Speaker docks are one of those invisible billion dollar categories with about as much sex appeal as paper shredders. You may well wonder how there could possibly be a big vision behind the development of such a pedestrian product.
In fact, we started Sonr with the daunting vision of finally bringing home internet music to “the masses” (including ourselves). We believe that the richness of personalized Internet music is something that everyone should be able to enjoy at home and with friends. That means it should be hassle free to setup, inexpensive, open and most importantly, easy to use. We believe that controlling Internet music during time with friends and family should be possible by clicking on the button of a remote rather than the distracting experience of digging through an app on the touch screen.
The Speaker Dock Evolves
As anyone who’s paid attention to the tech scene for the last decade knows, there are no short supply of solutions for bringing internet music to the home. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the most successful category, by far, is the humble speaker dock. If you think about it for a moment, it makes sense.
1. Speaker docks provide more value than any other option, because they leverage the investment you’ve already made in your phone
2. Speaker docks offer the most hassle free setup and operation, because, again they leverage the time investment you’ve made in setting up your phone.
3. Smartphones are open (at least in the sense that they accept 3rd party apps)
However, there are two major problems with smartphone docks
1. Existing docks have not advanced since the original iPod (for which most were designed). In the last ten years “portable audio devices” (now largely smartphones) have advanced a lot: First, they got connected to the internet, second, the screens have a lot bigger and better. Now, more often than not, the audio is often powered by the cloud. It seemed to us that an update to the dock was warranted.
2. There are no plug in speaker docks for Android. On one hand, there are bluetooth speakers, and on the other there are plain old wired speakers you can plug into an Android phone, but if you want a plug in dock without the hassles of wireless, but that gives you a remote control and buttons, you’ve been out of luck on Android. This is particularly unfortunate since Android’s openness means that peripherals can have access to many functions obscured in iOS and other operating systems.
So we killed two birds with one stone and created a next generation speaker dock for Android. Its a hassle free dock for Android owners, but it also paves the way to an experience that’s easy, fun and social. Social, like when another person actually comes over and stands in physical proximity to you.
Sometimes interactivity is very simple and expected, like giving thumbs up or thumbs down, so streaming audio improves as you listen.
Sometimes, it mirrors the functionality we have at parties, like being able to initiate voice search from a button press on the couch and call up a video from youtube’s virtually unlimited catalog. Suddenly “listening” to Youtube becomes a shared, group experience.
Sometimes, putting a function in a hard button changes the experience enough that it feels like something new. Take the favorite button which can now be used to tag music from all your apps/services rather than just within one.
The Dock as a “Smartphone Peripheral”
What makes hardware come alive is the software that drives it. That may seem obvious to most of the folks reading this blog, but its pretty far removed from the way most consumer electronics accessory makers think. That’s why there has been so little evolution in the speaker docks despite the fact that the devices they cradle have metamorphosized from closed, small mp3 players to open, connected little computers. To most accessory makers, hardware is sold by watts and speeds and maybe by the volume going to 11. In this mindset, software is primarily a necessary evil that yields customer service headaches.
At Sonr, we know the value software adds. We also know the value of openness in allowing others to create that software . That’s why we’re releasing the developer samples along with our API so early in the product cycle. We want to give all android audio app developers an opportunity to get in on the ground floor in building the next generation home audio device.
Without software, a dock is nothing more than a remote, speakers and a charger. With compelling software, we can bring effortless interactive Internet music to homes around the globe. We’ve begun the conversation by seeding the community with bounties representing our ideas for new functionality based on our dock, but we know this is only the beginning. Smartphone apps have transformed so many aspects of our daily lives, and we believe that the magical experience of shared music is a great candidate to be the next.