Before Apple launched its long-awaited HomePod smart speaker at its annual developers conference earlier this week, the expectation was that it would unveil a sophisticated Echo killer that would redefine the landscape that Amazon has dominated, with Google playing catch-up.
“Just like iPod reinvented music in our pockets, HomePod is going to reinvent music in our homes,” Apple SVP Phil Schiller told attendees at the Worldwide Developers Conference.
However, while the HomePod appears to be a well-designed, high end treat for loyal iTunes fans, Apple may have missed the mark in terms of creating a category leader that will become the center of the digital living room.
“Like any product Apple introduces, it will have unique features because Apple controls everything from the hardware design to the service,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
However, “consumers will likely pay a premium in one form or another,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “The real question is, can Apple step into this market with the HomePod and establish a dominant position like it did with the Apple Watch?”
As a smart speaker, the HomePod appears to be a technically sophisticated market entry. It features seven beam-forming tweeters, an upward facing woofer, and room-sensing technology that allows it to adjust its acoustics, depending on whether the device is at the center of a room or near a wall.
It is powered by Apple’s A8 chip, the same one that is used in the flagship iPhone.
The speaker is sufficiently compact, at just below 7 inches in height, to fit comfortably on a coffee table, bookshelf or entertainment center.
The HomePod is designed to work with the Apple Music library, which has access to 40 million tracks and already knows the preferences of millions of consumers that stream their music through Apple.
Using the Siri built-in digital assistant, the speaker can deliver news, weather and sports, set reminders, send messages, and perform other tasks.
Customers with Apple’s HomeKit can use the HomePod to control lights and thermostats, open garage doors and secure door locks.
Despite the wide capabilities of HomePod, Apple so far has not indicated that it will open the smart speaker ecosystem to third-party developers. Rather, the company seems intent on promoting the HomePod as a breakthrough audio device.
The market for smart speakers is fairly new. Almost 11 million U.S. consumers own an Alexa-powered digital assistant speaker from Amazon, including the Echo, the Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap, according to Michael Levin, a partner at Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
The brand has exploded since its 2014 launch, with consumer awareness increasing from about 20 percent in March of 2015 to about 86 percent by March 2017, according to CIRP.
Amazon sold a whopping 2.5 million units during the first quarter of this year, the firm estimated. The low-cost Echo Dot accounts for 52 percent of the Echo units in use — in many cases in multiple rooms of the same household.
Apple’s HomePod will be a serious contender in…