Earlier this week Apple announced that their smart home speaker, the Homepod, will go on sale in stores beginning on February 9th. Pre-orders begin this week.
The story of the Homepod has been a strange one given Apple’s history. Recall that Apple created both the modern consumer digital music market in 2003 with iTunes and then, eight years later they launched the voice assistant game with their 2011 introduction of Siri. Given these milestones and a history of building some of the best hardware in modern consumer technology. It’s a shame they’re so late to this voice speaker game.
Not only is Homepod months late from the date mentioned during WWDC 2017, but it’s absence from the market allowed Google to penetrate the space with incredible discounts and surprisingly fun products during the 2017 holiday season and throughout CES 2018. With competition like that, it’s hard to see Apple’s path to wide adoption. Especially since their only unit is debuting at a sky-high cost of $350, when the Alexa integrated Sonos One speaker comes in at $200.
There’s also the fact that the Homepod isn’t shipping with multi-room audio – something that competitors like Sonos and Amazon Echo have figured out. It’s also functionality that Apple’s AirPort Express has allowed users to make use of for years. Yet at Homepod product launch, multi-room audio is coming “later.” This is confusing the say the least. Given the tardiness of the launch, why not settle the software issue and then launch the device? Perhaps Apple’s shareholders exerted great pressure to deliver a competitor. Or perhaps the point is to downplay features like multi-room audio in lieu of great single-room music output. We may never know.
For fans of Apple, and of smart speakers in general, this launch lacks the fanfare we expect out of Apple HQ in Cupertino. While the hardware may be impressive, the launch itself remains disappointing, to say the least.