Sonos, makers of a very cool, but quite expensive, multi-room, networked, eponymous music system with a cool full-color controller, have come out with a great new free iPhone app: Sonos Controller. As an owner of both a Sonos system and an iPhone, I have wanted this application since the iPhone 2.0 update was announced. And, after playing with it for a few days, I have to say the execution is pretty good. Though it looks different, the iPhone app has a workflow similar to both the click-wheel sporting controller and the desktop software.
When you launch the app, you see a pleasing splash screen, as with most of the best iPhone apps. I would liken it to Twitterific. It does a good job of branding the app as offical Sonos-supplied software. Now, a lot has been written about iPhone splash screens. I will just say that, in general, I am not a fan of splash screens (and please don’t ever put one on your web site), but the iPhone has them, so if you’re writing an iPhone app, you might as well make the most of it. And a nicely designed logo screen is much better than a non-responsive image of the app’s interface.
Sonos made some interesting decisions with this app’s branding. It doesn’t look much like the desktop app, the controller interface or the Sonos web site. Perhaps the visual language of this app will work its way across the product line.
If you set up your own Sonos system, then you will find the iPhone app set-up process very familiar. Just like adding a new Zone Player to your system or installing the controller software on a new computer, you simply have to press the mute and volume up buttons on any one of the Zone Players (or press the button on a Zone Bridge), and the app immediately hooks into the Sonos network.
Once the set-up is complete, the first screen you’re shown on start-up is the Zone Menu. This interface does a good job of giving you the information you need to know, including what music is playing in which zones. One of the advantages of a Sonos system is that you can easily play any music source you want in any combination of rooms, and this screen makes it easy to see how you left things.
To add or remove a room from a group, simply press the Zone Group button. This is one of two screens that are the most iPhone-like (the other being the Edit Queue screen). I could see this screen being in one of Apple’s own apps.
Selecting music from any of your sources is very easy, and in many ways better than using Sonos’ own dedicated hardware controller, which is touted as looking like an iPod with its fancy clicking scroll wheel, but which actually has eight buttons, making it harder to negotiate than an iPod. Also, typing in search fields (for instance when looking for a particular artist on Rhapsody) on the Sonos controller is a real chore — despite all of the buttons, text entry is done by navigating an onscreen QWERTY keyboard with the click wheel. While that kind of text input was OK when you were entering your initials in the leaderboard on Missle Command at the arcade, it is a tough way to enter long artist names.
With the Sonos Conroller iPhone app, you get the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. I know the iPhone keyboard has its detractors, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it. And, even at its worst, it’s better than the wheel.
The Now Playing screen looks just like… a Now Playing screen. I think they’ve been using iTunes, though, because it has sprouted a reflection, which none of the other Sonos software exhibits.
This wasn’t immediately obvious, but the little three-line icon above the mute icon is the queue. Editing the queue unfortunately inherited iPhone mail’s first-gen handicap of only letting you delete one item at a time.
This is a very strong application. And, since it’s free, anyone with a Sonos system should run out and get it. Now.