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Smart Home: Google’s smart speakers lose features – takeover of Sonos would be a very good way out

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There has been a bad relationship between the former partners Google and Sonos for a long time and according to the most recent verdict, users are also feeling the effects. This is an ugly situation that Google should also work on with a view to the future – but it may not be able to. The simplest solution would probably be for Google to take over Sonos. In fact, there are several reasons for this.

The legal dispute between Sonos and Google has been smoldering for several years and has culminated in the lawsuit Sonos against Google. At that time it was said that one could not agree with Google regarding the use of technologies in the audio sector – above all the smart speaker. They worked together on several projects and developed technologies that were later used by Google without permission or licensing. The gossip is said to have started with the fact that Google should not have allowed the parallel use of several language assistants, which would have been technically possible without any problems. Right from the start it was clear that the chances for Sonos were very good and that Google would emerge as the loser after a long process. So it’s not as if Google was surprised by last week’s verdict and now has to react head over heels. Instead, you could prepare for it for almost two years and the first function was withdrawn at the beginning of this week. It won’t be the last, and it’s currently unclear when shared volume control will return. Google has already announced the upcoming changes for its users, so that a permanent solution is not expected, but rather a temporary restriction. The solution is to simply retire all features covered by the Sonos patents. It is primarily about speaker groups and their volume control.

There are a lot of patents
The current proceedings involved just five patents and only a few functions to be restricted. We have put together all the details for you in this article. But according to statements by Sonos at the time, the company owns almost 100 patents that are infringed by various smart speaker companies. It’s not just about Google, but also about Amazon, Apple and other companies that you want to “button up” after Google’s success. It is quite possible that dozens of other patents will be cited – including against Google. Not much is known about the contents of the patents, but they could contain some explosives and not only affect the smart speakers. Audio streaming to TVs, cast devices and other receivers is also covered. Potentially anything that involves the transmission of an audio signal from one device to another. It could also affect headphones and, strictly speaking, Bluetooth headphones with their left and right components are also a loudspeaker group.
Google could take over Sonos
It’s very likely that they could come to terms with Sonos and license technologies, but that’s not necessarily the approach that’s typical of Google and used as a permanent solution. But the patents are likely to be watertight, because Google will probably not have failed to examine them closely in the process. But if you can neither contest nor license the patents, there are only two solutions: withdrawal or purchase. But the breadth of the technology (see previous paragraph) from loudspeakers to smartphones to televisions practically does not allow Google to retreat. The only remaining option is to buy either the patents or the Sonos company. Sonos will certainly not be interested in the first, but as an independent company it will be difficult to defend against the latter. With a market capitalization of almost four billion dollars, Sonos would be easy for Google to handle and would be about twice as expensive as the acquisitions of Nest or Fitbit. Quite imaginable.
Patents, patents, patents
Much depends on patents. If Sonos (as expected) soon also goes to court against Apple, Amazon and other companies, things could get interesting. Because there are potentially very high license fees and for Google it would be a scenario that should be avoided at all costs that Sonos falls into the hands of the big competitors Apple or Amazon or even is taken over by a (colloquially) patent troll. What shouldn’t be forgotten: eight years ago, Google paid 12.5 billion dollars for Motorola Mobility – solely for the huge patent collection that could have threatened Android and the entire smartphone market. It’s similar with Sonos in the streaming area, only in this case the company’s products and partnerships could also be interesting for Google – which was not the case with Motorola at the time.

Sonos matches Google
In my view, the two companies are a very good fit and Sonos could occupy a similar position to the aforementioned Fitbit and Nest in the Google universe. It’s not just about the smart speakers, which Google itself now sells in very large numbers and, depending on the quarter, sometimes becomes the market leader. With the smart speakers, the large and small variants, the Pixel Buds headphones and other devices, you certainly have big plans in the audio area. A specialist couldn’t hurt. Similar to what Apple did with beats. But Sonos also has interesting partnerships, such as the cooperation with IKEA. The company is also on the way to becoming a technology supplier for vehicle manufacturers. In the future, Sonos will, among other things, provide sound for Audi drivers. As is well known, the automotive sector is also very interesting for Google. And because drivers are far from being able to take their hands off the steering wheel and gamble on the road for a long time, music will play a very important role alongside navigation. I think Sonos is broad enough to be of strategic interest to Google. You have an established brand, many partnerships, a wide distribution and the very important patents. It is quite possible that Google has already examined a takeover internally and has come to a different conclusion. After all, the process could also be ended immediately. But if only for the self-protection of large product groups (there was even talk of stopping sales of Pixel smartphones, Chromebooks and Chromecasts), I would consider it a strategically smart decision.
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