Back in June, at the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced the launch of Apple HomePod smart hi-fi speaker, with an onsale date set at before the end of last year. However, in November Apple said that it wasn’t ready, explaining in a statement:
“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers.”
The company merely indicated that it would arrive in early 2018 instead. Apple hasn’t revealed any more since, but according to 9to5Mac, the analysts, GBH Insights, have said that the wait is nearly over.
According to the investors’ note from GBH Insights, the HomePod will be released in the next four to six weeks. It also concluded that the company may have an uphill struggle to sell it, given the dominance of Amazon Echo and Google Home products.
I’ve heard the HomePod in action, listening both to a single HomePod and a pair in stereo sync. Both times, it sounded spectacularly good. My listening test was only brief and in a controlled situation but my first thoughts were that it was not only way better than the Amazon Echo but that even companies like Sonos might be bested by the speaker which Apple is pitching as reinventing home audio.
This listening test was months ago so there may be a different audio feel to the HomePod now, but I’d assume it will only sound better than it did then, rather than worse.
The HomePod also boasts an automatic room set-up system where it calibrates the shape of the room and organizes its audio output to suit.
The excellent hi-fi element, then, on the basis of what I’ve heard, is not in doubt. So it may be that the smart part of smart speaker is what has held things up. Voice assistants are improving at a heck of a rate, so I’m sure the HomePod will do a lot more than it could back in June.
However, this is an expensive speaker – $349 – so many consumers will feel they’re happy to settle for an Echo ($99) or the Alexa-controlled Sonos One ($199).
Here we are, at the end of another CES, and it’s clear that even more products will have Alexa or Google Assistant built-in to them. In other words, even though it’s just a few months later than planned, the HomePod faces a more mature market than when it was first announced.
Apple’s mantra has always been ‘Don’t do it first, do it right’. It certainly has more of a challenge now that it missed the last holiday season, but it’s way too soon to write the HomePod off.
If the audio quality is as striking as when I heard it before, if the room setup is as simple and effective as promised and if Siri works smoothly, Apple could still be about to subtly change the world of smart speakers.