The world has had no shortage of iconic team-ups: Lafayette and the early American revolutionaries. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Doritos and Taco Bell. Add to that list Sonos and Ikea, who Monday debuted Symfonisk, their collaborative line of speakers. One of which is also a lamp.
That Ikea and Sonos teamed up on products is no surprise; the two companies announced their intentions back in 2017, and talks between them began even earlier, in March 2016. The two seem obviously complementary; Ikea knew that its long-simmering smart-home ambitions would stall without a musical component. And Sonos has a mass-market, Symfonisk-sized hole in its largely premium lineup.
But the benefits of working together run even deeper than that.
“Stepping into sound and music at home without any knowledge of acoustics and speakers and music, that would not be very wise,” says Björn Block, who heads up Ikea’s Home Smart division. “Of course, we are bringing something to that collaborative table. We’re bringing a deep, long, and global knowledge about life at home.” He notes that Ikea launches around 2,000 products every year. It knows what its customers want.
That insight manifests itself here as two initial audio products. First is the $99 Symfonisk bookshelf speaker, named as such both because it fits neatly into Ikea’s existing bookshelf lines, and can also become a shelf itself, if you mount it to the wall with the included bracket. It’ll hold up to 6.6 pounds, enough to support a very small cat.
For its first-generation collaboration, Ikea and Sonos opted to skip voice control, running counter to one of the biggest trends in tech—one that each company has embraced elsewhere.
While it looks minimal and clean, as you’d expect from Ikea—it won a Red Dot design award before it was officially announced—the most eye-catching element for Sonos fans might be the price, given that the company’s least expensive offering had previously been the $150 Play:1. Those savings, together with the functional design, also suggest some that trade-offs may have been made by the companies.
“What we’ve achieved with the shelf speaker is we’ve arrived at what we think is really good sound inside the constraints of that problem, in terms of the size, form factor, and orientation,” says Sonos vice president of design Tad Toulis.
The one you really want to know about, though, is the speaker-lamp, a hybrid rarely seen outside the wilder corners of Amazon. For $179, you get what Toulis describes as “essentially a Sonos One”—with some adjustments to compensate for the new form factor. The design seems potentially more polarizing than the bookshelf speaker; it looks a little like a blending of Wall-E and Super Mario’s Toad. But by combining multiple functions in one product, it joins the recent, welcome trend of Swiss Army gadgets.
“In many places in a home, you want to decorate with table lamps and have that cozy lighting at the same time as you want to have music in that space,” says Block, who cites Ikea’s previous efforts integrating wireless charging into furniture as inspiration to try more mashups. “You can then combine those two products and make them into a beautiful object that blends into a modern home-furnishing environment, and do two jobs instead of one. I think that’s a really strong collaboration that we did.”
One surprising thing that neither Symfonisk product can do? Talk. For its first-generation collaboration, Ikea and Sonos opted to skip voice control, running counter to one of the biggest trends in tech—one that each company has embraced elsewhere. You’ll be able to control the Symfonisks through the Sonos app or connect them to other Sonos products that do respond to voice commands. Still, it’s an unexpected omission.
“Obviously we explored many opportunities in terms of what product we should make in this first round,” Block says. “The main purpose of this product is to really enable music and sound into basically every room in a very versatile way. If you would have voice capabilities, yeah, it might have been better, but let’s be clear about the first purpose at this point in time.”
Notably, Sonos has run into issues getting Google Assistant working seamlessly across its products. After its own delays, Ikea now has Google Assistant working on its Trådfri smart lights but plans to follow the Sonos voice roadmap when it comes to speakers.
When the Symfonisk range goes on sale in August, you’ll find them only in Ikea’s physical and online stores. Toulis stresses, though, that these won’t be second-class products. “They’ll be subject to the same updates we do on our core products, so they’ll continue to get better over time. They’ll continue to take on new functionality where they can,” he says. “These products will be fully supported by Sonos and fully compatible with the Sonos system.”
The speaker market is increasingly crowded, especially as Google and Amazon shove Assistant and Alexa, respectively, into as much hardware as they can. But Ikea and Sonos should still find plenty of space for Symfonisk to compete. “First, they complement each other, with Ikea bringing the design and Sonos bringing the technology,” says Ramon Llamas, research director at IDC. “Second, they don’t overlap each other. And third, they have a loyal base of fans from both sides that they can tap into.”
Ultimately, Ikea and Sonos both excel at what they do. Doing it together just sounds right.
More Great WIRED Stories