Misunderstanding the HomePod

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Ben Lovejoy writing for 9to5Mac:

I’ve said before that HomePods don’t replace a full-on hifi-quality speaker system, like the Naim Mu-so, but they get remarkably close. $600 buys you a high-quality stereo paired system that, in audio terms, is absolutely superb value for money.

Indeed, if you imagine a world in which voice assistants didn’t exist, and HomePods were speakers, pure and simple, they would be welcomed as incredible value.

I have no idea if Ben reads this site, but if he does, I suspect I'm in the group he's talking about. As I said in my review 2 years ago, this is where I think the HomePod thrives:

The above graphic is as close as I can get to suscinctly stating who this is for. If you are an iOS-only user and if you subscribe to Apple Music and if you care more about audio quality than a robust digital assistant, then the HomePod is for you. That sounds a little harsh, but I think it’s accurate.

Again, from my original review:

Apple, you’ve made a killer speaker that sounds amazing. All your work now has to be centered around improving voice interactions. The HomePod has the potential to dominate the speaker market (smart and otherwise), but it needs to get better on the “smart” side and I personally think they need to make a less expensive model to get in the price range of far more people. $349 is a hard sell for anyone, and most people would never spend that much on a speaker, no matter how good it sounds or how smart it is.

And here's from another article I wrote a couple days into owning a HomePod:

AirPods took things that sucked about headphones before (wires, bad wireless battery life, stupid pairing, multi-device sync, etc.) and made all of those experiences wonderful. Meanwhile, the HomePod has taken something I didn’t even feel like I needed (better sound) and made it better than what was already on the market at this price point. Meanwhile, the things it does beyond music fall short of what is possible on second and third generation speakers with similar designs.

So while I like the HomePod and think it is a good product in its own right, I just don’t feel that same magic that I was hoping I would. I’m looking forward to see what other people think, but if my response is at all indicative of the average Joe, I don’t know if the HomePod will grow to the level of adoration (and by extent, sales) of AirPods.

I don't think anyone is going to say the HomePod is flying off store shelves today. Apple surprisingly even lowered the price of the product recently, which is not something they really ever do except when it's relegated to "last year's model." As I've said from the beginning, I don't think the HomePod struggles because it's compared against $30 hockey puck speakers, I think it struggles because it is very good at something that most people don't actually care that much about.

A decent analogy for me is screen tech. There are phones on the market today that have 4k screens. The Apple fandom really cares about screen tech, so they should be all over this and be demanding it in the new iPhones, right? Nah, and that's because we understand that the difference between the 800ppi 4k screen and the 450ppi resolution on the iPhone 11 Pro are basically indistinguishible. Similarly, I think the point where people can stop telling the difference in audio quality is lower than the HomePod provides.

And this might count as rambling at this point, but the market has pretty clearly indicated that smart speakers are a thing that people enjoy and want to buy. At the same time, these are very sensitive products that we need to trust to put in our homes. Given Apple's hard push on privacy and security, it's not unreasonable for people to want to get one of these from Apple and to be disappointed that their option is too expensive.