HomePod is finally launching in China this week

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The HomePod -- a beautiful body with the brain of an idiot.
HomePod launched in the U.S. a year ago.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The HomePod smart speaker is finally launching in China, Apple’s second-most important market. Having previously been teased on Apple’s China website for early 2019, the company revealed over the weekend that HomePod will go on sale on Friday, January 18.

It launched in the U.S. back in February 2018, and has since expanded to the U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, and Spain.

“HomePod is the perfect wireless speaker for music lovers,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a statement. “It delivers an unmatched music listening experience with high-fidelity sound wherever it is placed and creates a new way to discover and interact with music using Siri. “We’re excited to bring HomePod to our customers in mainland China and Hong Kong markets. We can’t wait for them to experience how great it sounds in their home, we think they are going to love it.”

The Apple-branded smart speaker will retail for RMB 2,799, roughly the equivalent of the $350 it sells for in the United States. Apple is advertising that its accompanying “New Artist of the Week” program will expose listeners to new Chinese artists. In other localization news, it will feature China specific playlists.

“Popular playlists include The A-List International Pop, Today’s Hits, Best of the Week, The A-List Mandopop and Mandopop Replay, containing recent Mandopop hits from the past five years,” Apple’s press release notes.

Apple’s challenges in China

HomePod arrives in China at a time when Apple is struggling in the region. Falling sales of its products in greater China is one reason why Apple had to recently revise its earnings guidance for Q4, for the first time since 2002.

It will be intriguing to see if Apple can help turn things around with HomePod. While it’s not exactly a huge seller for Apple in the U.S., smart speakers are very fast growing in popularity in the Chinese market. Last year, the number of customers using smart speakers in China reportedly increased from 2017’s 3.5 million to 34.2 million. Among urban customers in China, smart speakers have a higher penetration than anywhere else in the world.

Interestingly, most of these are very different to the smart speakers popular in the States, meaning that Apple would have a different group of rivals to compete with. The Amazon Echo is not available in China, and Apple will instead be facing off against the likes of Alibaba’s Tmall Genie.

One problem that Apple potentially faces? That the average selling price of smart speakers in China is even lower than in the U.S., where Apple’s HomePod still stands out as expensive. In other words, there’s a good chance Apple could price itself out of the market with HomePod.