Remember the HomePod, Apple’s first smart speaker? Back in the middle of the winter, it was the talk of the tech world. Fueled by a jolt of old-fashioned Apple hype, the HomePod was about to hit the retail channel, more than six months after first being announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. But these days, two months after its February debut, the product Apple is billing as “The new sound of home” is hitting more lows than highs.
Slice — as cited by Bloomberg — says that during its first 10 weeks of sales, the HomePod carved out 10 percent of the smart speaker market. Amazon’s Echo devices were at 73 percent and Google Home products accounted for 14 percent during that time frame. By three weeks after its launch, HomePod’s market share dipped to about 4 percent on average (albeit with 19 percent of the segment’s revenue), Slice says, with Amazon’s Echo device currently pulling in about 68 percent of smart speaker revenue.
Left to right: The Google Home, Apple HopePod and Amazon Echo.
You can argue over how accurate Slice’s data is — the company estimates HomePod (and other) sales by monitoring e-commerce receipts of up to 5 million consumers, according to its website. (A Slice spokesperson confirmed to CNET that the company’s data does not, for instance, include sales at brick-and-mortar stores.)
But back in March MacRumors reported that HomePod’s sales were “underwhelming,” according to Barclays’ analysts who’d spent a week in Asia meeting with companies within Apple’s supply chain. And now, noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (also per MacRumors) is stating that HomePod sales will max out at 2 to 2.5 million units — and that about half of those were already sold in that first month of availability, which aligns with the Slice data.
In other words, HomePods don’t appear to be flying off the shelves. (Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on HomePod sales. The company’s second quarter earnings will be announced on May 1.)
HomePod Mini vs. big price cut
The reasons for HomePod’s retail travails are pretty simple. First and foremost, it’s too expensive at $349 (£319, AU$499). There’s no denying it’s one of the best-sounding compact Wi-Fi speakers — and maybe the best — but it doesn’t sound much better than competing products that cost less and are more fully baked in terms of their feature sets and functionality.
On the functionality front, HomePod has room to improve and it certainly will via free software updates. (iOS 11.4, for instance, looks to be adding multi-room audio and stereo pairing.) And like the Apple Watch, which had its own choppy start, the speaker will benefit from being on store shelves during the holiday buying season, which it missed last year.
Still, I think HomePod’s price will have to be lower for it to gain any serious traction. And I don’t think it’s as simple as bringing out a theoretical “HomePod Mini” that costs less. To that end, while rumors of a smaller, cheaper Apple speaker persist — that same Kuo report notes that Apple is “mulling” the option — they’re more wishful thinking than anything else right now.
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Indeed, when I met with Apple reps just prior to the speaker’s launch, I asked, “Why’d you decide to make the HomePod the size