Apple’s customers pay a premium to join the company’s vast, profitable, and expansive ecosystem. Against every product in Apple’s line– Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, Apple TV, Beats headphones, AirPods, accessories, and more– there are competitors with lower prices. Typically, we pay more for higher prices. Are we getting more when we buy Apple?
Most of the time I would answer a resounding “yes” to the question because Apple’s competitors may make and sell commodity items, but often Apple’s customers benefit from an experience where the sum is greater than the parts.
Let’s talk HomePod, Apple’s somewhat belated answer to Amazon Echo, Google Home, and half a dozen other talking speaker wannabe devices with connections to artificially intelligent assistants.
Apple’s penchant for a quality user experience sets the company apart from competitors, but how far apart varies by product, by customer, and by the experience itself. While Windows PC sales suffer in the mobile age, the Mac remains at record sales levels. We may be experiencing peak iPhone, but Apple still maintains nearly 90-percent of the industry’s profits. Similar distinctions exist with macOS, iOS, Apple TV, definitely Watch, and certainly Apple TV and AirPods.
The Apple ownership experience is different, more pleasing, more integrated, and comes with an embellishment of quality that other platforms envy and emulate.
Does higher quality matter anymore?
Apple’s financial success in the past decade would indicate the answer is yes. But how far can we take that assumption? Apple is late the talking speaker trend, but that’s been the case with everything Apple does in the 21st century, from iPod to AirPod.
What about HomePod?
Yes, I will order one even though I have Amazon Echo. To be honest, Echo and Siri and Assistant and Cortana don’t do much that’s valuable, but talking interfaces might be the wave of our future interaction with technology, so why not join in, try what’s out there, and get accustomed to the changes. They’re coming, right?
Apple on HomePod:
We completely reimagined how music should sound in the home. HomePod combines Apple-engineered audio technology and advanced software to deliver the highest-fidelity sound throughout the room, anywhere it’s placed. This elegantly designed, compact speaker totally rocks the house.
A key to successful product marketing is differentiation. If a competitor’s product does A, you have to do better than A for the same money, or the same as A for less money. Differentiation explains the gazillion features that nobody uses on Android and Windows. It explains Fox News. It explains Tesla.
Apple’s differentiation on HomePod appears to be sound. Seven-tweeter array. High-excusion woofer. Six-microphone array. Apple-designed A8 CPU. And, someday, stereo and multiple HomePods peacefully coexisting in the same room or throughout the house (less likely with a $350 starting price).
This is typical Apple marketing speak, but notice the key phrase of differentiation:
Setting up HomePod is quick and magical. Simply plug it in and your iOS device will detect it. Equipped with spatial awareness, HomePod automatically adjusts to give you optimal sound — wherever it’s placed. It can even hear your requests from across the room while loud songs are playing. All you need to do is enjoy your music.
Magical? Nope. Siri? Nope. It’s music. It’s sound.
Wait. There’s more.
HomePod is built to bring out the best in Apple Music.1 With the intelligence of Siri and access to virtually all the world’s songs, it’s like having your very own musicologist who learns and plays what you like, and helps you discover music you love.
Apple is not taking on Google Home or Amazon Echo, or Assistant or Alexa, head on. HomePod is different and aimed, at least initially (remember the fashionable luxury of Watch in the early days), at those who want to listen to music. Siri is just a tool to control HomePod.
I know audiophiles who bemoan the inherent lack of quality in CDs, MP3s, AAC and lossless music; those who somehow think their ears are the best God ever made. HomePod will rise or fall as a success story or a failure based upon usability. And higher quality usability and sound than Echo, Home, et al. If the HomePod experience is anything like AirPods, Apple will have a hit on its hands– but only for those willing to pay the extra for higher quality.
Does higher quality matter anymore?
We see the answer in iPhone X, AirPods, iPad Pro, Watch, and other Apple devices. What about HomePod. We’ll see. And hear.