Diving Deeper on HomePod

I encourage you to read my public thoughts on HomePod from spending about a week with Apple’s newest addition to the product family. I think a caveat needs to be made with my take on HomePod. I’m not the normal consumer who will get their hands on this product and form an opinion. Due to the nature of my job, I use more technology, and try a vast array of products and integrate them all into my life in ways most consumers will never do. So the comparisons I can make of products against each other are not things normal people will ever experience.

Which is the main reason why the things I believe Apple could/should/and will eventually add to HomePod are not the things a normal consumer, getting their very first smart speaker will want or even think about. I like to say that as a part of my job I have to try to live in the future in the present day. All that to say, the things I want, are not the things most people want—yet. But my belief is at some point in time; consumers will want many of the same things I do but not until they have used these products for some time. So, not to say my take is not valid, only that I’m coming from the viewpoint of a mature user in a very immature market.

For that reason, I think Apple made the right decisions with HomePod to meet the market where it is at just as it is getting started in every area but the price. Normally, I never worry about Apple’s pricing, but in this case, I do think the price tag is going to be hard for many consumers to swallow.

I made the point in today’s article that if you really care, and are picky about the sound quality of your music, then no doubt spend the money on HomePod. But that is not most consumers. Most consumers aren’t sitting in their living room appreciating a great song/artist/album in solitude and a glass of wine. For most consumers, and specifically those of smart speakers we observed, music is simply background noise or simple ambiance. For most use cases, when music is background noise quality is irrelevant. For this use case, any smart speaker will do in reality. Now, there is an area where HomePod could speak to a broader base, and that is when it supports Apple TV and can be used to not just control Apple TV but play back audio from movies and TV. I do believe that is an area consumers care a bit more about audio than just ambient background noise.

All of that to say, HomePod is going to be an evolving story in an increasingly competitive market. I’ll be fascinated to see how Apple continues to develop HomePod from a functionality standpoint as they straddle a difficult line of making Siri useful from both a personal and communal standpoint.

HomePod’s Engineering

One of the parts of the HomePod experience that was quite interesting to me was a tour we received of Apple’s audio labs. During this tour, Apple took us through where they develop and test, audio experiences related to their products. In these labs, and the subsequent work that derived from these labs, the audio experiences on iPad, iPhone, Mac, and more were created. Anyone who has used a product like a new Mac, or iPad Pro, even the latest iPhones, knows the speakers on this product are quite impressive. This audio lab is where the quality sound of the speakers in Apple products are created and tested. And from these labs came HomePod.

CAPTION: An extremely quiet Noise & Vibration chamber in Apple’s sound lab in Cupertino used to measure the noise floor of HomePod..

This whole experience reinforced a theme around Apple I’ve written about before on their attention to detail. What Apple does with audio in their products is nothing short of incredible when it comes to their attention to detail, and it shows with HomePod. While it seems years of audio engineering expertise led to the amazing sound of HomePod, I’m curious if those learnings now manifested in HomePod may make their way to other devices like AirPods for example. I fully understand the engineering differences between these two products but HomePod sounded so good, I got addicted to how good it sounded and wanted that sound on all my devices. Maybe this is me dreaming but so be it.

Apple Music/HomePod Exclusives
Given the quality of the sound, the other thing I got to thinking about was what if artists starting creating HomePod specific mixes of their albums as Apple Music exclusives. While HomePod already sounds amazing, it could sound even more amazing if artists starting mixing tracks specific to HomePod’s unique audio experience. Thus giving consumers a unique and authentic listening experience to a track that is truly aligned with how the artist wanted the music to sound.

Strategically, this kind of effort on behalf of artists can only help both HomePod and Apple Music. I’m intrigued by this idea of HomePod/Apple Music exclusives and what artists could do to take advantage of this. For example, what if John Mayer decided to do a live/acoustic set for his fans via HomePod? You could argue that he could do this without HomePod. However, HomePod sounded so amazing that when I played some of John Mayer’s live acoustic sets, it sounded like he was in my living room giving me a private concert.

Whether this happens or not, this line of thinking is interesting as we think about products like this coupled with Apple’s efforts in exclusive content. It isn’t too outside the lines to think some of these scenarios are possible once the installed base of HomePod became large enough.

Playing the Long Game
Apple is taking the marathon approach here, compared to Amazon’s sprint approach, and both are viable given each companies desires to compete in this space. Apple’s positioning with HomePod is clear as music is the focus. Over time, I expect the assistant story to grow for Apple and begin to catch on with consumers as well.

The biggest question is how much time does Apple have? We don’t know the answer but it is an important question surrounding Apple strategy for getting Siri more involved in the home.

Last point, for now, the real challenge facing HomePod is how it will convince consumers (broader market not audiophiles) to care about sound again. In my opinion, this happens when you compare HomePod to competition. My fear is Apple will not set up this type of demo like we received in their retail stores which will make it hard to truly hear the difference. When you hear a product like Sonos One, and even Google Max to a degree, all by itself it sounds great. It isn’t until you hear them compared to the HomePod that you can truly grasp and appreciate how much better it sounds. This will be Apple’s challenge to give consumers this experience.

I’m very curious how they handle this product at retail and we will get a chance to see that this weekend.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *