Apple Just Killed The HomePod. Here’s Why
The smart speaker business is the next technological frontier that companies like Amazon and Apple are racing to scale. Reports from Juniper Research suggest that over 8.4 billion voice assistant-powered devices will surround us by 2024. And the devices that will experience the highest rate of growth? Smart speakers. With one in every four households in America already having access to a smart speaker, they could soon outnumber tablets according to Canalys.
After four years since its global launch, Apple has discontinued its original HomePod speaker. Packed to the gills with features, it had potential. With seven years of Apple engineering behind it, the HomePod nailed what it set out to do. Like the Apple Watch before it, it could have shaped the trajectory of the industry as a whole. But in a market that plays primarily on price, $349 sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
In a statement issued to TechCrunch, Apple admitted to the success of the HomePod’s cheaper sibling that was a steal in comparison. While the $99 HomePod mini didn’t pack as much of a punch, it nailed the basics. It fared well against its featherweight competitors in the sound department while throwing in smart home control and the all-knowing Siri into the fold. The move highlights the disconnect that Apple had with smart speaker customers. While offering unique features at a higher price point has served Apple well in the past, the move didn’t pan out in the hotly contested smart speaker industry. And in a market that could cross $30 billion in value in the next three years, mistakes are costly.
Here’s the statement that TechCrunch received from Apple:
HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.
Apple paid the price
While the $99 HomePod mini doesn’t beat the competition in price, the price gap between it and its rivals isn’t as pronounced as its bigger brother. Amazon’s Echo lineup starts at an alluring $50, half the cost of Apple’s little hitter. But the price delta of $50 is more than justified with the features on offer. The HomePod mini offers a full-range driver and two force-canceling passive radiators to deliver high frequencies without compromising on bass. Its three-mic array does a good job with Siri commands too. No longer were you paying hundreds more for a premium speaker because of the dreaded “Apple tax.”
And while the original HomePod doubled down on sound quality in ways few speakers have, there was a chasm between its pricing and that of its rivals. Its voice recognition was lauded by critics who placed it on a pedestal for its ability to hear commands from afar. The HomePod’s speaker quality was tuned to perfection in a dozen anechoic chambers in America built for that very purpose. They served as testbeds for the sophisticated tweeters and woofer combination that would soon become the beating hearts of the HomePod.
TechCrunch also notes that there were smaller chambers used to isolate the noise made from electronic components. Apple’s attention to detail has always been second to none. The cloth cover was developed in a manner that didn’t get in the way of audio quality. The HomePod could even detect the layout of the room (walls, vases, and all) and adjust its sound accordingly. It’s the textbook definition of “leave no stone unturned.”
Apple learned things the hard way. At $349, the HomePod had competitors that promised adequate sound quality while being hundreds of dollars cheaper. And in the smart speaker business, “good enough” was all that consumers wanted. The HomePod mini was born from that realization and its strong sales point towards Apple’s successful pivot. The full-sized HomePod was by no means a failure.
The design efforts that went into the HomePod will certainly live on. It might have helped bolster the HomePod mini’s audio and that of the speakers that reside in Apple’s stable of products. While Apple nailed two consecutive niches with its AirPods and Apple Watch, the smart speaker industry taught Apple a valuable lesson. And with the Homepod mini taking center stage, there’s no telling where the Cupertino trillion-dollar company is heading next.