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Sonos announces layoffs and new focus on paid streaming and voice control

Sonos Play:5
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends
If you think of multi-room home audio systems, chances are fairly good that Sonos is going to be one of the first companies you think of, and with good reason. The company pioneered wireless multi-room systems as we know them, and is the obvious inspiration behind the systems offered by many of its competitors.

For some companies that might be enough, but apparently that isn’t the case for Sonos. Perhaps because of the growth in competition from bigger companies offering similar systems, the company has decided that it is going to shift its direction moving forward.

“Today, the entire music ecosystem is in transition — ultimately for the better — and so is Sonos. We have a good idea of how this will evolve over time, and we’ve never been more bullish on what it means for music fans,” Sonos CEO John MacFarlane wrote in a post on the Sonos blog. “But we also know that to continue to innovate and bring compelling new experiences to market, we need to invest heavily against the opportunity.”

Part of the company’s new direction is a focus on paid streaming. MacFarlane writes that during the company’s early days, most of its customers were playing either digital downloads or music ripped from CDs, and that’s obviously not the case now. Pointing to the Beatles catalog’s availability on streaming services as an example, MacFarlane says that customers’ general move to paid streaming services is inevitable.

The other, arguably more interesting new focus for the company moving forward is voice control – MacFarlane even name-drops Amazon’s Alexa. Similar to paid streaming, the CEO says that while voice control is still somewhat novel now, it won’t be long before it becomes commonplace, and Sonos wants to be among the first companies to bring voice-powered music to the home. Unfortunately, the company’s shift in focus isn’t without consequences.

“The short term — and very difficult — consequence of this decision is we’ve had to make some changes to our team,” MacFarlane wrote. “We do this with a heavy heart, as we are in the process of letting go of some Sonos employees who have played important roles getting us to this point. We wish them well, and we’re doing everything we can to make their transition as smooth as possible.”

MacFarlane says that the past few weeks have been tough for everyone at Sonos, but he’s confident that this new direction is the right one for the company. For the sake of the employees still with the company, he’d better be right.

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