Google to downgrade existing smart speakers after losing Sonos patent case

Google smart speakers
(Image credit: Google)
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Owners of Google’s smart speakers are set to get an upsetting update thanks to a big loss in a lawsuit with integrated speaker company, Sonos.

Arstechnica (opens in new tab) reports that a final ruling by the US International Trade Commission has confirmed that Google infringed on five of Sonos’ patents. They seem to be all around speaker groups, including setting them up and controlling them.

Sonos was basically the only name in the connected speaker game until voice assistance came along. They're pretty smart when it comes to sound, and may even be branching out into wireless headphones (opens in new tab). In an article with The New York Times (opens in new tab), Sonos claimed that Google got a look at how their system worked back in 2013 when  the company was pitching to integrate with Google Play Music. It believes Google “blatantly and knowingly" copied Sonos when it made the Google Home speaker.

A win like this for Sonos could mean that Google’s products that infringe on these patents would be banned in the United States. However, instead Google has decided to release a software downgrade approved by the International Trade Commission. 

Cut the cord...

(Image credit: Steelseries)

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Thankfully, most of the downgrades listed by Google (opens in new tab) probably won’t be noticed by most users, but there is one that has people upset. Google says most speaker groups should continue to function but might need to be updated, especially if non-Google products are in the mix and some users may have to user an extra app to complete installations and downloads. The real kicker is that this update will stop users from being able to adjust speaker volumes in groups, and will instead have to be done speaker by speaker. 

Playing music on all Google home speakers simultaneously is actually pretty amazing. It does have that Sonos feel of music following you around the house, like you’re in a cool indie movie. It’s a large part of why I bothered having more than one Google speaker in my house in the first place, also I like to make sure they can spy on every room equally.

It turns out I’m not alone. The post from Google informing people about this software downgrade is full of angry customers upset about the change. Many are accusing Google of losing to Sonos and then passing the inconvenience onto the customer, rather than just paying the company its dues. Some are demanding rebates or refunds, which seems fair given the product no longer does what it claimed when purchased.

Whether this backlash will shake the tech giant is difficult to say. Next week everyone could have forgotten about their group volume controls on a smart speaker, or we could see Google finally just pay Sonos so I can have music in every room again.

Hope Corrigan
Hardware Writer

Hope’s been writing about games for about a decade, starting out way back when on the Australian Nintendo fan site Since then, she’s talked far too much about games and tech for publications such as Techlife, Byteside, IGN, and GameSpot. Of course there’s also here at PC Gamer, where she gets to indulge her inner hardware nerd with news and reviews. You can usually find Hope fawning over some art, tech, or likely a wonderful combination of them both and where relevant she’ll share them with you here. When she’s not writing about the amazing creations of others, she’s working on what she hopes will one day be her own. You can find her fictional chill out ambient far future sci-fi radio show/album/listening experience podcast (opens in new tab) right here.

No, she’s not kidding.