What it is: Sales of Apple’s HomePod have reportedly been slowing.
HomePod is a product looking for a solution. The idea of a smart speaker sounds appealing, letting you chat with a virtual assistant such as Amazon’s Echo, but the benefits of a smart speaker are low. That’s why Amazon’s Echo is so popular because the cost is so cheap so its limited functionality is fine. HomePod costs way more and offers superior audio quality, but that’s it. The huge problem with superior audio quality is that not everyone cares. Sometimes good enough audio quality is just fine.
HomePod is too limited to Apple products. If you want to connect HomePod to an ordinary stereo, it’s not easy to do. If you want superior audio quality, you can choose from multiple options that don’t necessarily limit themselves to Apple products. HomePod isn’t a bad product, but it’s true purpose is to serve as a hub for the smart home, and that’s not quite here yet.
The real usefulness of HomePod will appear when you can give voice commands to control a smart home. Until the popularity of the smart home arrives, smart speakers have far less utility. HomePod is essentially a product waiting for a future to arrive that may never come.
Apple is reportedly developing a lower cost HomePod but they also must improve Siri to be more useful and conversational. Then they need to further push HomeKit, their smart home framework. Until then, HomePod is simply an expensive speaker that’s nice, but too expensive for most people to try.
Years from now, HomePod may be useful, so it’s important for Apple to start developing HomePod now. Just as the Apple Watch gradually gained converts, so will HomePod gradually gain more users, but only if HomePod can demonstrate a single useful feature that everyone will want.
With the Apple Watch, that single useful feature was real-time health monitoring. With HomePod, this single useful feature will likely be a hub to a smart home. Now Apple just needs to wait for the smart home to become popular, much like fax machine makers couldn’t thrive until long-distance telephone calling became inexpensive.
HomePod isn’t a bad product, but it’s not a useful one for most people right now. Watch it over time. If smart homes become popular, then HomePod will become popular. If smart homes never become popular, then HomePod won’t have much purpose beyond acting as a fancy speaker.