Apple HomePod: Could it replicate the success of the iPod?
"Consider Apple's release of a new music-oriented device priced higher than its perceived competitors--which have already established an enthusiastic audience base over the past few years. How can it possibly survive in such a difficult position? The answer was: by being better in key ways that matter to users. iPod went on to become a legendary franchise in personal audio. Now Apple is doing the same thing again in home audio with HomePod."
Writing for Apple Insider, Daniel Eran Dilger makes the case for Apple's possibly-better-late-than-never HomePod speaker system. It may be late to the party, but could it transform the market place as did the iPod in 2001.
It's a good argument. By concentrating on music, the HomePod could well repeat the success of the iPod — a device which we need reminding was the very basis of modern-day Apple. In 2001 Apple was the small print at the bottom of the annual world computer report.
The launch of the Jonny Ive-designed iMac in 1998 had certainly staved off disaster and formed a good foundation for a stable but niche computer manufacturer. The iPod changed all that. It was the iPad that begat the iPhone, the iPhone that begat the iPad. They transformed Apple from a small company into the world's largest tech power house.
But the iPod, just like the HomePod, was late to the market. Mobile music had been around for over 20 years since the launch of the iconic blue and silver Sony Walkman in 1979. This was followed by the MiniDisk player and, later, by a raft of solid-state music players. But feeding these new streaming players needed commitment. Tracks had to be downloaded despite the active opposition of the music industry. It was by no means convenient and was of limited appeal to the general consumer. The iPod changed all that. It was good looking and easy to use. But, above all, Apple set about providing the supporting ecosystem which made it easy for users to stock up with music without worries about licensing or breaking the law. Steve Jobs' success was in persuading the major music labels to agree to on-line distribution through the Apple music store.
At launch the iPod was written off by the professionals as too expensive at a time when you could pick up a solid-state music player with larger capacity for a third of the cost. In the same way, some pundits are writing off the HomePod for the identical reason —£319 here in the UK seems a lot of a smart speaker and the Echo Dot is a sixth of its price and answers all the fancy commands.
Yet to a certain degree I agree with Dilger. The HomePod offers excellent reproduction and has all the credentials to become the iPod of the home. It brings the same voice activation and control that Amazon and Google offer with their smart speakers but, crucially, it offers integration with the Apple ecosystem which is supported by the wealthiest consumers in the world.
I have enjoyed playing with the Amazon Echo and Dot over the past year. Everyone loves talking to Alexa. But the sound from the Echo is nowhere near as good as that we can expect from the HomePod. Admittedly, you can hook up a pro sound system to any of these smart speakers, but it isn't the same as having an all-in-one high-fidelity component.
The lack of integration with Apple has also been a disappointing aspect of life with Alexa. Ask her to set up a reminder task and it has to go to the Alexa app or a third-party to-do list. With HomePod and Siri my to-do reminder can go straight to Apple Reminders and then seamlessly into Things 3, my chosen task manager. And I can access my Apple music. Apple has 30 million music subscribers, providing a ready market for the HomePod. While this total falls well behind, say, Spotify with its 60m subscribers, I prefer Apple music for its seamless integration with my iPhone, iPad and iMac — not to mention my new HomePod when it arrives. Apple customers tend to prefer to stay with Apple and that's why my money is on the HomePod.
Whether or not Dilger is correct in predicting that the HomePod will transform the home speaker market in the way that the iPod changed portable music forever, I am sure that it will succeed as a product. It's late, it's relatively expensive, but that won't stop it selling like hot cakes.
Macworld on the HomePod