Amazon's Alexa is coming to Sonos speakers through a software update

Amazon Echo, the hardware interface for voice assistant Alexa. (Source: Amazon)

The integration of an intelligent voice assistant into everything from fridges to cars is all the rage at the moment, and high-end speaker manufacturer Sonos has shown it is well in the race.

The US company today announced that Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, would be added to its range of speakers later this year via a software update.

Sonos software vice president Antoine Leblond previewed the functionality in front of media in Boston, asking a speaker to play and pause music, requesting specific artists and even asking what song is being played.

“Alexa, play David Bowie on Sonos,” he asked.

“Shuffling songs by David Bowie,” replied Alexa, before playing the first Bowie song.

Leblond then asked: “Alexa, what’s playing on Sonos?”

“This is I Can’t Give Everything Away from Blackstar by David Bowie,” Alexa answered.

The Alexa capability is still in development but will be available this year. Leblond said that the company is still working with Amazon on fine-tuning some requirements, such as the user having to say “on Sonos” at the end of sentences.

“We don’t really like that — it’s not simple or natural,” he said. “When we make this publicly available, all you’ll have to say is ‘Alexa, play music’ or something like that.”

Sonos’ rival Bose is also working on Alexa compatibility, earmarking “early 2017” for public release onto its SoundTouch product.

Leblond said that Sonos would not limit itself to Alexa but will work to bring other popular digital assistants – such as Microsoft Cortana or Apple Siri — to its products. Amazon Alexa is not yet officially available in Australia.

“We’re committed to building an agnostic platform that works with multiple voice assistants, just the same as we’ve always done with music services.”

New chief executive Patrick Spence said that the voice capability is all about improving what the company calls “time to music”.

“How do you get that music playing as fast as possible when you come into your home? We see voice as being able to help that,” said Spence. “We’re engaged with every major voice service player out there.”

Boston-headquartered Sonos is a smart speaker company established in 2002, best known for its speakers that can be networked wirelessly to facilitate music in every room in a home. In the pre-streaming era, the prime source of music was the customer’s own catalogue of CDs or digital files. But the arrival of services such as Spotify and Google Music has seen a change in strategy.

Spence said that Sonos is now focusing on three major areas: voice control, third-party paid streaming services and the connected home.

Sonos speakers can now take feeds from more than 80 streaming services, according to Spence, with the popular Spotify platform on-boarded in December.

“We have over 100 million people around the world today paying for streaming, getting access to all the music on earth – just an awesome thing,” he said. “We expect that over a billion people will be paying for music streaming by 2020.”

On the connected home side, Sonos will announce compatibility with Amazon’s audio book service Audible later this year.

The journalist travelled to Boston courtesy of Sonos.

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