Ikea positions itself as a data-safe brand as it dives deeper into smart home tech

The speakers will be available for purchase on 1 August

Ikea has unveiled the first products from its long-anticipated collaboration with Sonos – a shelf and lamp featuring built-in speakers. But in the face of growing scepticism over companies’ infiltration of the home, the Swedish retailer is taking steps to position itself as a watertight brand when it comes to data protection.

The result of a three-year collaboration, the Symfonisk range has been designed to blend seamlessly into the environment of any home. Both speakers serve a dual purpose: the lamp is fully functioning, while the bookshelf unit can be tucked away between novels or attached to the wall and used as a shelf itself.

Users can play audio on the products via the Sonos app, as well as with an Ikea controller currently in development. However, unlike Sonos’ standalone hardware, they will not be able to directly control the speaker using an in-built voice assistant such as Alexa or Siri.

The decision was a deliberate one. In recent years, Ikea has quietly been taking steps to make sure it stays clear of any brand-harming data compliance issues experienced recently by the likes of Marriott and British Airways.

“It comes from how we want to treat our customers,” said Björn Block, the head of Ikea’s Home Smart division. “When we launched smart lighting [in 2017], we launched a gateway kit so you could control the whole home. We're not collecting any data whatsoever from that.

“One can ask if we're being really stupid by not getting any data. But for us, it was a strategy of saying, ‘we don't know how to handle the data and until we're super sure, we don't want to collect things that we can't use’. We had a cloud capability all set up but we're not going to [use it] until we know it really adds value and customers really want it.”

By not allowing microphones into people’s most private spaces (both lamp and shelf are designed for the bedroom), the company hopes consumers will view it as a brand sympathetic to modern anxieties over tech intrusion.

It’s a novel approach at a time when technologies from Facebook to FaceApp have built out weak security systems with the ability to exploit user data. Meanwhile, Google recently admitted its Home device was recording conversations and sending them to "language experts".

One aspect of the tech world Ikea has been inspired by, however, is the practice of a global launch: the Symfonisk range will be available to purchase in Europe at the same time as it will be in North America.

It’s a new approach for Ikea, which tends to stagger product launches across markets. Both global and local marketing campaigns will push sales online and in-store.

“If I could choose, I would love to take global approaches completely – also in Asia,” said Block. “I really look up to the tech industry in that regard. They are really succeeding with it. We're learning, and we're getting there, and that will be my goal – to have global launches and not favor one country at a time.”

Block stressed the collaboration with Sonos is a long-term, symbiotic one that will eventually see the design of smart home speakers for every room of the house.

Ikea was cognizant that although it had solved the problem of smart lighting on its own, it needed a partner in the audio space. Meanwhile, Sonos needed a fresh strategy to encourage the use of its speakers in spaces outside of the living room.

“There's often barriers to putting them in the kitchen or bedroom,” explained Sara Morris, senior product manager at Sonos. “Firstly, they're not inspired to put them in the room, and once they get there, there's no place to put it or there's no outlets. So, to have the experts come to us and ask how we fit sound into the home ... it’s been great.”

The first products from the Symfonisk range will be priced at $99 and $179 respectively – cheaper than Sonos’ own brand products. Morris, however, said the company is “not worrying about cannabilization”.

“We're actually seeing it as a starting point for new customers that haven't had exposure to [Sonos] before,” said Block. “We're not stealing new customers; we're adding new customers.”

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