Just over three years after Apple introduced the HomePod, the company is discontinuing the device. Overpriced, underpowered, a combination of trying to hard and not delivering, the HomePod has its fans and its detractors. My first listening experience showed me that the when the HomePod sounds good, it’s great, but it doesn’t always sound good. One problem with the device is that it is too bass-heavy, and there are no EQ settings, as there are with similar devices, such as Sonos’ excellent Sonos One speakers.
In my more extensive review, I pointed out how the HomePod does have good sound – at times – but, as a smart speaker, it was limited by Siri. Apple improved its Siri features over time, but the HomePod was still overpriced, especially compared to the Sonos One, which offers similar sound quality at a much lower price.
A few months after the release of the HomePod, I wrote about why the device wasn’t successful. To start with, it was too expensive: at $349, that’s the price of a much more refined audio device. (Apple did eventually reduce the price to $299, but this is still too much.) Apple didn’t release AirPlay 2 right away, which hampered the device’s functionality a bit. When they did, and you could combine two HomePods into a stereo pair, this offered sound that was much better than twice a HomePod.
But even after that, it was clear that the HomePod was a missed opportinity. I believe that Apple made a number of mistakes with this device. Aside from the price, it wasn’t clean what the HomePod was for. I wrote:
Is it a Siri device, or is it speaker that provides “consistent high-definition sound?” If it’s the former, then Apple is trying to sell this to people who already have at least one Siri-capable device. If it’s the latter, well, Apple’s crack marketing team came out with lots of great adjectives, but the overall opinion among audiophiles is that it’s meh.
While the HomePod has fancy technology, I feel that this is wasted:
Apple touts the HomePod’s ability to adapt to any location. “Equipped with spatial awareness, HomePod automatically tunes itself to give you optimal sound — wherever it’s placed.” This may be true, but it’s a mono speaker; the only adjustments it’s going to make are to the tone of the music, and, perhaps, to the output of the various tweeters (there are seven, in a circle).
And, above all, Apple tried to do too much with the device:
The company was falling behind in the smart speaker market, but they should have realized that they already have that market cornered: just say “Hey, Siri” to your iPhone (or Apple Watch, or iPad, or Mac…) And while their adaptive audio technology is impressive, it fails by not allowing users to choose the type of sound they want. By prioritizing the bass-heavy sound of rap and hip-hop music – the genre they push most in Apple Music – they created speakers that many people find unpalatable.
Curiously, Apple added an interesting feature to the HomePod just a few months ago: if you connect two HomePods to an Apple TV 4K, you can use them to play back Dolby Atmos sound. This is a compelling use case for the devices, but you can get soundbars that handle Dolby Atmos for less than a pair of HomePods.
The HomePod mini changed all that. Instead of focusing on audio quality, Apple focused on functionality, and they now provide a compact speaker with Siri, which is good enough for most people.
I think Apple fell into the trap of people who care about audio, thinking that everyone feels like they do. The vast majority of people are fine listening to music on cheap Bluetooth speakers, or ever from their phones, and paying that much for what might be better audio just doesn’t make sense. Yet people will pay the price of the HomePod for headphones, because they are more important when people are on the go: look at the success of Apple’s Beats headphones, and what seems to be a successful launch of the AirPods Pro.
Apple should have some good speakers in its product line; I would be interested in seeing an Apple soundbar, for example, but it would have to compete with Sonos, who has its Beam, costing only $399.
So Apple now has a product line whose only device is a “mini.” I expect this to stick around for a while, as its a part of Apple’s smart home strategy. Perhaps we’ll see another, larger HomePod in the future: maybe Apple is going all out with a HomePod Pro.