What it is: Apple delayed the release of HomePod from December of 2017 to early 2018.
Amazon created the voice-activated speaker with their inexpensive Echo devices and Apple planned to offer a competitor called HomePod. Unlike Amazon’s inexpensive products, Apple’s HomePod would be far more expensive but offer far superior audio quality. The big question is what will the HomePod be useful for?
The Macintosh is useful as a safer, more reliable computer compared to Windows PCs. The iPhone defined the smartphone market by offering a computer in your pocket that could track your location, which helped spawn ride-sharing services like Uber. The iPad defined the tablet market by making it easy to compute on the move, even while standing or walking. The Apple Watch defined real-time health monitoring. Every product succeeds because it doesn’t duplicate existing technology, but supplements it somehow in ways that the original technology could not do easily.
Uber could easily have worked with people lugging laptops around and using cellular modems to call for a ride and track the driver as he or she came closer, but that’s impractical. The iPhone made this practical with its small size, light weight, and GPS capability. The Apple Watch can now make phone calls like a n iPhone but until an iPhone, the Apple Watch contains sensors to monitor your health symptoms at all times, which an iPhone can’t do easily.
Want to know why the Apple TV is still limping along? Ask yourself what solution does it offer that existing technology can’t do easily? Because there’s no definite answer, there’s also no definite reason or need for the Apple TV. (Try this same exercise with any new product and see if it passes this litmus test.)
Here’s the big question for the HomePod. What features does it offer that existing technology cannot do? People of Amazon’s Echo products seem happy with them, but just having an always-on device ready to listen for your voice commands may not be enough. When the HomePod arrives, it’s obvious feature is superior audio quality so you can use it as a wireless speaker to place around your home. That by itself might be enough to create a niche market of audio enthusiasts, but it won’t be enough to convince the general public to embrace HomePod as a new product category.
The ultimate future of the HomePod is controlling your home through voice commands. Dim the lights, turn up the heat or air conditioning, lock the doors or open them, do this remotely through voice commands and it’s fun, but is it practical? More importantly, is it compelling enough to convince people to buy and use it?
The real advantage of HomePod and its rivals is hands-free computing through voice recognition. Think of any need for computing where you can’t use your hands and that’s the perfect use for HomePod. A trivial example might simply be cooking a meal with your hands dirty and asking HomePod for information on how to baste a turkey or how long to bake a pie. Hands-free computing is the main feature of HomePod and similar voice-activated assistants just like real-time health monitoring is the main feature of wearable computers like the Apple Watch.
People are finally understanding the future of the Apple Watch for real-time health monitoring, but few people have tapped into the most compelling reason to use a hands-free computer like HomePod. Hands-free computing is great for giving commands, but what about feedback? That would require audio feedback since HomePod lacks a screen.
When you can only control a computer through a voice user interface, that means you can’t use your hands or eyes, which means the perfect place for HomePod is where you need to use your eyes and hands somewhere else — driving (ie. CarPlay).
In the home, most people may find it convenient to use voice commands but not crucial. In a car, people will find voice commands crucial because you can’t use your hands or take your eyes off the road without endangering yourself. So the real future of voice command interfaces is in situations where your eyes and hands are occupied. Driving, surgery, working on an assembly line, etc. Think of any task that requires a computer and where users can’t use their hands or eyes and that’s where products like HomePod will thrive and excel. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to be in the home.
If you’ve watched “Ironman” movies, you’ll see that the main character, Tony Stark, uses voice commands to control his Ironman suit since his hands are busy and his eyes need to look at what’s in front of him, not a screen. Any operator of a moving vehicle can use voice commands like pilots, truck drivers, etc. For the average person, voice user interfaces are best in cars while driving.
That’s the future of HomePod. Hands-free computing. PC users say it’s pointless to have an Apple Watch because of the small screen and they’re right, but they’re ignoring that the Apple Watch can monitor your health in real-time easily while a PC cannot. An iPad or a Macintosh may be easier to use than HomePod, but when your hands and eyes are busy, HomePod will excel. So the real needs of Appel products look like this:
- Macintosh – when you need a secure, reliable, easy to use computer
- iPhone – when you need a computer in your pocket that can track your location and movement that can make and receive calls
- iPad – when you need a computer that’s easy to carry and use while standing or moving around frequently
- Apple Watch – when you need a computer that can passively monitor health symptoms in real-time
- Apple TV – ?
- HomePod – when you need to control a computer without using your eyes or hands
When you define the primary advantages of each product, you can better understand how each product will define its market. HomePod will not replace a Macintosh any more than an iPhone will replace a Macintosh. However for your needs, an iPhone may eliminate the need to use a Macintosh, but not for everyone. Likewise, HomePod won’t replace a Macintosh, but it will do things that a Macintosh can’t do like hands-free computing.
HomePod technology will work best in a car for the average person, but it might find other uses in the home eventually, but those other uses must rely on its strengths: hands-free, voice-controlled computing.