Sonos criticizes Google, Amazon, and Apple at Senate antitrust hearing

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 18
Sonos' chief legal officer on Tuesday testified before a U.S. Senate antitrust subcommittee about the smart home market dominance of companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple.

Credit: WikiMedia Commons
Credit: WikiMedia Commons


The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer, which is headed up by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, held a hearing on "Protecting Competition and Innovation in Home Technologies." Sonos legal chief Eddie Lazarus was one of the key witnesses in Tuesday's hearing.

Most of the commentary during the hearing focused on dominant market giants Amazon and Google, with representatives for those companies also testifying on Tuesday. However, Lazarus also criticized some of Apple's walled-garden HomeKit policies. For example, although Apple is bringing Siri to third-party manufacturers, Lazarus took issue with the way Apple is rolling out support.

"Apple will only license Siri to companies that utilize the HomePod as a central hub to connect with Siri. Thus, Apple is conditioning interoperability with Siri on companies placing a competitive Apple product alongside their own," Lazarus said.

Apple wasn't alone as far as interoperability criticism. For example, Lazarus said that Google "demanded as a condition of Google Assistant in our products that we never allow concurrency with another general voice assistant."

The Sonos chief legal officer also took aim at Matter, a new standard for smart home connectivity backed by Apple, Google, and other tech giants.

"One could imagine, furthermore, a Trojan Horse aspect to all this. Those who control the standard and its evolution effectively control the nature and pace of innovation, including the innovations dreamed up by their competitors. The standard Matter is working on, as I understand it, is basically a creature of Google and Apple code. That is hardly a formula for fair competition or more creative invention. It's a formula for further entrenching the dominance of the very few," Lazarus said.

As mentioned, most of the Sonos executive's criticism was levied at Amazon and Google, which he said control about 85% of the smart speaker market in the U.S.

"This is terrible for innovative dynamics because it hamstrings those companies that have better products that cannot be sold at a loss and consumers lose. In addition to protecting the future profits of their dominant products and services, cross-subsidization ultimately will result in the same anticompetitive effects as "traditional" below-cost predatory pricing; prices are sure to go up once these dominant companies have driven the other companies out of the market and reduced competition," Lazarus said.

The Sonos chief legal officer urged lawmakers to act to avoid a future in which every smart home is controlled by just a few juggernauts.

"These behemoths will exert overwhelming control over the direction of innovation and what new ideas make it to market, ultimately replicating a market structure that history tells us inhibits innovation and competition. Consumer choice will also wither," Lazarus said

Sen. Klobuchar, the chair of the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, signaled earlier in 2021 that she plans to investigate a variety of technology-related antitrust topics. Although Apple wasn't represented at today's hearing, it did testify at a previous Senate antitrust hearing in April that focused on mobile app stores.

In her opening, Sen. Klobuchar said that, in smart home technology, "we see some of the most powerful firms that dominate tech today poised to dominate the platforms of the future."

"We hear concerns about Amazon's and Google's growing market power with connected speakers -- over 50 percent for Amazon, 30 percent for Google. We are also hearing concerns about use of consumers' personal information - that would be privacy. Of course privacy legislation on the federal level has somehow eluded us, and mostly would be handled in the Commerce Committee, but that's the other piece of this puzzle in addition to the work that needs to be done on antitrust," Sen. Klobuchar said.

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pichael
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    pichaelpichael Posts: 33member
    So. From what I understand, it is better to have loads of crappy systems that don’t work well (I’m looking at you IKEA and SmartThings) then it is to allow a company release a great system that works and allow smaller companies adopt their code? Today’s world is really starting to annoy me. When did a well thought out, open product become the bad guy?  

    I find the more products talk to each other in a native tongue the better. IFTTT has been a disjointed affair at best. I like there is something, but I’d much prefer a wholistic system. 
    BeatsStrangeDaysrob53baconstangAlex_Vwilliamlondonsteven n.thtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 29
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,683member
    Pathetic.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t seem to recall Steve Jobs and Apple getting up in front of congressional committee in the circa 2003-2007 time frame and whining like a baby about how Nokia, Blackberry, and Motorola weren’t “playing fair” in the mobile phone market.

    Does anyone have a video of that having happened, or maybe a transcript of Apple’s whine fest in front of Congress? 

    Or perhaps I missed the part about Congress granting Apple some sort of special protections that allowed Apple to enter the mobile phone market with its own phone that was so “outrageously overpriced” that the giant mobile phone makers of the day could laugh in Steve Jobs’ face about his audacity of swinging and whiffing so blatantly in a market that they so thoroughly dominated.

    Did I miss those news stories too?

    Congratulations Sonos, you’ve just earned yourself a Participation Trophy.

    Yay.

    pichaelroundaboutnowKTRrepressthismacxpressStrangeDaysBeatspumpkin_kingrainmakerbaconstang
  • Reply 3 of 29

    ...
    The Sonos chief legal officer also took aim at Matter, a new standard for smart home connectivity backed by Apple, Google, and other tech giants.

    "One could imagine, furthermore, a Trojan Horse aspect to all this. Those who control the standard and its evolution effectively control the nature and pace of innovation, including the innovations dreamed up by their competitors. The standard Matter is working on, as I understand it, is basically a creature of Google and Apple code. That is hardly a formula for fair competition or more creative invention. It's a formula for further entrenching the dominance of the very few," Lazarus said.
    ...
    I don't doubt that Apple/Google/Amazon will have major influence on how Matter develops, but it doesn't appear the Sonos guy understands correctly:

    1. Matter is an open standard to promote inter-operability, with many other companies participating.
    2. The big companies didn't make up Matter on their own, from scratch -- it is "built on proven technologies and guided by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance)."
    3. Getting these big guys to agree on any standard is a very positive development that should benefit consumers.
    4. Any company -- including Sonos -- is free to join Matter and participate in its development.
    repressthispichaelmuthuk_vanalingamFileMakerFelleruraharawilliamlondontwokatmewrayboapplguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 29
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 786member
    I understand his take on Siri licensing requiring a Homepod. Now, if it could use an AppleTV as the hub…

    Might that be an option he wouldn't complain about?
    pichaelwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 29
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,408member
    This is just whining that his company isn’t as big as Apple. That’s it.

    Had the tables been turned would he be whining to Congress about his success?
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 29
    Are Apple, Google and Amazon doing something to make it so that Sonos can’t create their own voice assistant?

    It is at least a little odd that to use Siri with third party HomeKit devices the requests need to go through a HomePod. As mentioned above, why not TV or iPad? Both of which already function as a HomeKit hub.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 29
    The Sonos guy’s complaint is stupid. Basically he didn’t want to work with Apple on interoperability because they’d have to… be interoperable?

    HomeKit doesn’t have a HomePod and up until the mini, HomePods weren’t selling terribly well at all. His complaint is basically that they couldn’t make their smart speakers ONLY work with Apple TV or an iPad as a HomeKit hunt. Which is pretty silly. They shouldn’t have expected Apple to allow a Sonos to kick a HomePod off the network or something like that. If you have both they should both exist in HomeKit. 

    Either that or he’s complaining that the Sonos couldn’t be the HomeKit hub. Which, duh. Apple wouldn’t want to have to wait for Sonos to roll out software updates to their product. 
    KTRFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 29
    Sonos products are great, better than Apple's HomePod and Apple knows it. Other connected speakers with better sound than HomePod come from B&O, Kef, Dali and others. In the case of Sonos, they are price competitive with Apple. If find it lame from Apple to demand that users have a HomePod in order to be able to use Siri with another speaker. It is both stupid and anti-competitive. It is stupid because it won't make Sonos customers buy a HomePod, it will only lower the value Apple customers get from Siri, weakening Apple's position.
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondontwokatmew
  • Reply 9 of 29
    KTRKTR Posts: 114member
    I say the tech giants fight it till the end.  Go broke, or go home
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 29
    KuyangkohKuyangkoh Posts: 679member
    Are Apple, Google and Amazon doing something to make it so that Sonos can’t create their own voice assistant?

    It is at least a little odd that to use Siri with third party HomeKit devices the requests need to go through a HomePod. As mentioned above, why not TV or iPad? Both of which already function as a HomeKit hub.
    Really HomePod?? So what’s gonna happen now
    Sonos, HomePod is no moh….
    williamlondon
  • Reply 11 of 29
    davidwdavidw Posts: 1,273member
    StephaneB said:
    Sonos products are great, better than Apple's HomePod and Apple knows it. Other connected speakers with better sound than HomePod come from B&O, Kef, Dali and others. In the case of Sonos, they are price competitive with Apple. If find it lame from Apple to demand that users have a HomePod in order to be able to use Siri with another speaker. It is both stupid and anti-competitive. It is stupid because it won't make Sonos customers buy a HomePod, it will only lower the value Apple customers get from Siri, weakening Apple's position.
    What you completely fail to understand is that Apple is primarily a hardware company. Their software is use to make their hardware more competitive in the market they compete in.

    With Google and Amazon, they make money with advertising and the more users data they can mine, the more money they make with targeted ads. When Sonos users uses voice command protocol by Google or Amazon, Google and Amazon are listening. This to harvest data for targeted ads. It's how they make their money. So they have no problem with Sonos users not needing to buy any hardware from them, in order to use their voice command protocol. If Sonos had a big enough market share, I'm sure Amazon and Google would gladly pay Sonos for using their voice command protocol, as the default. 

    https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/privacy-technology/how-google-and-amazon-are-spying-you

    Apple on the other hand relies mainly on hardware sale to make money. What's in it for Apple if they allow Sonos to use Siri, without paying Apple for the privilege, other than a license? Apple do not make money with Siri, they make money selling devices that uses Siri. It's the reason why an Apple TV cost more than any TV box by Amazon or Google or Roku. The Apple TV do not rely on harvesting customers data to make it profitable.

    What's lame is you thinking that a company not wanting to give up a competitive advantage they have, in a market that they are not close to dominating, as being .... anti-competitive.  
    Rayz2016williamlondontwokatmewraybothtroundaboutnowbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 29
    So, to paraphrase: "I only gave a cursory look at this Matter thing, but do you really want BIG TECH DECIDING HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO WORK????"

    To which the answer is: well, yeah. They're big enough to properly resource the project, they can afford to pay more for the best people, and they're more likely to create a solid, reliable product. In the case of Apple, anyway.

    Does this guy think standards are made up by a bunch of clever people who all sit down without egos, agendas, or different ways of looking at the world, and rationally debate the merits of various aspects of each proposal, ultimately adopting at least one idea or process from each submission so that nobody feels left out?
    Alex_Vroundaboutnowwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,816member
    mknelson said:
    I understand his take on Siri licensing requiring a Homepod. Now, if it could use an AppleTV as the hub…

    Might that be an option he wouldn't complain about?
    Yes, he would still complain, because the problem is not being able to filter Siri requests through their own hub. 

    If he could then funnelling Siri requests would give Sonos a goldmine personal information from the whole family. 
    williamlondontwokatmewbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,816member
    Are Apple, Google and Amazon doing something to make it so that Sonos can’t create their own voice assistant?

    It is at least a little odd that to use Siri with third party HomeKit devices the requests need to go through a HomePod. As mentioned above, why not TV or iPad? Both of which already function as a HomeKit hub.
    Well, a hub isn’t much good if it can leave the house, so I can see why they wouldn’t want the iPad for it. 

    No idea what’s wrong with the AppleTV though; seems like a no-brainer. 
    But  if they allowed AppleTV then they would accused of using their position in one market to increase their market share in another. 

    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,816member
    Apple wasn't alone as far as interoperability criticism. For example, Lazarus said that Google "demanded as a condition of Google Assistant in our products that we never allow concurrency with another general voice assistant."

    Is this actually true? So what he’s saying is that if you support Google Assistant in your product then you cannot support another voice assistant? Not sure this is correct  

    In the UK, it’s illegal to put up barriers to market entry like this. 

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 29
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 1,221member
    Are Apple, Google and Amazon doing something to make it so that Sonos can’t create their own voice assistant?

    It is at least a little odd that to use Siri with third party HomeKit devices the requests need to go through a HomePod. As mentioned above, why not TV or iPad? Both of which already function as a HomeKit hub.
    Because the hey Siri functionality likely requires hardware integrated into HomePods because they have microphones and speakers and because they are going to processing Siri on device. A part of Siri on HomePod involves listening to and learning multiple users and distinguish between them and allowing them to use access information from their devices. There is a level of security with integration I just would feel comfortable with any developer being able to access. 

    These developers are very short sighted. Apple usually releases new capabilities within 1st party Apps before developing 3rd party APIs. This allows them to be the test subject and gauge interest. It also allows them to see what could go wrong like security issues. When it’s just them they can make changes quickly, if a problem API is being used prominently by a lot of developers making changes on the fly may break lots of apps instead of just one. 
    williamlondonbaconstang
  • Reply 17 of 29
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 5,808member

    ...
    The Sonos chief legal officer also took aim at Matter, a new standard for smart home connectivity backed by Apple, Google, and other tech giants.

    "One could imagine, furthermore, a Trojan Horse aspect to all this. Those who control the standard and its evolution effectively control the nature and pace of innovation, including the innovations dreamed up by their competitors. The standard Matter is working on, as I understand it, is basically a creature of Google and Apple code. That is hardly a formula for fair competition or more creative invention. It's a formula for further entrenching the dominance of the very few," Lazarus said.
    ...
    I don't doubt that Apple/Google/Amazon will have major influence on how Matter develops, but it doesn't appear the Sonos guy understands correctly:

    1. Matter is an open standard to promote inter-operability, with many other companies participating.
    2. The big companies didn't make up Matter on their own, from scratch -- it is "built on proven technologies and guided by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance)."
    3. Getting these big guys to agree on any standard is a very positive development that should benefit consumers.
    4. Any company -- including Sonos -- is free to join Matter and participate in its development.
    This isn't what you seem to think it is.

    The EU is also looking at the Matter state if play and had also raised concerns which it is investigating.

    It highlighted the costs involved and especially certification, which can be hugely expensive. 
  • Reply 18 of 29
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,992member
    Rayz2016 said:
    Apple wasn't alone as far as interoperability criticism. For example, Lazarus said that Google "demanded as a condition of Google Assistant in our products that we never allow concurrency with another general voice assistant."

    Is this actually true? So what he’s saying is that if you support Google Assistant in your product then you cannot support another voice assistant? Not sure this is correct  

    In the UK, it’s illegal to put up barriers to market entry like this. 

    I don't think it's true at all based on some recent purchases of "smart devices" where, for example, I'm offered the option of using Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa as the voice control. Actually I think my Sonos Beam is one of them.

    EDIT: It is, so plainly Google insisting on "Google Assistant exclusive" is not true. Maybe something was lost in the Sonos translation. :)
    edited June 16
  • Reply 19 of 29
    Every boutique product maker is going and running to mama to complain that the big boys are offering up competitive products - and doing it better for less money.

    If the big boys are really selling them at a loss that's one thing - if say Sonos would have to take a loss to make a competing product that's al whole 'mother ball of wax.

    Sonos has always been that boutique works pretty well except company - you had to be really well off to buy their whole home products, and they worked pretty well except their networking left something to be desired with weird network protocols running through your house.
    williamlondonbaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 29
    Rayz2016 said:
    Apple wasn't alone as far as interoperability criticism. For example, Lazarus said that Google "demanded as a condition of Google Assistant in our products that we never allow concurrency with another general voice assistant."

    Is this actually true? So what he’s saying is that if you support Google Assistant in your product then you cannot support another voice assistant? Not sure this is correct  

    In the UK, it’s illegal to put up barriers to market entry like this. 

    I think the issue is “concurrency”. So, a Sonos device can be set up to use GA OR Alexa, but not both at the same time. There’s no “Alexa, what’s the weather?” immediately followed by, “Hey Google, what is the status of my thermostat?”

    If you’re using a Sonos speaker with GA and inexplicably decide you want to use Alexa instead, I guess you’ll have to factory reset and make the switch during setup. 
    avon b7watto_cobra
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