Google isn’t kidding around when it comes to internet-connected loudspeakers: The company announced new partnerships with Bang & Olufsen’s B&O Play Offshoot, Harman Kardon, Philips, Onkyo, Pioneer and Raumfeld at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday. All of these companies are going to add Google Cast to their internet-connected loudspeakers this year, allowing consumers to stream music and other audio content directly from apps like Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud, much in the same way one plays content on Google’s Chromecast streaming adapter.
This is in addition to existing partnerships with Sony and LG, both of which already have Cast-enabled speakers on the market, and are going to update their device lineups in 2016 as well. And then there is of course Chromecast Audio, the $35 adapter that brings internet connectivity to any existing stereo system or loudspeaker with audio input and that Google launched last fall in conjunction with a revamped Chromecast for TV adapter.
Chromecast Audio already supports multi-room streaming, making it possible to play the same music on multiple loudspeakers at the same time. In the coming months, Google wants to bring multi-room cast functionality to speakers from all of its partners. At that point, these devices will become completely interoperable, allowing consumers to mix and match and have speakers from multiple manufacturers seamlessly work together.
That’s a big deal for consumers as well as device manufacturers. Music fans increasingly use Spotify & Co. to stream their favorite tunes, but much of that listening is still happening on mobile devices, at times connected to Bluetooth loudspeakers. Wifi-connected speakers offer a better solution in theory — for example, music playback isn’t interrupted when a phone runs out of battery, or its owner leaves the room — but the adoption of these devices has been held back by a plethora of competing standards and confusing brands.
The ability to combine speakers from multiple manufacturers, and even throw a cheap Chromecast Audio adapter in the mix, also offers consumers the freedom to upgrade their system over time, and buy the best speaker for the job without having to stick to a single brand. Consumers may for example chose to start with a cheaper connected speaker to get used these kinds of devices, and later splurge with the purchase of a much more expensive stereo system from a high-end manufacturer.
A number of other companies, including cinematic sound specialist DTS and chipset manufacturer Qualcomm, have been trying to establish their own standard for Wifi-connected loudspeakers. But so far, those efforts have been lacking many big names that consumers are familiar with. By getting everyone from Sony to Harman to LG to Bang & Olufsen’s B&O Play on board, Google may just have decided the race for the cross-platform connected audio standard.
That still doesn’t mean that Google has won. Not only are there still some other consumer electronics brands that are sticking to their own multi-room technologies, with Samsung being notably absent in the Google Cast camp. There’s also Sonos, the industry leader that has established itself as a kind of Apple of internet-connected loudspeakers. Sonos speakers only work with other Sonos speakers, and the company has established a loyal customer base with a very strong brand that’s known for its focus on design, sound quality and simplicity.
It’s very likely that Sonos will continue to do very well. But it may not be number one forever. And right now, Google and its partners seem to best positioned to take its place.