Apple’s Unusual Situation with its Struggling HomePod

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

Apple, as it always does, created a unique vision for the HomePod. The device is cool, but the product concept may have been off the mark. Now, Apple will adjust.

Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo

They look the same, but are very different in concept.

The Particle Debris article of the week is from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. He explains how It appears that Apple may not have sold as many HomePods as hoped.

Of course, no company ever sells a product in the quantity it desires, but the real questions are: how were the predictions generated and why hasn’t the product met expectations?

I can sympathize with those at Apple tasked with sales projections. People who do that want to be seen as insightful, enthusiastic proponents of the corporation’s product. Low estimates are met with scorn while higher estimates are met with nodding approval. But no matter the predictions, its up to the sales force to meet them—or take heat.

Vision

By all accounts, Apple was caught off guard by the Amazon Echo. The scope of the effort, in time and resources, was underestimated. It may have been that, as the concept for the HomePod evolved, its design was dictated by privacy policies and the state-of-the-art with Siri. In any case, when the first Echo shipped, it clearly had a different kind of vision than Apple’s. The Echo’s design makes perfect sense; Amazon needs to understand and enable its customers who frequently shop for its wealth of products. Apple was thinking different.

I think Apple surmised that it was ill-positioned to compete with its HomePod, already in progress, and elected not to. It would be easy to surmise that customers would love a great music product, and that created a convenient rationalization that head-to-head competition would be unnecessary. Time will tell if that was a bad assumption.

Electing Not to Compete

Most tech giants, seeing the enormous success of the Amazon Echo family and the Google Home family would mildly panic. Plans would be put formulated to aggressively jump into the fray. Apple, in fact, doesn’t mind doing that. The company sized up the MP3 player market and produced the iPod. It sized up the smartwatch market and produced the Apple Watch. Both these products, thanks to their superior design and integration with Apple’s existing family of products, went on to dominate. Perhaps that’s the plan for the HomePod.

[Here’s How I Finally Accepted HomeKit is a Raging S*#t Storm ]

Apple has a history of tweaking a product’s initial, sound design until its virtues become more broadly appreciated. There are rumors that Apple will introduce a lower cost HomePod as part of that strategy. Apple competes in its own way and its own time.

HomePod’s Future

In the final analysis, however, Apple produced what seemed to be an expensive, me-too product with serious shortfalls. Many consumers were mystified by its design and annoyed to discover unexpected limitations. The HomePod declined to compete directly with popular smart speakers because it could not. And did not plan to do so.

Now, Apple is about the business of deciding how to make the HomePod’s virtues more widely recognized, seriously change its design, lower the cost, expand the family, or rethink the product completely. Apple has time to produce a better smart speaker, a low-cost sibling to the HomePod, that could outclass the competition. If the company elects not to do that, the plight of the HomePod itself, however resuscitated and reimagined, will be interesting to watch.

Next Page: The News Debris for the week of April 9th. Are autonomous cars doomed by pollyanna expectations?

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euchanels

Ok, something many tech writers have failed to notice in the past: Many of Apple’s most popular products ever had slow sales initially -like the iPhone🙌🏻. This is probably due to Apple’s strong and popular ecosystem, which boils down to the fact that basically, mom, dad, brother and sister all have iPhone’s, iPad’s, AppleWatch’s, maybe a family iMac, MacBooks etc etc. Calculating that would easily account to way above $20 000 per family every 4 years or so… With that said, many consumers as wealthy/snobbish as they may seem, don’t necessarily have cash on hand just to walk into an… Read more »

Ned
Member
Ned

Recently playing an online game and a commentor was complaining about “everyone camping out” as the team was losing. When we came out of hiding, turned the tide and won the match, I explained: “Sometimes camping out can be a strategy.” – holding forces in reserve. I don’t think this has been Apple’s strategy. Half baked projects and knee jerk reactions. Focus on better sound than the competition but ignore the “smart” home with a consistently dumb assistant. And push the limit on pricing, see what the market will bear. Thinner, lighter, a new color, a notch, more speakers; for… Read more »

d'monder
Member
d'monder

John, ironic you would have an early iMac commercial, because vehicles that age are still on the road. 🙂 The tech industry will need to come to grips with a product that has a much longer service life than, say, a smart phone. When did the Mac G3 last have an OS security update? What happens when a 10+ year old self driving car needs a safety-critical software update? “Time to upgrade, you got your use out of it” is the wrong answer, and isn’t going to fly with government regulators. Hopefully in a decade the serious bugs will be… Read more »

wab95
Member
wab95

@francini@mac:

I think we’re in agreement.

As I argued above, an ideal system is one in which the individual chooses the route, the car AI executes that choice but the central AI manages traffic flow, not unlike air traffic control manages air traffic. The individual should be free to opt for any change they wish, such as changing the route or stopping for a coffee – just like we do today with no restrictions. Central AI controls the traffic. Auto AI the automobile and the driver decides when and where to go.

jhorvatic
Member
jhorvatic

I think a few more software updates can make the HomePod pretty awesome. It definitely has the best sound of any of the speakers out there. More Siri support, Airplay 2 needs to be done already and also third party support for Pandora and they will easily have a hit on there hands.

wab95
Member
wab95

John: I think one of the important services, albeit with a delayed tangible benefit to the readership, is your continued focus on the self-driving cars, in addition to robotics and AI. But, since you brought up self driving cars, let’s talk about this. To begin with, let me concede that the Wired article does indeed ask important questions. Where I diverge is that I think these are not merely the wrong questions, but that they reflect a conceptual shortfall and failure of imagination that is not confined to Wired, but to a great many commenters and analysts. I’ll be the… Read more »

francini@mac.com
Member
francini@mac.com

Central AI has no control or say in any destination or route choice, or changes along the way of the human, but the human has no potentially detrimental input on vehicular performance on the public road. If the human decides to change the route, return home, take a break or whatever, they input this to the auto’s AI, who then coordinates with the central AI to make it so. Safely and securely. The human should have control only in the event of emergency or the unexpected, or on smaller service or private roads and private property, unless they prefer to… Read more »

2old4fun
Member
2old4fun

As a happy owner of 3 HomePods, I am a bit at odds with your article. I have two HomePods in my living room that are the sound output for an AppleTV. Yes, I am running the beta software for this to work. When I first got my first HP it needed to be almost at max volume for my 77 year old ears to enjoy the sound in a room that is 18’ x 24’ with a 15’ vaulted ceiling. The third unit is in the bedroom (recent birthday present for my wife) where she can listen to music… Read more »

wab95
Member
wab95

John:

I think you need to fix a link in your PD. The link to your Gabriel Weinberg article took me here https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-telegram-block/russia-to-ban-telegram-messenger-over-encryption-dispute-idUSKBN1HK10B when I think that it meant to take me here https://www.fastcompany.com/40558150/four-questions-for-facebook-that-we-still-need-answers-to.

I’ll return later to comment. Nice reads.

geoduck
Member
geoduck

Very good points about autonomous cars. I keep thinking of the early days of aviation, when, yes even commercial planes often had trouble and killed people. But the public was able to see the future and put up with the risk. Remember Glenn Miller, Will Rogers, and Carole Lombard were all killed in plane crashes but people didn’t panic and stop flying. However I wonder if people’s expectations are too high for autonomous vehicles, pollyannaish as you said. They expect perfection even as the systems are developed. Today perfection is the only standard. Police must always get the bad guy… Read more »