Category Archives: Cloud Computing

Self-driving startups race down a narrowing road

DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Lei Xu and Justin Song once worked at electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. But with interest and investments in autonomous vehicles mounting, they left to pursue what they see as the next big thing.

Nullmax CEO Lei Xu drives a Lincoln MKZ sedan equipped with his company’s prototype self-driving hardware and software in Fremont, California, U.S. on October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jane Lanhee Lee

Their company, Nullmax, is one of more than 240 startups worldwide, including 75 in Silicon Valley, attempting to design software, hardware components and systems for future self-driving cars, according to a Reuters analysis.

Xu and Song are bankrolled by corporate money, but unlike many of their fellow entrepreneurs, they skipped funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Founded in August 2016, Nullmax got $ 10 million from a Chinese firm, Xinmao Science and Technology Co (000836.SZ).

By seeking corporate backing in China, the Nullmax founders managed to sidestep an issue facing other startups in the sector: While big automotive and technology companies are pouring billions into the autonomous vehicle space, Silicon Valley investors so far have been fairly restrained in increasing their bets.

Headlines have been dominated by old-line players such as General Motors Co (GM.N), which jolted the industry last year when it bought a tiny San Francisco software company called Cruise Automation for a reported $ 1 billion. Just this week, top-tier supplier Delphi Automotive PLC (DLPH.N) acquired Boston-based software startup nuTonomy for $ 450 million.

Now, “every startup thinks they will get a billion dollars” in valuation, said Evangelos Simoudis, a Silicon Valley venture investor and an advisor on corporate innovation.

However, investment in untested startup companies remains relatively modest despite all the buzz and lofty expectations. Total funding of self-driving startups from both corporate and private investors has barely topped $ 5 billion, the Reuters analysis of publicly available data shows.

With the notable exceptions of Andreessen Horowitz and New Enterprise Associates, few of the big Valley venture capital firms are heavily invested in the sector. Overall, only seven of the top 30 self-driving startups have received later-stage funding, the Reuters analysis shows, an indication that some venture capitalists are ambivalent about the industry’s potential.

(For a graphic of venture and corporate funding of self-driving startups, see: tmsnrt.rs/2xOX0jN)

Skeptics note that few of the startups are making money. And established auto and parts companies have not demonstrated a clear path to revenue and profitability in autonomous vehicles despite their big bets in the space.

Another sticking point: While the initial wave of self-driving vehicles is expected to begin commercial service in 2019-2020, experts expect the transition from human-driven to automated cars could take a decade or more to roll out.

Cautions Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI): “You can destroy a lot of value by chasing your tail in autonomous driving.”

CORPORATE INVESTMENTS

All told, U.S. automotive and technology firms likely have invested some $ 40 billion to $ 50 billion in self-driving technology in recent years, mainly through acquisitions and partnerships. The full extent is hard to know because big players such as Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), whose Waymo subsidiary is considered among the front-runners in the arena, have not revealed the full scope of their investments, although it is believed to be in the billions.

Among the top corporate investors in the sector are Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], Intel Corp (INTC.O), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O), Delphi and Robert Bosch GmbH [ROBG.UL]. Corporate investors also have backed five of the six self-driving startups with valuations of $ 1 billion or more.

(For a graphic on key players in the development of autonomous vehicles, see: tmsnrt.rs/2nYv7gc)

Whether the industry is poised to produce more such unicorns is now a topic of much debate. Two former investors in Cruise Automation, for example, are poles apart in their views of self-driving vehicles and technology.

Veronica Wu, managing partner in Palo Alto-based Hone Capital, said her company continues to invest in “quite a number” of self-driving startups, while acknowledging that the technology will take time to deploy.

“It’s a matter of when, not if,” she said. “We’re fairly optimistic.”

In contrast, Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners, another Cruise investor, said his firm does not see any attractive investments in the sector right now.

The hefty price paid by GM for Cruise, he said, “made the space very frothy, with every computer vision and robotics PhD student seemingly emerging with a new self-driving car startup.”

In addition, he said many established players “already have made their big investments (and) acquisitions” in the sector. That could limit investors’ potential returns and entrepreneurs’ payoffs down the road.

Quin Garcia, a partner in San Francisco-based AutoTech Ventures, concurs that the space is crowded and valuations are inflated. There may still be “a select few IPOs, but there will be many failures of autonomous vehicle startups” by 2021, he said.

NULLMAX IN CHINA

Those odds haven’t deterred Nullmax founders Xu and Song, who are looking to differentiate themselves.

With many self-driving startups looking to supply U.S. and European automakers, the Chinese-born entrepreneurs, whose specialties are camera-based vision systems and artificial intelligence, are focused on China. They expect to deliver the first partially automated systems to Chinese automakers by 2020.

The U.S.-educated entrepreneurs, both 35, now work out of a small shop in Fremont, Calif., not far from Tesla’s sprawling home factory. Xu once worked at Tesla as a senior engineer while Song specialized in supply chain and quality engineering. Tesla declined to confirm their prior employment.

Xu said the company employs about 50 people, most of them in a larger office in Shanghai. He said the company wants to keep a foot in California, which is a hub of U.S. tech talent, and where regulators have smoothed the way for testing of self-driving vehicles.

As for how Nullmax plans to cash out, Xu navigated around that question.

“We’re pretty busy,” he said. “We don’t much time to think about an IPO right now.”

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Jane Lanhee Lee in San Francisco; Editing by Joe White and Marla Dickerson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Millennials and Gen Z Would Rather Text Each Other Than Do This, According to a New Study

You know the stereotypes about Millennials and Generation Z, but are they real?

Are Millennials really glued to their phones? Do the members of Gen Z really refuse to make phone calls at work? 

Actually, um, maybe–yes–at least, according to a new study, in which almost 75 percent of American Gen Z and Millennials told researchers that they prefer to talk with other people via text message–as opposed to actually talking with them.

This is all via a 4,000-person survey conducted last month by the folks at LivePerson, a company that provides mobile and online messaging business solutions, asking participants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Japan, and France about their digital media and in-person preferences.

The company also surveyed 1,016 adults 35 years old or older in the United States to use as a benchmark to which they could compare the Millennial and Gen Z answers.

“What we see in the research data is the phone truly becoming an extension of the self, and the platforms and apps within it — digital life — occupying more than their offline interactions,” said Rurik Bradbury, global head of communications and research at LivePerson.

Among the other findings:

1. The phone is the new wallet

Given a choice to leave either their wallet or phone at home, just under 62 percent said their wallet. Among the older cohort, 72 percent of those over age 35 said they’d leave their phone and take their wallet.

2. The phone is almost a part of the body

Nearly two-thirds of 18-34 year olds say they habitually bring their phones with them when they use the bathroom, and nearly half say they regularly text while walking in crowds. Also, more than 70 percent of Gen Z and Millenials say they sleep with their phones within reach. Half say they automatically pick it up if they’re awakened during the night. Also, They’re super-impatient.

3. Instant gratification

According to the study, Millennials and Gen Z “expect digital convenience in all aspects of their lives,” or they’ll walk away from a sale.

“For less expensive purchases (under $ 20 or equivalent), 73.4 percent of Millennials will give up on a brand within 10 minutes if they don’t get the answer they need,” the report sys. Forty percent said they’ll wait no more than five minutes.

4. Phones over dollars

More than half of Millennials and Gen Z respondents said it would take more than $ 1 million to convince them to give up their smartphones; in fact just over 43 percent said it would take at least $ 5 million.

5. Forget “digital first,” how about “digital only?”

Seven out of 10 of the 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed said they could imagine a world in which there is no longer any such thing as brick and mortar stores, and all purchases would be made digitally or online. Moreover, almost 20 percent of Americans in that age range said they’d actually prefer to do all shopping digitally, without ever talking with a human being.

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T-Mobile, Sprint ready board committees to decide on merger: sources

(Reuters) – T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp are laying the groundwork for special committees of their board of directors to decide on a merger between the third and fourth largest U.S. wireless carriers, according to people familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Smartphones with the logos of T-Mobile and Sprint are seen in this illustration taken September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

These board committees are important for the merger because T-Mobile and Sprint are majority owned by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG and Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp respectively, and could be left vulnerable to potential lawsuits from minority shareholders if they don’t establish independent mechanisms to review the deal.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint have formed committees comprising independent board directors to decide on whether the deal should be signed once the merger agreement has been finalized, which is currently expected in the next three weeks, the sources said.

The companies’ special board committees have also hired financial advisers to help them deliver fairness opinions, the sources added.

As with many all-stock mergers, T-Mobile and Sprint have decided there is no need to give their minority shareholders a vote on the deal, the sources said.

An alternative would have been to make the merger subject to approval by a majority of their minority shareholders. However, the companies’ advisers have determined this is not legally necessary, and could even jeopardize the deal were minority shareholders to organize against it, according to the sources.

Some T-Mobile minority shareholders believe Sprint should not be offered any premium for its shares, the sources said. However, T-Mobile and Sprint have tentatively agreed on a range for a stock exchange ratio which, even at its low end, would offer Sprint a modest premium to where its shares are trading currently, the sources added.

This could result in SoftBank and other Sprint shareholders holding close to 40 percent of the combined company based on where the shares are currently trading, the sources added. The exact share exchange ratio will be determined by looking at the volume-weighted average stock price of the companies over the last few months, one of the sources added.

T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s due diligence on each other is almost complete, and much of their focus now is on working out a business plan for the combined company, as well as an integration strategy, according to the sources.

Sprint and T-Mobile declined to comment, while Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The sources asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The $1,000 Bagel Is Here. Run For the Hills

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Society has a way of showing its undergarments, even as it insists that it’s dressed for a wedding.

These days, we know there’s something askew in the world, yet there are those who can’t help but parade their excesses.

Because, I don’t know, America. Or something.

Here, then, is a delicacy for which so many have been apparently screaming. 

The $ 1,000 bagel.

Courtesy of the Westin New York — yes, the one in Times Square — this is an item you will surely covet.

“Serious thought was put into the creation of the city’s first outrageous bagel to ensure the hefty price tag doesn’t just get patrons an overpriced piece of bread,” said the Westin’s press release.

If there’s one thing New York is desperate for, it’s more outrageous windbaggery.

I’m sorry, I mean windbagelery. 

Why, though, is this bagel worth $ 1,000?

Well, it’s whole wheat.

And then there’s, oh, let the creator take over. 

Frank Tujague, the hotel’s executive chef, explained to NPR: “I used a Mascarpone cream cheese, which is an Italian cream cheese. It’s a little less sweet. And I paired it with a wine jelly. So it’s not your normal grape smear that you get in the morning.”

Do you have time for a grape smear in the morning? Is that on Starbucks’ secret menu? I can barely smear a little Aquafresh on my teeth, never mind some grape concoction.

But wait, Tujague isn’t done.

He pours truffles over all this. Because truffles are decadent, expensive and entirely pointless first thing in the morning.

That’s still only worth, oh, a few discarded shillings and some tattered Louis Vuitton luggage. So what else is on this thing?

Why, gold, of course. Edible gold. 

Which, you might imagine, tastes very similar to, say, a dirty penny.

“It’s pretty neutral in taste,” insisted Tujague.

“So why put it there?” I hear you scream.

Oh, it’s for the color. And the decadence. And for some exalted oaf to declaim in a meeting on Wall Street that they’ve already stuffed their face with gold this morning.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time the hotel has served this homage to spiritual despair.

It was first offered in 2007. 

Yes, not long before the huge crash that enveloped everyone but those in certain fine banks.

And now it’s back by popular demand. Or should that be elitist demand?

Is this bombastic bagold a portent of doom? Or is it just another mindless indicator of the gap between rich and poor?

Perhaps mindful of this, the Westin is, I understand, giving 100 percent of all the proceeds to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

Of course, it could just get guests to give $ 1,000 to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

But where’s the PR in that?

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JPMorgan reaches beyond its branches with new mobile account app

NEW YORK (Reuters) – In its first offering of online bank accounts, JPMorgan Chase & Co on Monday launched a new smartphone app that it hopes will attract new depositors, many of whom are young and may live far from any of its branch offices.

FILE PHOTO: People pass the JP Morgan Chase & Co. Corporate headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The app, named Finn by Chase, allows people to use a phone to open a bank account, make deposits, issue checks, track spending and set up savings plans, bank officials told Reuters last week. Finn debit cards will come by mail for access to cash from 29,000 ATMs.

The bank is starting with an initial test of the app account for Apple phone users with ZIP codes in St. Louis, where Chase has no branches, which might influence the trial.

The bank, the biggest in the United States, with $ 2.56 trillion in assets, plans to market Finn in other U.S. cities and for Android phones next year. Later this year it will offer mobile enrollment nationwide for its standard checking and savings accounts.

“Finn lets us reach new customers and new markets,” Thasunda Duckett, chief executive of Chase Consumer Banking, said in an interview. The app account, she said, “was built by millennials for millennials.”

Bankers across the industry want to court millennials as their next generation of customers.

Catering to them is seen as way to keep from losing business to big Internet and computer companies and financial rivals, such as Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and PayPal Holdings Inc.

At JPMorgan, the app could also show Chief Executive Jamie Dimon how he can take the bank’s consumer deposit business well beyond the 23 states where it has branches.

Dimon has repeatedly postponed his years-long dream to expand into new states by opening a cluster of branches to gather more customers. That would be expensive, would require approval of regulators and could be especially risky when people use branches less often.

JPMorgan is too big to win government approval to buy another bank to reach more depositors, Dimon has acknowledged.

Duckett’s team developed the Finn app after interviews with about 250 potential millennial customers since July 2016. It found that many yearn for a lower-stress way to control their spending than trying to set budgets that they often fail to obey.

The interviews led Chase to build the app with simple ways for people to sort their spending with emojis tagging what made them feel good or bad, as well as what was necessary or just desired.

For example, the bank found millennials generally do not want the app to display on the same screen as spending account balances that show how much money they have in their savings accounts, lest they spend that, too.

About two-thirds of Chase customers continue to visit branches at least once every three months. “This is for a different set of customers,” said Melissa Feldsher, head of Finn.

Some of the features are similar to those that have been produced by fintech companies, such as Moven, which has supplied money management software for TD Bank to offer its depositors. But such efforts have not resulted in strictly online accounts of the scale that JPMorgan imagines.

Duckett said JPMorgan designed Finn from scratch, without relying on what fintech companies have created. “We always look at what is going on, but we lead with what customers were telling us,” Duckett said.

In contrast, JPMorgan has used outside firms as it has developed for applications for auto, mortgage and small business lending.

Reporting by David Henry in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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AT&T Earnings: Brace For Impact

After a good day in telecom marked by the solid results released by peer Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T) will be the next U.S. giant in the space to report on its own 3Q performance. Quite a bit of the surprise factor might be absent from the print, however, as AT&T’s management has issued a partial pre-announcement in the wake of the season’s natural disasters, softness in legacy video subscription (well covered by Stone Fox Capital) and fewer handset equipment upgrades.

(Photo Credit: Business Insider)

The Street is betting on revenues of $ 40.1 billion, suggesting a -2% YOY decline that will be caused, to a small extent, by the U.S. storms and the earthquake in Mexico. Likely driving a larger piece of the drag will be legacy video, expected to see a record high, and a worrisome decrease in the subscriber base of 390,000. The projected strong user metrics on the DirecTV Now side of the business will probably not be enough to counter the DirecTV and U-verse headwinds, considering the lower per user revenue generated by the online platform. EPS is estimated to come in at $ 0.75, no lower than the earnings expectations from before the pre-announcement.

On the wireless side, and if Verizon can be used as a leading indicator, I would not be surprised to see margins dip in the YOY comparison. The Big Four carriers in the U.S. have been fighting a fierce competitive war that saw all players introduce unlimited postpaid plans in 2017 (Business Insider covered the plan comparison across the industry very well). As I have argued recently, the likely impact of these initiatives will be lower pricing and network cost pressures to support the large data services. On a more positive note, AT&T shareholders are probably hopeful to see postpaid net adds maintain the momentum gained in 2Q17, as well as churn at or around 1% – which would be in line with management’s October statement that it “continues to see low postpaid phone churn levels.”

Considered by me to be one of AT&T’s less-talked-about jewels, Mexico mobility could have a tough 3Q17 in the wake of the natural catastrophe in the country. But regarding this piece of the business, I continue to hold a long-term view that the runway is set for AT&T to continue to generate solid growth in the region.

My thoughts on AT&T stock

The last few months have not been a walk in the park for the giant Dallas-based telecom company. With headwinds hitting from many directions (at times literally so, in the case of September’s hurricanes), the stock has suffered a rarely seen -10% decline in a short period of only two weeks and is now back to February 2016 levels.

Chart

T PE Ratio (Forward) data by YCharts

Company/Ticker Forward P/E LT EPS Growth Forward PEG
AT&T (T) 12.2x 3.8% 3.3x
Verizon (VZ) 13.2x 3.3% 4.0x

The silver lining, however, is that T hasn’t looked this inexpensive in a while – since January 2016 on a forward P/E basis, to be more precise. Assuming that its dividends will be safe (check out this great article on the subject) and, better yet, will continue to grow in a near-straight line like they have over the past 30 years, the company’s impressive 5.5% trailing yield makes an investment in the stock look more like a convertible bond play. In other words, investors that buy T today collect on the very rich quarterly payments with the option of benefiting from the eventual appreciation in the stock price over time.

Call me a biased shareholder, but despite the known challenges, I find an investment in T at the current depressed levels a rare opportunity ahead of what I believe will be positive long-term catalysts for the company.

Note from the author: If you have enjoyed this article and would like to receive real-time alerts on future ones, please follow D.M. Martins Research. To do so, scroll up to the top of this screen and click on the orange “Follow” button next to the header, making sure that the “Get email alerts” box remains checked. Thanks for reading.

Disclosure: I am/we are long T.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Startup CEO Arrested for Child Abuse, Assault, and Attempted Murder

News broke on Friday that Zain Jaffer, ex-CEO of mobile ads startup Vungle, was arrested for child abuse (including a charge of oral copulation of a person under 14), assault, and attempted murder. 

The company replaced Jaffer as CEO a day before the allegations were reported in the tech press. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s website indicates that an inmate named Jaffer is being held at the Maple Street Correctional Center in Redwood City, California. 

Jaffer was featured as part of Inc.’s 35 Under 35 Coolest Entrepreneurs package in 2014.

A Vungle spokesperson wasn’t immediately available. Earlier today, a company representative told VentureBeat: “While we do not have any information that is not in the public record at this point, these are extremely serious allegations, and we are shocked beyond words.” The charges are “obviously so serious that it led to the immediate removal of Mr. Jaffer from any operational responsibility at the company,” the rep told VentureBeat.

Jaffer’s next scheduled court date is Nov. 1, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s records.

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Ride hailing firm Grab secures up to $700 million in debt facilities

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Grab, the main Southeast Asian rival of Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL], said on Friday it had secured debt facilities of up to $ 700 million to help it create the largest car rental program in southeast Asia.

FILE PHOTO: People wait for the start of Grab’s fifth anniversary news conference in Singapore June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

The company also said it had signed a partnership with Singaporean public transport operator SMRT, which will give it exclusive access to SMRT’s taxi and private car fleet management capabilities, along with its network of taxis and Strides private-hire cars.

It also said it would have the largest car rental fleet in Southeast Asia by the fourth quarter of 2018.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Taiwan chipmaker TSMC's third-quarter net profit falls 7.1 percent, beats estimates

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Apple Inc supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd on Thursday said net profit fell 7.1 percent in the three months through September, slightly better than analyst estimates.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker booked third-quarter profit of T$ 89.925 billion ($ 2.98 billion), from T$ 96.76 billion in the same period a year earlier. The result compared with the T$ 88.19 billion average of 21 analyst estimates, Thomson Reuters Eikon showed.

Revenue rose to $ 8.32 billion, up 1.5 percent from a year earlier. That was better than the $ 8.12 billion to $ 8.22 billion forecast TSMC issued in July.

Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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Sonos One Review: Amazon's Alexa Is Here, But It Still Has Some Growing Up to Do

I like my Echo. In my house, we use it to play radio stations, to get the weather, and to answer questions like “When was the Edo period?” One thing I don’t often use the Echo for is music. That’s because it sounds terrible. As good as Amazon’s Alexa voice service is, the Echo’s black tin can croaks out audio just a notch better than the 20-year-old Coby FM radio I keep in the garage. Amazon has taken steps to improve the Echo’s sound quality with a reboot last month, and companies like Lenovo have coaxed Alexa into nicer-sounding enclosures. But those speakers are still boring.

What I really want—what every audiophile I know wants—is an Alexa speaker that sounds as good as the best speakers in the house. In my house, those speakers are Sonos speakers. So join me while I raise a glass to the Sonos One, the company’s first music player with Alexa built natively into the corpus. This isn’t Alexa’s first sip of Sonos. Echo devices recently gained the ability to control Sonos hardware, but that requires adding an Alexa skill, which of course means there’s some loopy syntax you have to struggle with when all you really want to do is play some Chet Baker. Also, I know a few friends with an Echo Dot plugged into their Sonos Play:5, and while that gets things moving, it’s inelegant and you’re still using two devices.

This new $ 199 speaker takes the current Alexa-Sonos relationship and removes the complexity. You could think of it as an Echo with much improved sound. It does all of the Alexa things, but it’s foremost a Sonos speaker, so it does all the Sonos things too—it works as part of a multi-room system, it streams from scores of services, and it obeys the company’s controller apps. The One has some faults. Amazon world and Sonos world are two nuanced and complex domains, and any device that attempts to bridge the two is sure to stumble occasionally. But the key point remains: The One is a great-sounding Sonos speaker, and that’s reason enough to consider one. It also so happens that you can command it with your voice.

WIRED

If you’re already hip to the Sonos product line, you’ll notice the One looks almost exactly like a Play:1—on purpose, of course. But in order to incorporate voice services and the requisite six-microphone array, Sonos had to completely redesign the inside of the box. The resulting Sonos One, sonically, is perceptually the same as the Play:1. If you like the dynamics, volume, and clarity of the bookshelf-ready Play:1, this new Alexa-endowed version will please you as well. Speak as you would to your Echo (“Alexa, play KCRW.”) and that familiar robotic voice speaks back from within a Sonos shell.

By talking to the speaker, you can play or pause music, skip tracks, change the volume, or ask what’s playing. If you have multiple Sonos speakers, you can use Alexa to launch music in other rooms. “Alexa, play Chuck Berry in the bedroom.” I also succeeded in getting Alexa to group the One with another Sonos speaker that was already playing music by saying, “Play what’s playing in the kitchen.” That feature is undocumented, so I got a little jolt of surprise when it actually worked. Sonos told me later it’s an easter egg in the beta app I was using, but it’s nice to know more features are still in development. The One can do all the fun Alexa stuff too, of course. It can dim the lights or turn on your Dyson fan. You can ask it to start a dance party, play reggae, or play ’80s hits just like you can do with an Echo—except when you request it on the One, the music that comes out sounds much, much better.

TIRED

The setup process, which involves not only adding a new speaker to your Sonos network, but also adding Amazon Voice Service to your speaker, needs ironing out. There’s too much time spent switching between the Sonos app and the Alexa app during setup, and if you lose the thread, you have to start all over.

Once you get things humming, the limitations of the voice controls become clear pretty quickly. The Sonos One can do most everything Alexa can do, but it can’t do everything Sonos can do. So, when you ask it to play music, the Alexa living inside the One can only summon streams from the services Alexa supports. If you want to play something from your local MP3 library or one of the 80-odd services supported by Sonos (Apple Music, Google Play Music, Mixcloud, MLB.com), you have to pull out your phone and tap. Once the audio is playing, you can ask Alexa to pause it or turn it up. But unless it’s Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Sirius, or TuneIn, your phone is still required to get it playing in the first place. (Spotify is coming soon after launch, Sonos says.)

These shortcomings are things Sonos is racing to improve, of course. The bright and shiny end goal here is an easily installed speaker you can, if you want, control only by talking. But the One isn’t there yet. Each streaming service connected to your Sonos has to be understood and learned by Alexa in order for the voice assistant to be able to navigate it. That’s going to take time.

Again, this speaker sits squarely on a number of borders, and data and effort will get lost in the crossing as long as the various sides fail to understand each other perfectly. But until that work is done—by Amazon and by Sonos—you’ll need to assume an early-adopter mentality with regards to the One. You can take solace in knowing that bigger things are coming via software updates (like AirPlay support and Google Assistant, both coming in 2018). For now, however, you’ll just have to be satisfied with the simpler things.

Rating

8/10 – An excellent-sounding Alexa speaker that’s worth the $ 200, even if it has some growing up to do.

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