Wherein The Chicken

A Teaching Moment

Nathan Borror recently put this great post on Medium detailing his reverse-engineering of the Sonos app. He got absolute floods of praise for his work - all of which was well deserved. It was a great hack, and implemented a few features that Sonos itself hasn’t done much in the way of developing. (The Mac toolbar widget in particular I found quite clever - you should sell that, Nate!)

What’s garnered him the most praise, however, is the fact that he was able to identify (or at least act on) the complaints that most Sonos users have with their systems, which is is approximately the following:

“I love Sonos, but their app is from the Stone Age!”

What about it sucks? Here are a few of the complaints I’ve heard (and a few I added myself):

  • Simple and common tasks (adjusting volume, skipping tracks, play/pause) require a ton of interactions
  • It takes a ton of button presses to make a zone grouping
  • Volume management in a zone grouping isn’t intuitive
  • Sonos isn’t smart enough to tell when the listener isn’t around anymore (I loved that RPi geofence he implemented)
  • Searching for tracks is done through the content provider rather than a single search interface (you can’t just one search bar to check all of your subscription services)

I’ll grant that two of those aren’t the simplest ones to execute on - the RPi and search features would probably take a little time to get right. But user interface is something I would have expected Sonos to iterate on a lot more quickly. Considering we live in the era where single coders can clone Flappy Bird or recreate 2048 as a mobile app in a weekend, it seems like these changes would have come by now. These complaints on UI, after all, aren’t new.

One guy took a pretty good crack at improving Sonos UI, singlehandedly, in a few short months. There is a lesson here for Sonos: the speed of iteration in software is going to have to improve pretty drastically to remain competitive. Bose, Samsung, and a zillion Kickstarter upstarts are all vying to fill the same hardware slot as Sonos. There might come a point where Sonos’s lead in their hardware ecosystem doesn’t mean much.