Bloomberg reveal the torrid and dithering development of Apple’s latest delayed audio device:
Apple Inc. audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon.com Inc. with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.
Gurman’s sources once again have a unique insight into Apple’s design and development processes. It seems Apple has known for sometime that the HomePod won’t be as good an assistant as the Amazon Echo, pushing them to develop a great speaker rather than a great virtual assistant. Bloomberg also report that the project was cancelled multiple times, showing Apple’s lack of confidence in their own product.
Apple are very good at making luxury and premium priced products enticing to the mainstream, but not with HomePod. Alexa is a household name (literally, too) and is a cheap and accessible entry point into the future. If the Echo was priced like a HomePod, it would never have reached the same level of success. Both Siri and Alexa are known for being haphazard and unreliable, but nobody ever pays much money for them; Siri comes with every iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch. To charge $349 is promising it will be better, to which there is no evidence it will be.
Apple were therefore right not to market the HomePod against the Echo, but rather as a great speaker. That way it will appear worth its price. Right? As it only supports Apple Music and, as Bloomberg highlight, is three years behind in terms of third party services, I’d say not.
I’m sure the HomePod is a great product, but it’s bizarrely placed in Apple’s ecosystem and misunderstands the industry. It’s trying to compete with Amazon, Sonos and Spotify, and I think initially it may struggle.