When it comes to smart speakers, most consumers face a choice: Am I an Alexa or a Google Assistant type of person? High-end speaker maker Sonos is making that decision easier by giving users access to both options.
Some Sonos speakers already come with Amazon Alexa built in and work with Apple’s Siri voice assistant through the AirPlay feature. The company announced on Tuesday it will offer some products in the US with Google Assistant, allowing users to turn on smart lights, check the traffic or send an email with their voice.
Each Sonos speaker can only have one assistant active at any given time, but owners will have the option to set up their devices with the assistant of their choosing.
Google Assistant will be available on Sonos One speakers ($199) and the Beam soundbar ($399), both of which already work with Alexa. Users who already own those devices will have access to Google Assistant through a software upgrade.
“We built a speaker and a platform in the home that could support multiple [voice assistants],” Dane Estes, director of global product marketing at Sonos, told CNN Business. “Some people might choose one. But it’s all about [giving] choice.”
A Sonos soundbar, for example, can be set up with Google Assistant for the living room, while a Sonos One speaker in the kitchen has Alexa. (AirPlay is available regardless of which assistant is set up.)
While third-party products like smart plugs often work with both Google Assistant and Alexa, smart speakers have been mostly limited to a single assistant.
Sonos teased plans in October 2017 to bring Google Assistant to its speaker lineup, but its timeline was delayed due to the development process taking longer than expected. The company did not elaborate further beyond saying it wanted to offer a “seamless” experience to customers, which required more time.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Estes said during a product demo earlier this month.
This strategy to let users choose their own voice assistant can help Sonos appeal to a broader market.
“Sonos’ goal is to provide music and speaker systems to the widest audience they can,” said Jonathan Collins, research director at ABI Research who follows the smart home industry. “If the company went down their own route with a voice assistant, it’d be head-to-head competing against players like Amazon and Google in that smart speaker market, which isn’t where Sonos wants to be or where its strength is.”
Sonos, Amazon and Google each want to be in as many homes as possible, and partnerships with third-party hardware companies give them access to wider markets to meet their goals.
Google has been vocal about how it wants its voice assistant to work with third-party devices, a strategy also embraced by Amazon with Alexa but not as much by Apple. Anurag Jain, product lead of Google Assistant audio, told CNN Business the company’s goal is “to bring the benefit of Google Assistant to users wherever they are.”
The Google and Sonos integration comes more than a year and a half after Sonos announced the Sonos One, its first speaker to have Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built in. During its October 2017 launch, Sonos also announced some limited Siri capabilities, such as the ability to AirPlay music from any Apple device to a speaker.
Jaimie Chung, an analyst at research firm eMarketer, said because each voice assistant has different strengths, consumers might gravitate toward one over the other for various use cases. For example, someone could ask Alexa to re-order paper towels on Amazon; Google Assistant might be better equipped to answer a question using Google’s search engine.
“Amazon has that tie-in with shopping,” Chung said. “A big driver in Google’s growing adoption is YouTube and its entertainment platform. It’s really easy to buy movies and music through the Google Assistant.”
But ABI’s Collins believes consumers are more likely to prefer using one assistant. Only 11% of US smart speaker owners had both Google and Amazon devices in the home as of February 2018, according to data from Edison Research and Triton Global compiled by eMarketer.
Google and Amazon both offer their own branded smart speakers — Home and Echo speakers, respectively.
Collins believes people who are already using Alexa in their home will most likely opt for Alexa on their Sonos speaker rather than Google Assistant.
“A great deal of the market is not going to switch after the first few years,” he said.
For now, Sonos is going big on giving customers the option to choose whatever assistant they want.