AllPlay is Qualcomm’s (News - Alert) initiative to recreate the Sonos experience but across a number of vendors. The goal is basically to get the industry to a point were various devices work seamlessly together across your home so music could magically move with you. The first time I saw something like this was at Bill Gate’s home where you’d wear a badge and the house would know where you were and play your music out of the speakers nearest you. That has never made it to the market as a product but Microsoft (News - Alert) did have the Plays for Sure initiative they created to compete with Apple, which failed spectacularly with the launch of their also failed Zune platform.
At CES (News - Alert), AllPlay made solid progress but there is still a long way to go. Let’s talk about AllPlay in the context of CES, Plays for Sure, and Sonos this week.
Why Plays for Sure Failed
Initially it just wasn’t a very good standard. The running joke surrounding Plays for Sure was the addition of the word “doesn’t” as in “Plays for Sure doesn’t Play for Sure”. Much of what was created under this standard didn’t work well and, at the time, everyone seemed to know you had to be able to play or at least find a way to easily bridge customer’s iTunes music, but it never did. When Microsoft launched Zune it effectively killed Plays for Sure, but it didn’t bridge iTunes music either for fear Apple (News - Alert) would sue and it also failed.
AllPlay, on the other hand, largely starts with the phone. Apple has largely stopped using DRM and the phone can connect into the service so Apple users can be embraced. AllPlay isn’t anti-Apple, it embraces iProducts as much as possible so it doesn’t have the same problems Plays for Sure and Zune enjoyed.
Sonos is the gold standard when it comes to music but the company is a hardware company. As such, it has had greater trouble embracing iTunes. Luckily a lot of other streaming services have emerged, which they can embrace and were able to physically link with iProducts to get iTunes to work. In addition, they use a proprietary mesh network to move music between devices proven more reliable than Wi-Fi. Cisco tried to create a competing offering that was Wi-Fi only and it failed spectacularly. This was largely because Wi-Fi at the time just wasn’t robust or reliable enough for this use. But Wi-Fi has improved significantly since that failure, and Mu-MIMO routers can provide performance in line with gigabit Ethernet switches. As a result, even Sonos has started to use it more aggressively.
Sonos also has a broad variety of speakers, interfaces, and amps. These include TV sound bars, sub-woofers, surround speakers, and devices you can hook into your stereo or connect directly with your speakers. For whole house systems they have a centralized hub, which allows streaming to bypass your PC, phone, or tablet and connect directly to the Web. Finally they have the ability to use “party mode,” which can synchronize all of the speakers in the house on a single piece of music—which is really handy for parties.
AllPlay at CES closed the gap with a broad set of speakers from a variety of vendors and one hub that could be connected to a stereo. The speakers and hub were more aggressively priced than Sonos units, generally costing hundreds of dollars less and coming from powerful music brands like Panasonic (News - Alert) and Monster. Connection into iTunes in particular, because this is a phone based service, as noted is generally more seamless with AllPlay and, as a result, there are some compelling reasons now to consider the family of offerings over Sonos. Currently the effort lacks the breadth of music offerings that Sonos enjoys but this could change in a number of ways.
These include receivers with AllPlay built in, which would provide more stereo options and outdoor speaker solutions that Sonos currently lacks. In addition, because the solution is phone based, it should be more capable of better bridging the home/car experience than Sonos—allowing someone to move between the home and car while listening to the same song more seamlessly.
For now though, Sonos remains in the lead.
By this time next year you should have some interesting and far more complete choices with regard to AllPlay solutions and clearly Qualcomm’s initiative is making good progress. The battle isn’t over yet though and with everyone and their brother focused on the “Internet of Things” don’t be surprised if someone figures out an even better way to move music around your home. Until then AllPlay has the best chance of providing a more affordable solution to Sonos in terms of coverage and we’ll wait for some hands on tests to see if it sounds as good (Sonos provides a very high quality experience). Whoever gets from the home to the yard and into the car first with the widest variety of critical options at the most affordable prices for acceptable levels of quality will win. And we’ll shortly have music, good quality music, more places than we likely want it.