Oh Sonos! App update borks users' favorite features and worse

Blind customers complain they've been forgotten in rollout of latest UI

Sonos has alienated chunks of its customer base after releasing a revamped app for its music boxes that strips users of often-used features, including making it nearly "impossible" for the vision impaired.

The redesigned app landed on May 7 sporting a new home screen, and was intended to give easier access to improved product set-up and controls via a "refreshed UI design."

The problem was, in doing so, it removed a load of existing functionality including alarms, snooze settings, access to control the built-in SonosNet Wi-Fi settings, and the ability to search for content in a user's music library. It was also felt to be clunky and inefficient, laggy and unresponsive, some users reported.

Sonos lost trust with some vision impaired users, with one saying the new app was no longer accessible as navigation has altered – with customers saying there is not only sub-optimal nav with VoiceOver; it is now impossible to undertake essential and basic functions. Sonos claims it will correct those issues in a May 21 release.

Android users were able to roll back to the previous S2 app by sideloading the APK however iOS users couldn't. Despite the grumbling, management aren't prepared to rethink the rollout.

Disgruntled Sonos customers last week flocked to social media, including Reddit, and X, and Sonos also faced some searching questions in an ask me anything (AMA) meeting it held with pissed off punters.

One asked: "What was the thought process behind releasing the app update in an obviously unfinished state, instead of waiting for critical issues to be resolved?

The response from Sonos?

"An app is never finished! This is a new app - we started from an empty project file. As the project progressed, we stopped investing our time in the old app code. Over time we 'cross-faded' our engineering attention into the new app. We need to make the new app be the app going forward so we stop splitting our attention. We decided that now is the moment to bring you the new app. This is the beginning, and we will be continually iterating going forward. As I said - an app is never finished.

There are a lot of blind people who can't trust Sonos anymore...

Another pointed out that as a designer, "function always outweighs design." They were interested in the thought process in the early stages of development.

Sonos said: "The refreshed UI design is rooted in the needs that we've been hearing from our listeners for years. We heard from users that the information architecture of the S2 app felt like work, particularly in navigating between multiple tabs to get core jobs done. The intent of the new app home feed is to put the most useful content and controls immediately within thumb's reach, offering quick access to the content that means most to users, and enabling them to drive what is prioritized in their personal home experience."

What was the rationale for removing sleep timers and alarms when they are among the most used creatures, asked another. Sonos explained: "We never intended to ship without Alarm Settings."

"On the morning of the app launch, we discovered a data corruption error around the new Alarms APIs. The corruption could cause alarms to go off in the wrong room at the wrong volume with the wrong content! In order to save your alarms, we made the difficult decision to remotely disable the alarm settings feature and then completely lock it out. It allowed us to make sure your alarms stayed as they were - but at the steep cost of taking away your ability to change them yourself," Sonos added.

The alarm settings are back now, the company said.

Asked why Sonos had decided to make the app cloud-based, it said: "There are many advantages to using the cloud, but I'll highlight one. With our new content services, we are able to provide a richer experience for discovering music to listen to. Our previous app was built on APIs that did not provide enough metadata to make that rich experience."

In a heartfelt post, one customer said that they understood changes were coming on May 21 to deal with the "most serious defect" for blind users.

"[H]opefully the panel can understand that there are a lot of blind people who can't trust Sonos anymore. Given that Sonos got it so horribly wrong with this current release, why should we expect anything better in the next?

Sonos said: "We invested our user experience and engineering energy on supporting VoiceOver throughout this project. Unfortunately near the end, we took our eye off the ball and missed a couple of key bugs. Those bug fixes have been shipped in a release.

"That doesn't mean we're done. We have more that we want to do and will do to fine-tune the experience. This is the same kind of fine-tuning we are doing for the visual experience. In a visual UI that means adjusting the gutters between items on screen. In a spoken UI it means adding more hints about how to navigate. We look forward to tweaking those and making the experience get continually better."

"I understand that we have to rebuild your trust. We will only be able to do that by improving the experience. Any words we say will be incomplete. I am sorry that we missed this."

The whole saga highlights that end users might buy the box, but the user experience centers on software, and progress of quality software isn't always linear.

A Reg reader caught by the unwelcome changes told us: "It is odd that Sonos seem to have forced the new controller app to have to talk to their cloud systems before local device playback/config can be managed. In the runup to the release, Sonos were assuring users that the new app would merely add to the functionality, not remove enormous swathes of useability.

"Suddenly, everyone's home Sonos devices are available via play.sonos.com using a simple username/password combination, without any thought as to the risks of this, with some users no doubt having recycled passwords that have been subject to data breaches on other platforms. There has been no suggestion that Sonos will provide multifactor authentication for these web services yet.

"Sonos have set out a timescale for the reinstatement of the missing services but given their attention seems to be getting a new app out there to manage the impending release of their new headphones, most users seem to have little trust in their ability to fix things in a hurry."

How were the rest of you impacted? Tell us in the comments section below. ®

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