Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced that you can pre-order its HomePod on Friday, with arrival in stores on February 9. But does anyone really care at this point?
Apple’s smart speaker once had potential to move the AAPL stock needle. The long delay between the first announcement and the actual HomePod release date, however, is a challenge the HomePod will have to overcome.
Making matters worse, the HomePod will launch without several key features. Instead, Apple is promising to deliver them later in the year through a software update.
HomePod Available for Pre-Order on Friday, But…
Apple sent out a press release on Tuesday announcing that its $349 HomePod smart speaker will be available for pre-order starting Friday, Jan 26. Expect to see it on store shelves two weeks later, on Friday, Feb 9. The company described the new device in glowing terms:
“HomePod is a magical new music experience from Apple. It brings advanced audio technologies like beam-forming tweeters, a high-excursion woofer and automatic spatial awareness, together with the entire Apple Music catalog and the latest Siri intelligence, in a simple, beautiful design that is so much fun to use.”
But Apple buried a note near the end of the release. Multi-room audio and stereo pairing — key features for current wireless speakers (smart or not) — will be missing from the HomePod. Instead, Apple will deliver these functionalities later this year in a software update.
Late to the Smart Speaker Gold Rush?
Apple first unveiled the HomePod — its first ever smart speaker — in June of last year, with an original release date of December. At that time, there was real potential for the HomePod to become the next big thing for AAPL stock.
Smart speaker sales were predicted to hit $13 billion by 2024 as consumers began to rapidly adopt the technology.
Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) started the smart speaker trend with its Amazon Echo. Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) had its Google Home in the running as well. But the Amazon Echo remained the one to beat with roughly 70% of the market. Both market leaders were selling smart speakers that were heavy on the smarts — with Alexa and Google Assistant on board — but light on the actual speaker end of things.
Apple’s HomePod promised Siri smarts combined with unrivaled audio performance. HomePod’s array of drivers and spatial audio capabilities would make it the smart speaker that replaced the home stereo, justifying that $349 price tag.
Had Apple actually delivered on the December HomePod release date, things may not seem so dire. Amazon and Google were both very busy during the holiday season. Both released new versions of their smart speakers with more advanced audio capabilities, including the even more expensive, $399 Google Home Max. 11 million smart speakers were purchased in the lead-up to Christmas.
At this point, their lead is becoming almost insurmountable.
Additionally, established wireless audio companies like Sonos, Inc have begun adding smart capabilities to their own speakers by integrating Alexa and Google Assistant. And video streaming giant Roku Inc (NASDAQ:ROKU) made moves toward entering the smart speaker market.
HomePod Lags in Other Features
Apple’s Siri may have been first out of the gate as a digital assistant. But since then, Alexa and Google Assistant have taken the lead in capabilities — especially in the kind of integration that makes a smart speaker useful as a smart home hub. And while other smart speakers support a variety of streaming music sources, HomePod is locked on Apple Music.
Despite these limitations, Apple’s HomePod stood a decent chance of being a success. After all, Apple is renowned for its design chops and after studying the smart speaker market for several years, it had a product that addressed pain points — especially poor audio.
However, being just a few months late to the party with the HomePod may have torpedoed its chances. As The Verge points out, people were saying many of the same things about the iPod. It was late to market, faced established companies that had a huge head start, cost more than the competition and was locked in to Apple’s music offerings. Yet the iPod was a smash success.
Could that still happen with the HomePod?
It would be great news for AAPL stock if it did, but the odds seem even more stacked against Apple this time. A missed initial HomePod release date led to absence during a critical holiday sales period. And Apple followed it with a smart speaker that’s missing key features until a later software update.
So far, HomePod is not off to a promising start.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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