Dancing on the HomePod’s grave

From M.G. Seigler’s “I Was Right That Apple Was Wrong” posted early Saturday on 500Words:

Apple’s quote on the matter to TechCrunch tonight pretty much says it all:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

This is both surprising for a product which Apple launched just three years ago to much pomp and circumstance, and entirely not surprising if you happened to read this here site back in 2017, ahead of the launch:

As we’re all well aware, Apple had to delay their foray into the space, the HomePod, into 2018. But not only did they miss the all-important holiday shopping season, I’m increasingly thinking that they may have missed the boat.

Believe me, I know how dangerous this line of thinking is with regard to Apple. Apple is almost never the first-mover in a market. Instead, they prefer to sit back and let markets mature enough to then swoop in with their effort, which more often than not is the best effort (this is both subjective in terms of my own taste, and often objective in terms of sales). But again, I increasingly don’t believe that this will be the case with their smart speaker.

Now, it’s true that people often shit on new Apple products and mock them relentlessly (until they inevitably buy them). I am not one of those people, obviously. I buy every Apple product. Including the HomePod, by the way. I’m all in. It’s a sickness, really. The only cure is more Apple product. Anyway, despite my predilections, it seemed to me that the HomePod strategy was uniquely flawed from the start. Per above, Apple is rarely a first mover in a space, but the issue here was that Amazon had changed the entire game with their Echo/Alexa strategy before Apple entered it.

Said another way: Apple brought a Sonos to an Alexa fight.

My take: Having lived for several years with all three major-brand smart speakers — Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s — I can say with some confidence that Apple’s was the dumbest. Sounded good, but ask it a question and it rarely had the right answer. According to John Gruber, Apple may have been selling HomePods at a loss, in which case pulling the plug was almost an act of kindness.

See the Apple 3.0 HomePod archives. 

33 Comments

  1. Troy Thoman said:
    They should have used some of that money in the bank to make a voice assistant that doesn’t suck. I have all three as well, I find the Google Home most valuable due to the screen but none of them hold a candle to Homepods audio quality. I wish they’d make a homepod with no speaker and an audio out to my stereo receiver.

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    March 13, 2021
  2. Dan Scropos said:
    I think the HomePod Mini is just great. Pundits focus on what it can *do* but they miss the boat on what it’s used *for.* They look for ways for it to be inferior and they find them. Great. Kudos. Nice work. But also not important.

    I need it to play great sounding music and answer a few simple commands … and it does. That’s it. I don’t need it to do much else and I certainly don’t want it invading my privacy. Apple and its users get that and also understand that there’s value in what it *doesn’t* do, while pundits don’t.

    3
    March 13, 2021
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. but my god, there’s a necessary level of trust that is going to be very, very hard to win back.”

    I would be less than candid if I didn’t say that I am a little “pissed” over this news. Some folk loved the HomePod and bought one for every room in their home, including their garage and some others were moving to complete the process. There is a level of trust shot here relative to Apple’s commitment to introducing a new product. Apple highly promoted HomePod and in a short span abandons it and its users like a “hot potato.” They have not given the HomePod enough time and commitment. I always thought Apple was in for the long haul, not some whimsical retailer moving into a space and flightily moving out and on to something else. This reminds me of HP and MS.

    1
    March 13, 2021
  4. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Oh man. I am truly saddened and crestfallen to hear of this.

    As an audio enthusiast, buoyed by the universally favorable testimonials of others to the beautifully accurate and balanced presence of sound Apple achieved with the original HomePod, this comes as a shocker — especially given Apple’s announced alternate intention of focused interest on the HomePod mini.

    I was hoping the mini was simply designed to be an affordable cousin-adjunct to the original. Alas, Apple “went there” economically in a down-market move (driven by inferior competition — oddly uncharacteristic for Apple) to capture a broader customer base with “smart speaker” in the home. As John Gruber has already stated about this matter, “…clearly the market deemed them too expensive.”

    Well , I view this situation differently. It’s this commenter’s take that they cleverly captured a solid audio sweet-spot initially with the original — especially with two paired as stereo.

    (continued)

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    March 13, 2021
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      (continued)

      I embraced the sound/value paradigm that Apple brought to the table with the original HomePod full-on, especially as a direct and bold response to the inferior “get off cheaper” audio products out there.

      I have 14 HomePods in my home. That’s not a “flex” statement, but simply one of a desire for an impressive total sound immersion experience. An easy-peasy whole-house (including my garage) play-any-audio soundscape. These were mostly purchased at $200 each applying a $100 discount from Best Buy when available. A roughly $3,000 investment for a wireless sound infusion to my home all controlled by my  WATCH.

      When one considers what the cost would have been by most any other means to achieve this, one soon realizes that what Apple was on the threshold of capturing here. Even just going back a decade of years, buying all the kit needed to coordinate all this to achieve this level of sound was a costly and frustrating tangle. Whole-house or a single room, the Apple value proposition was indeed a solid and promising one of simply good sound, all the time.

      Regarding the new minis, I also have two HomePod minis in my bathroom and a single HomePod mini in my laundry room and they are also a solid (and albeit, supremely) affordable value proposition, yet an audio step-down deflation from the original.

      (continued)

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      March 13, 2021
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        (continued)

        Given the original acoustic proposition Apple originally proposed, I just wish Apple would have continued their original intent of pulling people up into superior sound instead of pushing them down.

        (hefty sigh) Get them while you can.

        4
        March 13, 2021
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          Last comments.

          As to the “smart” speaker aspect of HomePod/HomePod mini and the competition. Doesn’t match up to others.

          OK — fine.

          Consider this. It is satisfyingly day-to-day capable of most inquiries and requests, handily filling the appetite of most. Additionally with Apple’s Siri, you get the privacy-laced and bespoken-awareness of YOUR life.

          All “smart” voice devices still struggle amongst themselves to become the omnipotent and all-encompassing great Info Orb we all dream of. This still lies somewhere in the future. Research dictates that, compared to their marketed promise, they’re mostly called upon for timers, weather requests, recipe conversions and the like.

          Given this, the great “speaker-in-the-home” value is The Sound — not The Smarts.

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          March 13, 2021
      • John Konopka said:
        “ I have 14 HomePods in my home.”

        Respect

        1
        March 13, 2021
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        At the original $750 (I think that’s what I paid for mine) you’re not going to find many that can afford two, let alone 14, and at today’s $299 Apple doesn’t make a profit. Therein lies the death knell of the Home Pod: to expensive for the masses, and to costly to manufacture with a retail price of $299.

        Me? I’m going to fill out my needs with the discounted Home Pods before they’re gone.

        1
        March 13, 2021
  5. Horace Dediu said:
    I treat mine as a speaker not a microphone. The microphone is on my wrist and works even when I’m not home. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

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    March 13, 2021
    • Jerry Doyle said:
      Thumbs up, Horace. You get it! Apple needs to focus on the wrist. The microphone is on the wrist! In time, the microphone is going to be on “everyone’s” friggin wrist, so what is the hoopla about an exceptional Apple premium speaker not being the high quality audio experience in the home or office environment. Yes, some can settle for less of an audio experience the same as some buy cheap Morgan David wine. Once one cultivates a taste for the finer wines, for the premium whiskies, the cured Cuban cigars, the eclectic blends of gourmet cuisines who but someone with an Apple HomePod is less than an audiophile enthusiast for pure high-fidelity sound reproduction of a recording session live musical performance with mind blowing acoustics. Apple one day, if not already, will own the wrist and there is your microphone. You nailed it Horace!

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      March 13, 2021
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:
      Thank you, Horace. I bought HomePods for the sound and music quality, not for digital parlor tricks. In my view, the sound quality is exceptional and I intend to keep them in use for quite some time.

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      March 13, 2021
  6. Alessandro Luethi said:
    I hope that Apple at least will let me set my Minis as the default output of my Apple TV…

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    March 13, 2021
  7. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Really last comment —

    I’ll be honest with you, if I replaced all of my current HomePods with nothing but HomePod minis, I would forever feel the gap in audio fulfillment.

    Apple should remain different.

    Jus’ sayin’.

    4
    March 13, 2021
    • Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
      Total agreement with Kirk.
      Have five – going to buy one more to even it out. I bought a pair of Mini’s but I’m spoiled by the originals.

      My fantasy HomePod II – smarter/stronger Siri & HomeKit, audio port & logic to integrate subwoofer, Ethernet port & can act like a WiFi Extender.

      Sigh. I can dream, can’t I?

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      March 13, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @Romeo A. Esparrago: “…. I bought a pair of Mini’s, but I’m spoiled by the originals.”

        Exactly Romeo. The originals were the premium sound speakers! The microphone never should have been a driving force in HomePod speakers since they are “speakers.” The microphone already is easily accessible on the wrist. In the next few years as Watch health apps advances with that device addressing such health issues, EVERYONE of all ages will have the microphone on their wrists, more accessible and more discreetly for use making those competitors’ cheap home speakers obsolete, or certainly mediocre.

        1
        March 13, 2021
  8. Jerry Doyle said:
    Horace Dediu nailed with his comment the strategic mistake Apple once again is making similar to its initial strategic mistake with the HomePod as denoted by M.G. Seigler in his “I Was Right That Apple Was Wrong.” It pains some as we see it once again happening in slow motion. All the other competitors’ speakers are really microphones because they do not own the wrist, and never will own the wrist. Apple already owns the microphone in the most strategic location: on the wrist! Who wants it over on some speaker far away where you have to raise your voice to be heard. As Horace denoted, Apple’s microphone is with you throughout the home, at your office and everywhere you go. So, the HomePod should have done what it was doing: providing an upgrade, premium quality sound experience and enhanced listening level to boosts Apple Music & Apple TV+. There will come a period in the near future from a health perspective that the microphone will be on “everyone’s” wrist. So, to hell with a speaker being the home “microphone.” Apple is missing the boat here! I believe Apple will understand that fact too late, just as M.G. Seigler denotes how Apple understood too late the initial debacle they found themselves with the HomePod. Horace gave us the answer and the impending future outcome of it all.

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    March 13, 2021
    • George Ewonus said:
      Just bought 2 more. Love the sound. Period.

      3
      March 13, 2021
  9. David Emery said:
    Not strictly on topic, but in either model, I find the inability to do -album shuffle- and the general Apple hostility to album formats to be both incredibly frustrating and incredibly puzzling.

    My HomPod Mini acts as a speaker for my Tunes.app stream, where I -can do- album shuffle. Whenever that drops and the Mini picks up the library from my phone, it starts playing tracks. Do you know how many “tunes” in my classical collection are named “Adagio”? 🙁

    1
    March 13, 2021
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      @ David Emery —

      I don’t know your source, but from your iTunes on iPhone you can playback albums shuffled as you desire.

      From the main iTunes page >
      > Tap Library at the bottom
      > Tap Albums
      > Tap Shuffle

      Hope this helps.

      1
      March 13, 2021
      • David Emery said:
        That works for the entire library ONLY. It does NOT WORK for playlists (like my “Baroque” or “All Classical”.)

        And relevant to this discussion, I don’t know how to do an album shuffle from the HomePod.

        0
        March 13, 2021
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          @ David Emery —

          If you want to shuffle your playlists through iTunes on the iPhone, then it’s similar to the album shuffle —

          > Tap Library at the bottom
          > Tap Playlists
          > Tap the Playlist you want to shuffle
          > Tap Shuffle

          If you’re trying to use Siri to do the same on the HomePod, say (for example) “Hey Siri. Play The Beatles White Album on shuffle.”

          For a playlist, say “Hey Siri. Shuffle my “Baroque” playlist. (Of course, for this to work you must have created the playlist in the first place.)

          Hope this helps and that I’m understanding your issue correctly.

          0
          March 14, 2021
          • David Emery said:
            You’re missing my point! Playlist shuffle shuffles ONLY TRACKS on the phone. On the Mac, I can set that to shuffle-by-album or shuffle-by-group, as well as by-track. If I set up a playlist of Beethoven symphonies, the last thing I want is the movements intermingled.

            It would be trivial to add this capability to the phone and by extension to other devices that pull from AirPlay libraries. I can think of several different ways Apple could accomplish this, each of which would be really easy to implement. (Easiest of all would be a preference set for Music, “shuffle all playlists by (track, grouping, album)” Better, although a bit more code, would be a way to set this on a per-playlist basis. )

            As a matter of consistent user interface, if I can do it in Music.App on the Mac, I should be able to do it in Music.App on iOS

            (And I don’t use Siri, but that’s a whole different topic…)

            0
            March 14, 2021
            • Kirk DeBernardi said:
              @ David Emery —

              I now better comprehend your snag between playback on Mac OS and iOS and I couldn’t agree with you more.

              Feature parity should be the same and it remains odd that it’s not — especially given the convenience of playback control from a device on your wrist or in your pocket is more preferential than control from a Mac.

              0
              March 15, 2021
  10. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    If Apple ever wants to improve on the sound reproduction of the intro-priced HomePod mini, what will that be like — HomePod mini Max?

    Right.

    1
    March 13, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      “HomePod theater”? 🙂

      0
      March 14, 2021
  11. Aaron Belich said:
    You can not make a home theater speaker that will not accept multiple sources of audio.

    0
    March 13, 2021
  12. Robert Stack said:
    Alas I never had one. But I will say that FKA Twigs gave a remarkable performance in the original ad for the HomePod directed by Spike Jonze. Like many other Apple ads, it went on to earn some major awards from the advertising industry. There was even a youtube video about the making of the ad, which is fascinating to watch. If you didn’t catch it then:

    0
    March 13, 2021
  13. John Konopka said:
    Of course Apple won’t tell us this, but it could be that the HomePod was discontinued to make room for HomePod II coming at the still-unconfirmed March 23 event.

    We all fret about things at very high frequency, Apple tends to manage products with the timing of long period ocean swells. We won’t know what really happened till about six months from now.

    3
    March 13, 2021
    • Dan Scropos said:
      I sure hope you’re right, John, but it sounds like it’s been permanently discontinued. “ We are focusing our efforts on ‌HomePod mini‌.”

      0
      March 13, 2021
  14. Rick Povich said:
    I’ll be buying a second HomePod to accompany the one I have in my cabin in the woods. I don’t have WiFi there, but I get 2 bars from Verizon and use my iPhone as my “network” to connect the HomePod. I, too, bought it for the sound quality more so than its Siri silliness. The sound “volume” (in comparison to the Mini) as Ben Barajin referenced in a Twitter post actually varies depending on the music source. Apple Music has a lower Max volume than, say, the Sirius XM app or songs on the iPhone.

    0
    March 14, 2021

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