, hipstery and vague. The old management team is gone, changing the company’s culture. Finally, it’s clear that the email they sent out – shown above – was prepared by the tech team and not the PR team.

The result? Sonos did an about-face and the current CEO, Patrick Spence, sending out an apology.

He wrote:

First, rest assured that come May, when we end new software updates for our legacy products,?they will continue to work just as they do today.?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. 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.

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. That?s the intent of the trade up program we launched for our loyal customers.

So there you have it: tech comes and goes, but goodwill is priceless. Watching Sonos shit the bed like this is sad but the response, timely and forceful, might just help it out of this mess.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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