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Ikea could leverage its base to be a kingmaker in the smart home

Ikea enjoyed some very positive coverage at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), possibly more than its marketing department was expecting from the announcement of some connected blinds. A couple of weeks removed from that excitement, the home furnishings and furniture giant has confirmed that the fruits of its partnership with Sonos will be unveiled in August. The smart speaker could prove to be the kingmaker for the smart home, thanks to Ikea’s enormous retail footprint.

The collaboration is looking at ways to integrate whole-home audio capabilities into Ikea’s portfolio. This seems to include standalone smart speakers, which are going under the Symfonisk brand, but Ikea is also looking to incorporate audio capabilities into furniture. A prototype design includes a shelf that serves as a speaker unit, and there are also a series of brackets that would allow such units to be attached to other pieces, including cabinets.

Sara Morris, Sonos’ product manager, says in the video that “it’s only by working with Ikea that we can tuck that sound into the furniture in hidden ways, that we could really stop people thinking about the speaker and start thinking about the sound.” The wording is loose enough to suggest that we might see audio capabilities built into dressers, tables, and sofas.

The pricing seems to be in line with Sonos’ cheapest offerings, at around $150, based on the online chatter that preceded the video, but the wording used in the teaser video can easily be read as meaning that the Symfonisk devices will be much cheaper – “where we can reach many people”.

Ikea has not said which voice platform its speakers would be using. Its Tradfri (‘wire-free’) line is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s HomeKit ecosystems, while Sonos is close to Amazon and has confirmed that Google Assistant won’t make it to its range until this year at the earliest – saying that it wanted to nail the seamless experience it has advertised, using a beta program for testing.

If Sonos can finalize that support by August, then we could feasibly see Symfonisk launch with support for the two leading platforms. Apple is likely to be included, as Symfonisk is something of an extension for Tradfri, but it is not as popular an ecosystem as Amazon and Google, which have run away with the market.

However, if it transpires that Ikea favors a particular platform, then the one that loses out is going to feel the full impact of not being included in what seems like a shopping ritual for hundreds ofms of consumers – the trip to Ikea. That’s a very powerful sales channel, and one that could create an insurmountable lead for the winner.

As Alexa currently has the lead in the smart home game, it is advantageous for Sonos and Ikea that the Sonos ecosystem is so well enmeshed with Alexa. Echo devices can be used to control Sonos speakers, and Sonos’ newer designs have an embedded Alexa integration – meaning you can treat them just like an Echo. Of course, creating the comparable Google or Apple experience is, on paper, not too tricky, so it’s certainly not an insurmountable advantage.

From the other side, Sonos has built out a pretty decent footprint of homes itself, and if Ikea markets the integration enough, it may find that people are willing to pull the trigger on the purchase of the Tradfri platform. Some of these Sonos units cost more than a basic Tradfri installation, and there’s an element of sunk-cost here. While they could certainly keep using their Sonos alongside something like Samsung’s SmartThings, having it more closely integrated into the smart home would provide a nicer user experience.

For Sonos, the interoperability between the Symfonisk range and the rest of its portfolio could lead to a sales bump, as customers who enter the Sonos ecosystem, which is typically at the premium end of things, discover they like the experience and plump to buy for more Sonos devices. That is Sonos’ own view, as per its recent filing that declared the move could “potentially introducems of households to the Sonos app and experience.”

Ikea will also be licensing the Sonos software that is powering the Symfonisk, so that’s at least a revenue stream for a company that has seen a sharp uptick in competition in recent years. For a time, Sonos was the premier brand in wireless whole-home audio, thanks to its ease of setup and the high quality audio.

However, Amazon, Google, and Apple all have ‘hi-fi’ versions of their smart speakers, and there’s been a rush of more straight-on competitors too, and so the Ikea partnership is a strategic move that should bolster Sonos’ channels. For businesses in similar positions to Sonos, this sort of partnership is set to prove popular, as the brands believe that combinations are value-adds for their joint offerings.

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