The winner of the upcoming fight over voice technologies will come down to who is the most open and provides the best utility believes Tad Toulis, VP for design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.
A struggle is looming between the different voice systems believes Tad Toulis, VP of Design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.
We were speaking at Sonos’ Santa Barbara office the day after Google launched its Google Home voice activated hub to compete with Amazon’s and Apple’s Siri systems.
“There’s a little bit of syntax difference with every device we use, so we’re about to re-enter this environment where we have competing formats.” states Toulis, hinting at the days of competing network types operating systems and file types.
For Sonos, that fight between formats is an opportunity believes Toulis. “Sonos was very early into this space, so much so that it’s had a few lives. The original proposition was a way to get people who were into music to have access to their digital music and enliven their home with that music.”
“At a certain point in that arc, that category started to shrink a little bit and streaming started to emerge. Now streaming has become mainstream and we’re facing another cycle.”
Voice though is a social thing and that changes how we interact with devices Toulis believes, “we want to talk out loud in generous way to a generous system.”
“What people want is a supportive, powerful experience that creates good options day to day,” says Toulis. “The technology is fast approaching a tipping point where it’s very human centric.”
“The promise is to figure who can do that in the most natural way so you’re not thinking about the syntax and more about the experience.”
Finding a place at the table
Like most smaller players in the marketplace, Toulis sees Sonos as being a nuetral intermediary between with the various technology empires.
“Sonos offers a place in that conversation. We also approach it in a different way because it’s not one of our businesses, it is our business.”
“I assume we’ll do what we’ve done with the music services. We’ve always believed that we do well when there are many players.”
Winning the voice wars
When asked who is likely to win the voice wars, Toulis is quite rightly guarded, “what I’ve seen over my career in technology is what wins is what works for people, it’s not always the best technologies that win. What wins is the technology value proposition, here’s a need that hasn’t been satisfied and here’s a way of doing it that is sticky.”
“The one that creates the solution with the least resistance will win,” says Toulis. “The best solutions are usually pretty obvious. The problem is you have a bunch of specialists looking at it, they can’t see how obvious it is because they are looking past the target. They’re either very close up.”
While Toulis’ view is attractive, the risk for companies like Sonos is the technology empires find their business models aren’t suited to being open or generous and controlling access to their services is more compelling for their managers and shareholders.
Hopefully open web and data will prove to be the market’s driving forces and certainly Ted Toulis’ and Sonos’ views are what users would prefer, the giants though may not prove to be so generous.