It’s not hard to figure out that Apple’s HomePod hasn’t been as successful as the Amazon Echo. But figuring out the exact cause is harder. It’s not the price.
Previously, non-critical analysis has pointed to the price of the HomePod as one cause of its lukewarm reception. Or else that Siri is lagging behind Alexa in its sophistication.
But this analysis I found by the astute Ben Thompson at Stratechery is compelling.
Basically the design was compromised. Not the sound. The sound is superb. Rather, the system design as a whole was compromised because Apple has no interest in leveraging from the data it collects about your interactions. Philip Elmer-DeWitt quotes from Thompson’s article that’s behind a paywall.
User information [of the type Google collects] isn’t important to Apple’s business model, so they “choose not to retain it.” It’s less important to praise this reality — or denigrate it — than it is to acknowledge it. In the meantime, though, Apple will happily score rhetorical points in the court of public opinion for a decision that wasn’t difficult at all.
This decision must have happened early in the HomePod design process. Realizing that it could not allow its competing device to go toe-to-toe with Amazon’s Echo, (or Google Home) in harvesting user data, Apple chose to emphasize the acoustic side of the equation. That, in turn dictated the selling price. But it gets worse.
Instead of HomePod monetizing itself, Apple is, according to Thompson “focusing on directly monetizable services like the soon-to-be-announced Apple Video [streaming service].”
In summary, if it’s a great sound system to be desired, plenty of those kinds of products are available in the marketplace. And if one wants to embrace Amazon/Echo, that system works great because it’s a money maker for Amazon, and it’s enthusiastically refined and supported. And highly focused.
But the HomePod is caught in the middle, no man’s land. And there’s no way out because Apple’s stance on privacy isn’t going to change. With all this said, it’s not hard to guess that the HomePod is not a longterm, strategic product for Apple.