In 2023, rumors about a possible Sonos TV device were rampant when Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that the company had plans to release a dedicated streaming box priced around $150 to $200. The device, codenamed “Pinewood,” according to Gurman’s unnamed sources, will handle 4K video, along with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. Now, thanks to a previously unreported Sonos patent application discovered by Janko Roettgers, we know a little more about how such a Sonos TV device might work, including one very disturbing detail: it might be missing a physical remote control.
The patent application, which goes into exhaustive detail describing the Sonos ecosystem as a whole, places particular emphasis on the role of smartphones as how we would interact with an as-yet-unreleased Sonos TV streaming device. And yes, on the app, it’s actually called Sonos TV.
A new version of the Sonos app (or perhaps a separate Sonos TV app) will be used to set up and control a Sonos TV. It will include access to streaming apps and a variety of related features, such as social sharing with friends and the ability to do deep dives into connected media such as music and games. Like many existing media streamers (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, etc.), the app will include a pop-up interface for navigation and voice control (via your phone or any compatible device equipped with a microphone). But unlike these other devices, the Sonos app makes no mention of the existence or use of a dedicated physical remote.
We’ve reached out to Sonos for comment. Not surprisingly, this is the statement we received via email: “We’re in a constant state of invention at Sonos, building on the 3,000+ patents we hold to date. You’ll continue to see us bring new inventions, some in categories we’re in, some in categories we can imagine entering in the future. We do not share details on our patents or future roadmap.”
That’s also exactly what Roettgers was told when he asked.
An understandable choice
A streaming device without its own remote control is not a new idea. The original Google Chromecast was 100% dependent on a phone to do its thing (although it was never meant to actively control what you’d see on the TV). Google retired the concept behind the Chromecast Ultra, moving on to the remote-equipped Chromecast with Google TV as its current vision of what a full-fledged streaming device should look like.
You can partially understand why Sonos might want a Sonos TV without a remote. Until now, the company’s entire ecosystem of wireless multi-room audio products has been designed to work through the Sonos app — whether from a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Third parties have created Sonos-compatible remotes like Ikea’s Symfonisk Music remote, but Sonos itself has stuck to its no-remote philosophy (which also keeps costs down).
There’s also a strong argument to be made that a physical remote control for wireless speakers is of limited value. The speakers themselves have built-in physical controls for the most vital functions (volume and playback). And they have more and more audio support, so you don’t even need to stand near the speakers.
Additionally, a simple, screen-less remote wouldn’t give you access to the full breadth of audio streaming options that Sonos is known for. You really need an app for that.
Based on Sonos’ patent application, a Sonos TV would similarly be packed with features that would benefit from a smartphone-based control app — especially features that are user-specific, like friend networks and content recommendations. . But no matter how sophisticated the Sonos TV experience gets, we’ll still want a physical remote.
If your phone’s battery dies, are you okay waiting for it to recharge before watching TV? If a member of your family wants to check the TV, but their phone is in another room, should they go get it or will you pass the phone to them? If your phone locks automatically, would you mind going through your own unlock sequence (even if it’s as fast as facial recognition) every time you want to pause your show? What about muting or changing the volume? And when the inevitable happens, and the Sonos TV app just won’t open or crashes every time you try to switch shows, will you wait for a fix to get your daily fix of a favorite show?
For now, this is all just hypothetical. Patent applications are not a description of what will be – they are a description of what is can to be. And every so often, patent-based products arrive in stores with a very different set of features or designs than what’s described in the filing. After all, a good patent doesn’t just protect a company’s short-term products, it also acts as a hedge against those who might want to create competing products in the years to come.
So while I’m not excited about the prospect of needing a phone to control a Sonos TV, I’m not going to lose sleep over it either. Sonos prides itself on providing simple and easy ways for its customers to enjoy music throughout their homes. The Sonos app remains the best way to find and play music from multiple sources across multiple speakers, and the speakers themselves earn plenty of praise for their thoughtful design.
To me, that says the company isn’t going to turn a blind eye to the many benefits that come with a dedicated remote. Sonos may decide not to do it itself, but at the very least, it’s likely to provide third parties with a way to do one. And if one of those third-party remotes turns out to be popular? Sonos can always change its tune.