Apple Unveils “HomePod” Speaker, Long After Amazon, Google

Once again, it took Apple just a few years to catch up to Amazon and Google.

As was widely leaked in advance, during its annual developed conference in San Jose, Apple entered the field of voice-controlled, “internet of things” speakers for the home, when it unveiled a connected home speaker dubbed the HomePod, which however won’t be available until the end of the year. The speaker is Apple’s first major new hardware product since the Apple Watch’s release in 2015 – which has been classified by many as a dud – and comes at a time for the company when the tech giant is seeking new revenue streams after becoming heavily reliant on the success of the iPhone.

The HomePod will cost $349, or nearly double what Amazon’s charges for its widely popular, $180 Amazon Echo, which was originally released over a year ago.  It will come in white and “space gray.” Some more details on the speaker’s introduction from Bloomberg:

The product was introduced on stage by Apple executive Phil Schiller, who said it works closely with the company’s Music app and will come later this year. The Siri digital assistant has been updated to understand more spoken requests focused on music, he also explained. The device has already entered production, Bloomberg reported last month. It has been tested by some Apple employees in their homes for upwards of a year, according to people familiar with the matter.

As Axios reminds us, it’s not Apple’s first attempt at a home speaker: previously Apple had the ill-fated Apple Hi-Fi, a $549 iPod speaker that was a pet project of Steve Jobs.

Does Apple’s much-belated product have any hope of success? According to Bloomberg, the market for internet-connected speakers and other smart home technology may be big enough to help Apple diversify, although it will face a huge challenge in the face of Amazon which controls 88% of the market:

Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged nearly 600 percent year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about 88 percent share and Google 10 percent, according to consultant Strategy Analytics. Spending on smart home related hardware, services and installation fees will reach $155 billion by 2022, up from almost $90 billion this year, with devices accounting for about half of that, the consulting firm also estimates.

CEO Tim Cook has stressed the importance of Apple’s services business, predicting it will double in size by 2021. The new speaker establishes a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into these services. It also combats the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: Those don’t support Apple services like Apple Music, which brings in $10 in revenue per user each month. That said, consumers seeking smart home devices may opt both for competing – and far cheaper – hardware and services like Amazon Prime and Google Play Music.

“We want to reinvent home music,” said Tim Cook. Senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller dissed the competition, saying that others have good speakers, but no assistant, and those with a good assistant aren’t great speakers. “None of them have quite nailed it yet,” Schiller said.

It remains to be seen if the legions of Apple faithful will scramble to buy, or if this will be Tim Cook’s latest “Apple Watch” dud.

During this week’s conference, Apple also discussed software upgrades for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch and debuted new iPad and Mac computer models. However, all Wall Street cares about is the company’s bread and butter, namely the iPhone 8 and whether it will result in a new cadence of record sales. According to Pacific Crest, which earlier downgraded Apple, the answer is no.

Below are the tech specs of the new hardward, courtesy of Bloomberg and Axios:

  • Powered by the same Apple A8 processor that is used in some iPhones. “It’s perhaps the biggest brain ever in a speaker,” Schiller said.
  • Siri is integrated into HomePod.
  • “HomePod can do things like read the news, play music, set up alarms and reminders, check the weather.”
  • HomePod can connect to Apple’s HomeKit and control smart home devices.
  • Will begin shipping in December in the U.S. and the U.K.