At yesterday’s WWDC, Apple announced the HomePod, a new speaker which integrates microphones so users can interact with Siri.
The shape of this speaker is certainly familiar; as Macworld’s Roman Loyola said, “from a short distance, I though I was looking at a Mac Pro stuffed in fishnet stockings.”
But speakers like this tend to have this shape. Offerings from companies like Sonos are cylinders with rounded corners; Apple just makes it round all the way. At 172 mm, or 6.8 in. tall, it’s pretty much the standard size of these objects, and at 2.5 kg, or 5.5 lb., it’s a pretty hefty device (1.5 lb. more than the Sonos PLAY:1).
The problem is the $349 price tag. No matter how good it sounds – and Jason Snell, who heard it, isn’t convinced – it’s a high-priced device. Compare it to the Sonos PLAY:1, a speaker at a similar size (albeit stuck inside the Sonos ecosystem): this costs $199 each, but you can get a pair for $348, the cost of a single HomePod.
Don’t forget, the HomePod is a mono speaker. While you can set up a stereo pair, that’s $700, or much more than the price of a decent amplifier and bookshelf speakers. Sure, you get Siri, but if you’re buying the HomePod, you probably already have Siri in your iPhone.
Apple is fighting two battles here: they’re competing with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, in the “digital assistant” market, and they’re taking on Sonos and other companies with multi-room audio. While they compared the prices of a good speaker plus an Echo or Home to the price of HomePod, it’s not that convincing. If you buy into this technology, the Echo Dot costs just $50. And if you really like this technology, you’ll want multiple devices, one in every room. Amazon has the right idea there. If you want to put such a device in, say, the living room, kitchen, and a bedroom, it’s $150 from Amazon (without the audio quality), vs. $1,050 using the HomePod.
Obviously, it’s not the same market. The standalone speaker market has many options, from cheap Bluetooth devices to better AirPlay compatible speakers. The advantage to the HomePod would be having synchronized multi-room audio – which already works perfectly with AirPlay – without buying into the Sonos ecosystem, and having Siri, if that rocks your boat.
Apple touts the audio quality of the HomePod:
Place HomePod anywhere in the room. It automatically analyzes the acoustics, adjusts the sound based on the speaker’s location, and steers the music in the optimal direction. Whether HomePod is against the wall, on a shelf, or in the middle of the room, everyone gets an immersive listening experience.
It remains to be seen how well this works. We’ll know in December.