Google would rather ruin its products than pay for Sonos
The ongoing lawsuit between Google and Sonos is probably not in the forefront of anyone’s mind right now, but after recently digging into a change YouTube made for the worse on its Chromecast app, I can’t really prevent me from thinking about it. Did you know that if you have a Pixel phone and you need to reset a Chromecast or connect it to a new Wi-Fi network, you’re basically screwed? One of the world’s most popular streaming dongles, renowned for its simplicity and ease of use, now offers an inconsistent and degraded experience, adding to other shortcomings that Google itself announced for its Nest speakers and Home for volume settings and groups. , removing features and functionality that customers have paid for.
I understand the “why” behind how this happened: Sonos had patents, a court ruled that Google violated them, and rather than pay to license those patents, Google removed the associated functionality . What I don’t understand is what calculation on Google’s part made the company believe that this was the best solution to the situation.
Unfortunately, there’s no complete list of features that Google removed as a result of these patent changes, but I know for a fact that we lost more than the company disclosed publicly in January. Here is what I know so far:
- Cast volume controls were removed and then added back in a way that presumably circumvented Sonos patents.
- Volume controls for the grouped speakers were lost, both in hardware (volume keys) and software (apps, assistant voice commands).
- Clustered speakers no longer work on devices running older Cast firmware.
- Product installation and updates may require a Device Utility application for “a small group of users”.
- The Google Home app has lost the “cast my audio” button for speaker groups.
- Pixel phones in the US can no longer set up Chromecasts and possibly some other devices. Pixel-only customers cannot effectively move Chromecasts between Wi-Fi networks or set up a newly purchased/reset device.
Google has acknowledged some of these issues, while others have arisen simply due to customer complaints. I reached out to Google to see if the company has a full list of lost or degraded features, but the company only directed me to the two times it highlighted many of these changes in its forums. As far as I know, these messages constitute all communication that Google has made with its customers regarding these issues – I know that I have not received any direct emails regarding the lost functionality, although Google has my contact details and knows that I use features like grouped speakers. We asked Google to confirm whether it contacted customers directly about the changes, but the company did not immediately respond.
I know to some of our readers this may seem like niche issues, but losing features you paid for with little or no direct notice is not reasonable under any circumstances. In one of the worst examples above, not being able to connect your Chromecast to Wi-Fi because you’re unlucky enough to be using a Pixel phone is pretty inexcusable.
This lawsuit has been brewing for two years, and the fact that Google was unprepared for workarounds on these issues when possible, given all this time, doesn’t seem acceptable. And ignoring the loss of features themselves, communication with customers around the issues has been substandard. Again, in the case of the Chromecast setup issue mentioned above, consider the associated error message you’ll see:
“A few extra steps” is a lie if you have a Pixel. You are just screwed.
According to an attorney I spoke to who has handled state and federal consumer class action lawsuits before (and who preferred to remain anonymous), Google’s actions could expose the company to potential liability.
“I’m surprised that Google is putting itself in a position where it’s just a matter of money to pay the patentee to avoid defacing its products in a way that deliberately prevents its products from working. as represented, sold and guaranteed.”
The thing is, Google could agree to license Sonos’ patents at any time, restoring the functionality originally described. And even if it refuses to do so, due to the way these products work and the fact that they can be linked to a Google account, it is within the company’s power to contact the majority of affected customers directly with options. now that the performance of their device purchases had been degraded. But this is not the case. Google would rather reduce and eliminate features by removing marketed features from its products instead.
Obviously I’d rather see Google find a way to maintain the feature while we wait for the rest of the lawsuit with Sonos to be resolved, but the attorney told me that Google’s license default here could be part of their legal strategy. . Not paying Sonos could be a matter of “cold-blooded calculation” that weighs the benefits of “putting pressure” on Sonos (by not funding Sonos’ legal efforts against Google through licensing) more heavily than the potential liability costs and reduced brand loyalty resulting from issues with Google products. But other recent snafus like the YouTube app on older Chromecasts also make me realize that Google doesn’t really care if or when it breaks things for its users, whether that’s the result of a lawsuit or not. .
Google can’t follow this specific solution, but I remember that Google and Match, also involved in a lawsuit, reached an agreement that prevented customer experience degradation during their ongoing litigation. Match will pay what it would normally owe to Google directly into an escrow account while the issue is resolved (an “interpleader”, as it is called in a civil lawsuit), allowing Match’s various dating apps to remain on the Play Store in the meantime. The motivation behind this action is different, and the circumstances of the lawsuit and disagreement are also fundamentally different, but there is an important (if unintended) connection that I see: Google and Match are keeping the customer experience the same while they resolve their dispute. I’m sure Google could negotiate some sort of licensing terms with Sonos to ensure customers don’t lose functionality in the meantime.
I contacted Google and Sonos for their opinion on the current situation, as well as to determine if a licensing agreement could be reached pending resolution of the dispute. Google merely pointed us to the two posts it posted on its product forums, and Sonos had nothing new to share, merely reiterating that the ITC confirmed that Google violated an import ban (probably leading to the recent degradation of the Chromecast configuration live). The following quote regarding the ITC decision, from Sonos Chief Legal Officer Eddie Lazarus, was also provided:
“The United States Customs Service has publicly declared that Google has violated the International Trade Commission’s import ban after finding a slew of Google products infringe five core Sonos home audio patents. The US Customs Service has confirmed that Google is flouting the import ban and continues to import counterfeit products in violation of the ban. This discovery is another example of Google continuing to abuse our intellectual property and act in complete disregard of the law. We remain committed to defending our intellectual property and will continue to do so, on behalf of our own technology, as well as the broader innovation landscape.
I don’t always think of it in those terms, but when it comes to product reviews, my job is basically to be a professional client. When you do a product review, you’re basically describing how and why something is good or bad in a way that impacts the people who buy it. And right now, Google is making once-good products worse than they were, removing features that customers paid for and expected.
The reasoning behind Why it doesn’t really matter what happens – Google is responsible for it anyway. The easiest solution in my opinion is to stop fighting what the courts have already determined to be legitimate patent infringement and give users back the features they paid for. Google’s customers aren’t to blame, but they’re the only ones left to deal with the fallout as this stupid little feud drags on and Google tries to “get revenge” on Sonos while simultaneously ruining its products. And Sonos has tried to negotiate a patent agreement with Google as early as 2016.
Stop throwing a tantrum because you lost and just spit the dough at Sonos, Google.