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Google changes speaker group controls following Sonos patent fight

If you've got multiple Google smart speakers set up, you'll now have to adjust volume one by one.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Google is changing the way its smart speakers are set up and controlled following a US International Trade Commission ban issued on Thursday. The ban comes after a judge ruled last year that Google infringed on five patents owned by speaker-maker Sonos. 

Google outlined the changes in a community blog post on Thursday, saying people that use "the Speaker Group feature to control the volume in the Google Home app, by voice with the Google Assistant, or directly on your Nest Hub display" will be impacted. 

Going forward, to adjust volume of speaker groups, people will need to change each speaker individually instead of using the group volume controller. Device owners will also no longer be able to change speaker group volume using their phone's physical volume button. Attempting to change group volume by voice results in a "Sorry, I can't change the volume on this device" message from Google Assistant.

Google also said some people will need to the Device Utility app, or DUA, to complete installation and updates. People may see a prompt to download and run the DUA, Google said. If speaker groups include other brands that use Cast firmware, such as JBL or Lenovo, they may need an update to be on Cast firmware version 1.52.272222 or higher, Google said.

The changes are being made to current Google products in order to avoid infringing on the Sonos patents. After the ITC ruling on Thursday, Google said it disagreed with the decision but appreciated that the commission approved its modified designs.

Group speaker use is a nice way to create a full-home audio experience, and asking Google Assistant something like, "play music on the downstairs speakers" still works. However, not being able to ask for a volume adjustment with voice commands and having to individually adjust each speaker even when they are grouped is a big pain. 

In the community post, Google said it will work to minimize additional changes. For now, it appears that all speakers from Nest or otherwise are affected if they are in a group pairing. There also doesn't seem to be any plan to mitigate this or return to previous functionality. 

"While we disagree with today's decision, we appreciate that the International Trade Commission has approved our modified designs and we do not expect any impact to our ability to import or sell our products," a Google representative said in a statement. "We will seek further review and continue to defend ourselves against Sonos' frivolous claims about our partnership and intellectual property."