A Great Explanation of Apple’s HomePod Semi-failure

Apple HomePod

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.

Apple HomePod
Apple’s HomePod smart speaker.

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.

8 thoughts on “A Great Explanation of Apple’s HomePod Semi-failure

  • Add router capabilities back, as in HomePod is the new, and improved Airport Base Station but with more and sales would increase. I’d buy one if that were the case. I still wouldn’t use Siri but would love a different take on the failed Time Capsule concept.

  • I would seriously consider buying a HomePod if Siri worked decently well. At the moment, she sücks. She can set a timer accurately, and that’s about it. My granddaughter enjoys asking her how much zero divided by zero is, but that’s gotten old.

    My first iPhone was a 4s. By coincidence, that’s when Siri was introduced. I think she was in beta mode or something back then, but IMO she hasn’t improved much in the many years since. I believe a big problem is Apple’s voice to text algorithm. Something’s very wrong when what I speak appears on my screen, but a moment later changes to something I didn’t say. How does that make any sense? I presume Siri also responds to what it was I didn’t say. Add to this the total lack of any sort of intelligence, artificial or otherwise, and for me she’s a flop.

    I rarely use Siri at all because it’s just so frustrating. Here’s an example: Last week I asked Siri for directions to Costco in Frisco. At that moment, I was in my car driving north toward Frisco, about five miles away, How did Siri respond? She asked me to pick from several Costco stores, near San Francisco, hundreds of miles away..

    For a company worth billions and billions, Apple seems to me like they have their collective heads where the sun never shines.

  • Remember High Quality Audio and Home Theatre? It’s very difficult to get all the components to work together. Video from the internet? Also difficult. One day, I believe, perhaps soon, Apple hopes to become successful at providing video from the internet. If Apple succeeds, then being able to supply and simplify the High Quality Audio and Home Theatre experience will increase their value.

  • I don’t understand the “it’s too expensive” criticism: what would you expect to pay for a wireless speaker with such exceptional sound (never mind the incredibly small size)?!

    For many years I’ve had a B&O system with large, extremely expensive, speakers — don’t recall what I paid but it was (several) multiples of what one HomePod costs.

    Now a pair of HomePods produces nearly the same quality (and volume) of sound that my B&O system does, at a small fraction of the cost.

    And, thanks to AirPlay and Airport Express, I can play both systems at once if I really want to impress anyone.

    Too expensive? I think not.

  • I’m watching a movie on the AppleTV with audio pumped out to a stereo pair of HomePods and I’m very happy with them. Of the people in my circle of friends I only know of one with an Echo. He uses it all the time and is happy with it. Mostly music, podcasts and news. But for music it’s just not that good. I happily bought a single HomePod and enjoyed it for half a year before buying a second. They sound great and I use Siri for weather, news and controlling HomeKit stuff everyday. It’s true I can do that with my iPad or iPhone but what I can’t do is get the kind of fantastic audio I’m getting right now watching a movie. Same for music.

    For me it comes down to great audio in a Siri powered speaker that can easily hear me when spoken to in a normal conversational volume level.

  • It’s very simple. Any one wants to use to be able to use the Alexa service has to get an Amazon Echo. Those that want to use Hey Google can use an Android phone or get a very cheap Google cylinder. Those who want to access Siri are already used to doing so on their iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and/or Mac. For most of us, the HomePod is mostly just a pricey speaker that we don’t need because we already have speakers available on our iPhone, iPad, Mac, home entertainment system, etc. Would I like a HomePod as a neat toy? Sure, but I there is no way I can justify the cost when I could just raise my wrist to give Siri commands.

  • So, It sounds like to me that HomePod is another vanity project. Like the AppleTV, like Project Titan, like the TouchBar* Something Apple will throw money into but won’t get much out of because while one or other department head thinks “wouldn’t it be great if we made a…” or “that other company is making a… so we need to as well.” nobody else does. In reality Apple’s heart isn’t really in these products, and eventually, after they’ve lost enough money, they will go away. I’m hoping TC and the board use the recent bit of rough financials to take a hard look at these projects and axes the ones that won’t even become a profit center.

    *AppleTV, perpetually a hobby project. Roku and others have cheaper and much more compelling devices. Now that it looks like you won’t need an AppleTV box to get AppleTelevision programs, the handwriting should be on the wall.
    Project Titan is a Jonny come lately. While Google, GM, Weibao, and others are closing in on systems that are capable of driving themselves at least on closed courses or highways, Apple’s project is still spinning its wheels. Far far too late to the game.
    TouchBar was an odd kludge that few have adopted. No other Apple products have included it (I.e. no desktop keyboards from Apple or anyone else has one). Because of this, developers have shrugged at it but for the most part not written it into their code.

    1. I disagree on the Apple TV. I love my Apple TV 4K. It’s an integral part of my life. Last I checked, the top end Roku doesn’t support Dolby Vision!

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