As usual, Apple Inc. is late to the party. Which party? The talking home speaker party. You know. Amazon Echo and Alexa. Google Home and Assistant. And, well, that’s about it. To hear technologists tell the story the next great thing is artificial intelligence in a little speaker and microphone device in every room.
Yeah, I know. Most of us have such devices already. Mac, iPhone, iPad, et al. If talking speakers such as Amazon Echo and Alexa are all the rage then why don’t we know how many have been sold? Amazon’s chief honcho Jeff Bezos– richest human on earth– is full of hubris but won’t say how many are sold. 10-million maybe? Meanwhile, poor old Siri, another talking AI device with built-in microphones and speakers, is installed on somewhere north of 1-billion devices.
Still, some people think Apple is behind the talking speaker curve despite HomePod, the little speaker system that could but can’t because it’s not quite ready for prime time. One headline I read over the weekend said HomePod was three years behind Amazon’s Echo and Alexa. That would seem to be something of a problem for Apple except that Echo was released just over two years ago.
HomePod could be a different animal, but Apple hasn’t had much success with speaker systems. Remember iPod Hi-Fi? It was a $349 iPod colored boom box which stayed alive about 18-months before Apple pulled the plug. What was good about iPod Hi-Fi? Not much if anything at all. Sound wasn’t that good. It wasn’t Wi-Fi so the iPod had to be placed on a 32-pin connector on the top.
Think over-priced, under-powered, over-hyped, under-usable.
It’s almost as if Apple didn’t have anything new to fill the One More Thing slot at the end of a Steve Jobs’ keynote presentation so someone trotted out an iPod speaker system to fill the void.
To compare HomePod at the same price as iPod Hi-Fi is to compare an original iPhone to an iPhone X (or, any recent iPhone running iOS 11). Amazon’s Echo and Alexa have been on the market for just over two years, so clearly, this is not yet a mature market, and notoriously, Apple is late to such markets.
I suspect a number of issues are at play here and the first might have to do with the market itself. How big is it? How many Echoes have been sold? What is the market penetration? What could Apple do with HomePod that isn’t already being done by Echo or Home or other devices sure to follow? Will Siri on HomePod be the same as Alexa on Echo but with better sound?
Too many questions and not enough answers. HomePod could be another iPod Hi-Fi. Or, it could represent a new way to interact with Siri. What I sense is that it is increasingly difficult for technology companies to leapfrog one another.