I was on the fence last night about preordering the HomePod. It’s a new product from Apple and therefore I want one, but this wasn’t exactly the most elegant launch. Apple hasn’t done enough to explain the device to customers and many of us are scratching our heads when it comes to implementation details — how will it work with multiple iCloud users? What does the setup process look like? How useful will the limited set of smart speaker features be?
I went to sleep uncertain and this morning I placed my preorder — space gray, if you’re curious. The reality is that, even with recent software fumbles and poor decisions in the Mac hardware line, I still have a great deal of trust in Apple to build the best products on the market. Their messaging with the HomePod leaves a lot to be desired, but I still think it’s going to be a killer device. Even if it takes a few software updates to get there.
We saw a similar scenario with the Watch. And although Apple was a bit better at delivering a cohesive message with that device, many of us were still skeptical at first about its usefulness in day-to-day life. But the Apple Watch turned into a wildly successful product. It took a little time for Apple to discover where they should be focusing their effort, but it only took a few watchOS iterations for the Watch to become an essential device in each of its owners’ lives. And I don’t expect the HomePod to be any different.
We could spend all day discussing the HomePod as a smart speaker that competes with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. And we could spend just as much time discussing the HomePod as a high-end audio device that competes with Sonos and other, more traditional speaker manufacturers. But the HomePod sort-of sits in the middle of that spectrum. And I think, for a first-generation product, Apple is making the right compromises. They’re taking the best parts of those two market segments and marrying them in a slick package that integrates seamlessly with the gadgets many of us already have in our homes — iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, HomeKit devices, etc.
I hope Apple gets their messaging straight over the course of the year and is able to head into the holiday season with a better focus on what makes the HomePod stand out from the competition. With the initial HomePod announcement taking place at least year’s WWDC, I suspect we’ll hear more about future software advancements at this year’s developer conference. That will be the perfect time for Apple to focus on the HomePod features that matter most and hopefully give third-party developers an opportunity to build for the platform. Whether that will actually happen or not, I’m not sure. But I’m certain that Apple is aware of the mistakes they’ve made with the HomePod’s launch and will be taking steps to correct their course in the coming months.