Struggling to Agree on HomePod's Place in the Market

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

“Smart” speaker – what makes a speaker smart?

Maybe if Apple had called the HomePod a “super speaker” or something else and more directly avoided the comparison to “smart” devices like the Echo and the Home, they wouldn’t be having so many tech reviewers reviewing a Ferrari as if it were a Corolla.

I love The Loop, but I disagree with the writers of this point. When Apple got on stage last June and showed off the HomePod, they specifically said this this product was built so that you would buy it instead of a smart speaker (Google Home, Amazon Echo) and a nice wireless regular speaker (Sonos, Bose). They opened the pitch there and they justified the price by comparing it to someone buying both a smart and non-smart speaker. It’s on tape, you can see it for yourself.

Since June, Apple’s communication and marketing around the HomePod has been very heavily focused on music and the sound quality the HomePod produces. Apple Music has the best music library with the best exclusives, and the speakers sounds great by all accounts. On the speaker side, it sounds like Apple smoked Bose, Sonos, and the like at their own game. Crushing it, absolutely crushing it.

But because Apple has been talking more about sound than voice lately, some people are acting like the voice stuff doesn’t matter, or that the voice stuff is a pure bonus, and Apple can only gain points for anything voice control adds, it can not be criticized for its limitations.

This is where we diverge.

Apple built a speaker with a voice assistant built in and I think it’s more than fair to compare it to other speakers that have voice assistants built in. Yes, Apple focused on sound quality above all else in this model while other companies favored different features, but consumers are the same way. We all buy products differently based on our priorities and it’s reasonable to see people prioritizing things differently from you.

As a reviewer, it is unfair to judge a product against things it is clearly not comparable to, and if the HomePod had launched without any voice control at all, I’d agree that comparing it to the Amazon and Google products on the market was unfair, but they didn’t, Siri is right there front-and-center as the main interface to this product. It shouldn’t be all your review hits on, but it’s sure as hell relevant to the quality of the product.

Products are released into the market and they are compared by consumers to products they find similar. Just because a company focuses their marketing on a specific feature, that doesn;t mean all customers are going to agree. As John Gruber succinctly put it:

No one other than a gadget reviewer is going to put both a HomePod and Echo in their kitchen. They’re going to have one. It is, most certainly, a competition.

The HomePod is trying to get people to stop buying Sonos, Bose, Google, and Amazon speakers.