Sonos hints at one of the biggest changes to its speakers in years

Sonos could be building its own hands-free assistant to rival the likes of Siri and Alexa, according to a new customer survey published by the audio firm. The survey, which was shared by a Sonos customer on social news site Reddit, describes an on-device voice control system that would be designed to keep all voice data on the device.

According to Sonos, this would improve user privacy – as the questions or voice commands will not be routed through the cloud. In the survey, Sonos teases that its “potential new product offering” would be controlled with the wake phrase “Hey Sonos”. All voice assistants rely on a wake phrase to be activated.

This acts like an “On” button, telling the assistant that anything that follows that phrase needs to be acted upon. Without that phrase, your voice will not be sent to the cloud.

Sonos’ voice assistant will purportedly allow users to control playback – including pausing and playing tracks, search through songs in your libraries, and move music between speakers around the home.

The survey suggests that Sonos’ new assistant can respond faster because it would be processing everything on-device, rather than relying on an internet connection and sending queries to a server. This is a technique we’ve seen from a number of other companies, including Google, to improve the speed of its assistant.

When approached about the authenticity of the survey – and whether it means Sonos customers can expect to see a new voice assistant appear in their app soon, a spokesperson for Sonos told The Verge: “We regularly put product and experience concepts in front of our customers to better understand what is important to them. We don’t have anything further to share at this time.”

As it stands, Sonos customers can choose between Alexa and Google Assistant. These AI-powered assistants can be used to request songs, check the latest headlines and weather, order takeaways and more.

The ability to switch between the biggest hands-free assistants is one of the greatest selling points of a Sonos system, compared with the likes of Amazon Echo and Nest Audio kit. However, the relationship between Sonos and Google is a little stale right now, thanks to an ongoing legal battle over Sonos’ claim that Google stole some of its multi-room audio technology following a partnership between the companies in 2013.

Sonos says it repeatedly cautioned Google that its Chromecast and Google Home speakers infringed its patents, but the Californian search firm failed to heed the warnings.

Sonos acquired AI voice-platform Snips back in 2019, so it’s possible that a hands-free assistant has been in development for at least two years. If that’s true, then it’s possible Sonos’ alternative to Alexa and Google Assistant could be ready to launch.

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