Former Apple designer to launch rival to HomePod and Sonos

One of Apple’s best-known former designers is raising funds to launch a “revolutionary” new home audio system to rival Sonos and the iPhone maker’s HomePod later this year, according to several people familiar with the plans.

Having spent more than 20 years working closely with Jony Ive in Apple’s design team, Christopher Stringer left Silicon Valley in 2017 to start his new venture, Syng, in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Mr Stringer, who was born in Australia but grew up and studied in England, is named on more than 1,400 US patents, including for designs related to the iPhone, Apple Watch and HomePod.

With his involvement, Syng is likely to be the highest-profile hardware start-up to be launched by former Apple staffers since Nest. The smart home pioneer, which makes internet-connected thermostats, cameras and smoke alarms, was founded by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers in 2010 and was acquired by Google for $3.2bn in 2014. Mr Rogers, who was one of the first engineers on the original iPhone, now serves on Syng’s board, according to his LinkedIn profile.

However, while Nest helped to invent a new category of consumer electronics, Syng will be entering a much more crowded market. The home-audio sector has been saturated in recent years by low-cost “smart speakers” such as Amazon’s Echo, making life more difficult for higher-end products such as Sonos.

Syng, which bills itself as “the future of sound company”, is betting that superior design and sound quality, using a novel audio format, will allow it to stand out. In its pitch to potential investors, it claims that its planned range of speakers, which will be branded as “Cell”, use “immersive rendering” to create a “revolutionary” sound that is “indistinguishable from reality”.

The first Cell speaker is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2020, Syng has told prospective investors, with several follow-up devices planned over the coming years. Syng also hopes to generate revenues by licensing its audio technology to other hardware makers and through a subscription service.

The company has already raised about $15m in a Series A financing, regulatory filings show, and it is currently looking to raise several million dollars more as it gears up for its first product launch, according to people familiar with the discussions. It is unclear how the coronavirus pandemic might affect its funding requirements or its ability to keep to its launch schedule, given recent supply chain disruptions.

Syng did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The company’s branding, product plans, funding and other details have not previously been reported.

As a new venture launching into an uncertain economic climate, Syng’s pitch to investors centres on the experience of its three founders at their previous companies.

Mr Stringer’s co-founders are Damon Way, best known for launching skateboarding brand DC Shoes and tech accessories maker Incase, and Afrooz Family, who previously spent six years as an audio engineer at Apple. Mr Family worked on products including Apple’s HomePod smart speaker, which was released in 2018.

According to a search of LinkedIn profiles, Syng has hired several former Apple designers and engineers, as well as veterans of Nest, Ring, Nike and Facebook and audio companies including Harman International and Bowers & Wilkins. Dozens of people now work at Syng, which, at least before the pandemic hit, had been based a short walk from Venice Beach.

While Mr Stringer is well-known, his co-founder Mr Family is said to be Syng’s secret weapon. Mr Family wrote software for studying the smallpox virus while in high school, before going on to study audio technology at both Berkeley and Stanford. He joined Apple in 2012 and is named on several patents, including HomePod’s “spatial audio” system, which adjusts its sound depending on its placement in a room.

Mr Stringer left Apple at a time when its design chief, Sir Jonathan, had stepped back from day-to-day managerial duties. Since then, several more designers have left Apple, including Sir Jonathan himself, who is launching a new creative venture called LoveFrom.

Additional reporting by Miles Kruppa