What happened to HomePod at yesterday’s iPhone X event?


New HomePod
HomePod is already being tested in some homes.
Photo: Themrlinc/Instagram CC

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker was nowhere to be found at Apple’s iPhone X event yesterday. While Apple lavished its attention on Apple TV 4K, the new Apple Watch, and, of course, its next-gen iPhones, the smart speaker it unveiled at WWDC didn’t even get a mention.

For anyone excited about Apple’s rival to Google Home and Amazon Echo, that’s either a very good thing or a very bad thing. Here’s why:

How HomePod measures up

Apple showed off its HomePod smart speaker for the for the first time in June. It was an intriguing — and exciting — move on Apple’s part. Where the Echo and Google Home focus on being AI assistants first and speakers second, Apple flipped that equation.

Siri is clearly technology that Apple’s excited about, having first debuted it for the iPhone in 2011, before rolling it out to iPad, Mac, and Apple TV in the years since. But while Apple’s work with machine learning has made Siri better than it was, Siri isn’t the main selling point of HomePod. In Apple’s WWDC demo, its most discussed features related to its impressive sound capabilities, which use smart spatial awareness technology to tailor playback to suit whichever room it is in. This was, first and foremost, a speaker for playing music.

That’s not to say that it’s not packing some impressive computing abilities, however. HomePod will boast 1GB of RAM and an A8 processor, making it the equivalent of an iPhone 6. It’s powered by a full version of iOS, too, which means that it will work seamlessly with your existing devices.

How much will it sell?

For my money (which is exactly what I’ll be spending on HomePod), the smart speaker product category is the most exciting new category happening in tech right now. I own both a Google Home and an Amazon Echo and, while each one can perform certain tasks better than the other, both are excellent in their own right. They pass the critical test for any totally new gadget: solving a problem you didn’t know you had, but which you’ll never be able to leave unsolved again.

Despite that, they’re not yet enormous sellers. According to estimates, the Amazon Echo will ship 10 million units during 2017, around the number of iPads that Apple sells each quarter. (By comparison, a new iPhone routinely sells 10 million+ units in its opening weekend.)

Amazon is currently the undisputed leader in the smart speaker marketplace. Its closest rival is the Google Home, which sells less than a third what Amazon manages. With a $349 price point that is greatly in excess of either Amazon or Google’s smart speaker, Apple will likely start below Google in this area.

That means that Apple could be selling 3 million HomePods in its first year — fewer than the number of Apple Watches it sells in one quarter. Apple’s high price point likely indicates that it will enjoy greater profits than Google, but we’re still talking about a business that is going to be tiny for the Cupertino company.

Apple’s next “hobby”

Unless Apple puts in the work, that is. In the same way that the iPod made MP3 players mainstream, the HomePod could prove to be a lucrative business for Apple to enter. But it’s going to take time and effort — especially since established speaker makers are starting to come out with their own products, running Google Assistant.

That’s where the question about the missing HomePod at yesterday’s Apple keynote comes into play. If Apple launches the HomePod in December with a simple press release, then its absence at yesterday’s event suggests that Apple views it as a “hobby” — much as it described the first few generations of Apple TV. Apple may now be taking the Apple TV more seriously, but its status as a “nice to have” accessory rather than a “must have” product means that it’s never challenged some of its other rivals in the marketplace.

If, on the other hand, Apple stages another event this year to launch the HomePod in style, perhaps giving us an update on the associated HomeKit in the process, it means that Apple is treating this product as a future market leader.

Can HomePod be a hit for Apple?

While I’ve still got my reservations about HomePod (Siri’s quality and the all-mesh design to name two), I still want to see Apple succeed in this space. How HomePod is treated for the rest of 2017 will tell us a lot about where Apple sees its smart speaker going in the future.

Are you excited about HomePod? Do you think it can compete with its Google and Amazon rivals? Leave your comments below.