Innovation of the Week: Apple finds its voice with the HomePod | Crain's Silicon Valley

Innovation of the Week: Apple finds its voice with the HomePod

  • One analyst described HomePod as the most capable and technically sophisticated smart speaker on the market. | Photo by Apple

    One analyst described HomePod as the most capable and technically sophisticated smart speaker on the market. | Photo by Apple

  • Apple rolled out the HomePod smart speaker at its Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California this week. | Photo by Apple

    Apple rolled out the HomePod smart speaker at its Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California this week. | Photo by Apple

Better late than never, Apple Inc. has entered the smart speaker market with its HomePod, which will challenge incumbents Amazon Echo and Google Home by focusing on high-quality audio and leveraging the company’s powerful ecosystem of platforms, software and services.

Apple rolled out the HomePod at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, among a multitude of other major product announcements. However, the HomePod stood out because it represents a foray into an entirely new product area for Apple.

Apple is trying to differentiate the HomePod from the competition with its stress on music. The speaker interfaces with the Apple Music system, allowing users to access their favorite songs using Siri.

“Given that music is one of several fundamental, high-utilization use cases for smart speakers, it is a keenly targeted differentiation by Apple–and a highlight of a competitive weakness of its competitors,” said Paul Erickson, senior analyst, connected home at IHS Markit, via email. “Amazon and Google have both faced criticism for audio quality and fairly basic music playback capabilities on their respective devices.”

The speaker is designed to produce the best possible audio, with a high-excursion woofer and a custom amplifier to produce a wide variety of deep, rich bass. HomePod also employs an algorithm that analyzes the music and adjusts it to deliver sound that’s smooth and free of distortion, according to Apple.

HomePod’s musical flair may allow it to carve out a unique niche in the smart speaker market.

Erickson described HomePod as the most capable and technically sophisticated smart speaker on the market. However, he also noted it’s the most expensive device in its class, compared with the Amazon Echo at $179 and Google Home at $129.

So, with its high price and lateness to the market, can HomePod compete? For the vast community of Apple users, the answer is probably yes.

“Over the long term, Apple, like Google, retains significant sustainable advantages over Amazon. Though the Echo line and the Alexa ecosystem have had a significant head start and have dominated the media cycle thus far," Erickson said. "Potential buyers faced with the prospect of learning a new virtual assistant, or sticking with the Siri they’re already familiar with, are likely to side with Siri if the ability to execute fundamental tasks is equal or better.”

June 6, 2017 - 6:16pm