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Sonos CEO steps down as company faces increased competition

The company will continue to focus on streaming and voice features in 2017.
Billy Steele, @wmsteele
01.10.17 in AV
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After 14 years at the helm, Sonos CEO and co-founder John MacFarlane has stepped down. He has also resigned from the company's board or directors, but will remain with Sonos to work on other projects and serve as a mentor to employees. MacFarlane's transition is the latest in a handful of personnel moves that began last year. Sonos announced layoffs last March shortly before product head Marc Whitten left the company. Former president and chief commercial officer Patrick Spence will take over as CEO.

When those layoffs were announced, MacFarlane explained that Sonos was "adjusting to a world of streaming services." He said the company would focus its attention on streaming and voice tech and in August, Sonos announced Spotify Connect and Amazon Echo integration was on the way. The ability to control music directly from the Spotify app arrived for all users back in December. The company last introduced a new speaker in September 2015 when it debuted the Play:5.

Over the last few years, Sonos has faced increased competition from a long list of companies. For a while, it was the only outfit offering multi-room audio, but now a number of other manufacturers are doing the same. Of course, there's also popularity of devices like the Echo. Despite lukewarm reviews for audio quality, Echo's addition of the Alexa virtual assistant has made for an attractive package. Google has taken note and released its own version with Home that also features voice cues and Google Assistant.

MacFarlance told The New York Times that he, like many of us, didn't think Echo would take off at first. "I fell into that trap where I've been watching voice recognition for years," he explained. "I tried Echo in the beginning and wrote it off. I had too many distractions at that time." He says the continued rise of Spotify and Apple Music have helped sales and that the company sold 20 percent more gear during the holidays than it did in 2015.

The company's new CEO explained to Engadget that the upcoming Echo integration was just one step Sonos is planning to take with voice. "We're working with Amazon on Echo, but we want to do something deeper," Spence told Engadget. He said we can expect to see that Echo integration arrive later this year. Spence went on to say that support for multiple services in a home with different people who may have vastly different preferences is where the company is focusing its attention. Like we saw last week at CES, voice control and virtual assistants will be even bigger in 2017, and it sounds like Sonos is getting in on the action.

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