Note: It is a bit odd to propose an expansion to a product that has not been released yet, but there are broad product strategy concerns I have with the still-unreleased HomePod . I’m also trying to take my own advice when it comes to criticism.
Earlier today I laid out all of my concerns with the upcoming Apple HomePod. Now I want to lay out what I think Apple should do for the next holiday season1. The existing HomePod looks good, but at $350 I don’t see it being the go-to Christmas gift next year. It’s just too expensive to be in enough people’s price range to make that happen. Also, when put up next to the existing Amazon and Google offerings in this area, I see this as a very hard sell for most people.
That’s where the above graphic comes in. Apple should introduce a new model of HomePod, the HomePod mini. They by no means need to make a device to compete directly with the $50 (and less on sale) Echo Dot and Google Home Mini), but they need to get something more affordable out there. If even I, Mr. Buy-All-the-Apple-Stuff Birchler isn’t buying a HomePod, that’s not a good sign.
Change #1: The Price
The price is just too high, simple as that. At $349, the HomePod is not only more expensive than the competition, it’s miles above them. Yes, Apple’s laptops and phones are expensive too, but they’re at least in the same ballpark as their competitors. A MacBook Pro costs over $2,000, but the specs are not that much worse than other Windows laptops in the same price range. Also, if you don’t want to spend that, they have computers all the way down to $599. Likewise, the iPhone X is $1,149, but they have iPhones down to $349. having the HomePod as their only speaker is like them only selling the 15” MacBook Pro, thereby having their only computer cost over $3,000. Their position in the market would be quite different if that were the case.
So the goal is not to get something as low as the Echo Dots and Home Minis of the world, but to get something in the ballpark of other speakers. The $199 price sounds about right to me as it still makes them the premium option, but beings them down to a price many more people are willing to spend.
Change #2: Sound quality
The big push from Apple with the current HomePod is its elaborate sound setup, which is supposed to deliver audio quality we’ve never experienced from a speaker this small. By all accounts, Apple has done this exceptionally well with the current model, but as I laid out earlier, I don’t think that feature is worth over $300 to most people.
Apple should simplify the audio output so that it is still excellent, but removes a lot of the advanced processing the embedded A8 processor is doing in the existing model. Reduce the 7 tweeters to 4. Maybe even remove the ability to use multiple HomePods together to get stereo sound.
I would not ask Apple to remove any of the microphones though, as these smart speakers’ ability to hear you is essential to their quality, so they should not skimp here. If the HomePod can’t here me reliably, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is.
I’m fairly confident Apple could make some changes and still have the best sounding smart speaker on the market and justify their still-premium price point.
Change #3: Make it smaller
At 6.8 inches tall, the HomePod is pretty darn small already (the Amazon Echo Plus is 9.3 inches tall), but removing some of the speakers and speaker tech could surely cut the size of the device down a bit (4.5 inches in this mockup). This isn’t a required change, but size matters when it comes to speakers, and people will inherently see a smaller speaker as less premium than a larger speaker.
Also come on, Apple loves the “mini” moniker so why not use it here?
Change #4: Improve Siri with an iCloud App Library
This change would impact both models of HomePod, but I had to mention it here. Apple should add an option to install an app to your “iCloud App Library” upon installation2. The idea of this new feature is that apps would be able to run their Siri functionality in the cloud and not require its app to be installed on each device you use.
Currently, if OnmiFocus is installed on my iPhone, I can use Siri to add and remove tasks, mark tasks complete, and view existing tasks in lists or by due dates. This is great, and is a wonderful addition to iOS 11, but these features only work on my iPad if I have OmniFocus installed there too. If I don’t install it on my iPad, then Siri gets confused when I say to add something to OmniFocus. This will be extra inconvenient when a smart speaker is added to the mix and I can not install OmniFocus even if I wanted to.
If OmniFocus was able to add its functionality in a way that it could run in iCloud, not only would my iPad and Mac be able to use these features, but the HomePod could as well. Not only would this change make the HomePod better, it would make Siri on all devices better.
I can’t guarantee these changes will double Apple’s sales of the HomePod line, but I am confident the storyline around the HomePod would be more positive if there was a more affordable device in the market. I feel the changes listed above would greatly improve the appeal of the HomePod line to a wider audience.
Frankly, the dream would be to a model at $99, but that would require a lot more hardware changes and would be too drastic a change to make this quickly. If Apple wants the HomePod to be more than just a “hobby” project for a small niche of consumers, they need to expand the line and I think the HomePod mini would be a great next step for them.
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