Like its competition, HomePod will play music, check the news and control multiple WiFi connected devices in your home. How well it does so will likely determine the device’s success?
Some wonder if Apple is getting into the game too late. While longtime iPhone and iPod and iPad users are very brand loyal to Apple, many who were going to buy a “digital home assistant” have already done so. It’s easy to wonder if they will go out and get another one, just so they can easily connect their other Apple devices.
Apple is brushing off those questions with typical Apple aplomb. The product, they say, has been in production for “years,” and its release has little or nothing to do with the success of competitive products like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home digital assistants. Consumers are, of course, skeptical of these claims. But, at the end of the day, the market will decide which brand has the best product. Whether or not this was an original Apple idea or a copy of its competition really won’t matter in the long run.
When asked directly about whether or not his team was late to the game, Apple CEO Tim Cook insinuated that the question wasn’t relevant. “For us, it’s not about being first. It’s about being the best and giving the user an experience that delights them every time. We don’t let that impatience result in shipping something that is just not great.”
There’s some truth to that sentiment, sure, but will a customer who has already dropped more than $300 on a product go buy a similar product for the same money? That’s the question Apple now hopes is answered “yes.”
It’s becoming a common question for a generation raised on competing video game systems. Many gamers grew up with either the PlayStation or the Xbox, but not a few of them had both at one time or another. Of course, with that market, there were games that were specific to those individual consoles. Apple hasn’t said whether it will bring anything new or different to the table.
That’s unfortunate — for Apple — at this point, because “new and different” has been their brand now for 20 years. They have been consistently better, and most often first to market on consumer products that are later copied by competitors. In this case, though, Apple finds itself in the unique, at least to Apple, position of being late to the market with a product that, at first glance, really doesn’t offer any unique buying propositions.
The one remarkable trait being pushed by Apple at the moment is HomePod’s “spatial awareness.” This, in practice, means the machine will adjust the volume of music based on the environment or room. Good enough? That’s for buyers to decide.
The one group Apple must reach are loyal Apple product users who have not yet bought a digital home assistant. If like other Apple products, HomePod seamlessly links all other devices, that could be a big buying motivator for Apple fans.
All these questions will be answered later this year when HomePod hits stores in the US, UK, and Australia. Until then, Apple needs to find a way to say “look at me” in specific, meaningful ways.