It has been a long time since Apple introduced a new product that has me standing on the sidelines, waiting until after the dust settles. That’s Apple’s soon-to-launch HomePod; the competitor to Google Home and Amazon Echo.
Yes, this $350 wall of sound may be the best sound money can by for a talking device, but it should be clear Apple has some catching up to do, and more than a few critics are calling the HomePod crippled before it reaches the Apple Store.
Crippled? Ben Lovejoy:
Those waiting eagerly for Apple’s HomePod smart speaker have now twice been disappointed. First, when Apple delayed the release from December until February
Coming this year in a free software update, users will be able to play music throughout the house with multi-room audio.
So, HomePod won’t do what Apple last year said it would do. How much is Apple CEO getting paid to deliver later than planned but missing key features?
Last year Tim Cook banked more than $250,000. Per day. Every day. For all of the 365 days in 2017. And for all that money customers get a line of aging Macs, iPads that haven’t been upgraded in years, backordered products, and a not-yet-released talking speaker system that might hit the market three years after Amazon’s first mover Echo.
HomePod will finally go on sale more than three years after Amazon launched the Echo smart speaker, which kickstarted the market and still dominates it, and more than a year behind Google Home. And there are plenty of other rivals, from Samsung to Sonos.
To be fair, the talking speaker is a nascent market. Amazon seems to be doing well but nobody has a handle on how big talking speakers are now, and Apple already has more than a billion talking speaker devices in the wild (iPhones and iPads with Siri inside), not to mention that Apple seldom is a first mover and tends to define technology gadget markets over time.
The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone by any means, but Apple brought the various elements together in a winning combination. Similarly, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet, while many companies had been trying to get smartwatches right before the Apple Watch appeared.
HomePod seems different. All it brings to the market is 1) a very high price tag relative to competitors, 2) better sound to match up with Apple Music, and, 3) Siri. That’s the problem. Siri may be the worst of the most popular artificial intelligence personal assistants. Amazon’s Alexa is pretty good at what it does but isn’t all that mobile. Google Assistant is excellent and very mobile. Microsoft’s Cortana is too desktop bound. Siri should be the industry leader but Apple’s executives let Siri lapse into a coma and the sleeping Apple hare has been passed by the tortoise which seems to have figured out how to run like a hare.
Amazon’s Echo Dot is a hot seller at $50. Google’s Home Mac is almost $400, so priced slightly above HomePod, but if you want that stereo-like sound you’ll pay.
Apple also makes much of how great two HomePods will sound in the same room, but at nearly $700 it may be a long time before most of us can afford to discover that for ourselves.
As Ranger points out, Apple has one angle not available on Amazon Echo or Google Home. Privacy and security. Apple doesn’t make money by listening to who is in the room. Alexa and Assistant are there to capture information about you; the former so it can sell you more products, and the latter to use you as the fodder it sells to advertisers.
That differentiation might be enough to make HomePod a hit but not at $350– unless HomePod sounds terrific and works better than Siri does now.
HomePod is a product that will leave me standing on the sidelines waiting for early adopters to signal thumbs up or thumbs down.