In what is surely one of the most out-of-left-field announcements from Apple in a long time, they have done something I have never seen them do: They resurrected a product. Specifically, the HomePod smart speaker is back and in its Version 2 form, it is very much similar to the HomePod that was discontinued in 2021.
A quick rewind. In 2017 Apple announced a rich-sounding speaker that had Siri built in. The HomePod was designed in the opposite way of Alexa / Amazon Echo where it was for music first and an assistant second. Most of the demo focused on sound quality, how it tuned its sound based on where you placed it and how well it worked with Apple Music. In the 13-minutes Phil Schiller talks about the HomePod, Siri isn't even mentioned until nine minutes in. Also unlike Amazon, it had a whopping $350 pricetag. Considering how Amazon sells
commodiy shit budget hardware often at cost, this was eye-opening. Sure enough the HomePod didn't sell well and was killed four years later.
Now with Amazon about to take an axe to their Alexa divison, it seems the approach of music / sound over an assistant may be right for 2023. The HomePod Mini (which I have) is a nice speaker and replacement for Alexa. At $99 it is priced really well too. So to have Apple bring the HomePod back, it does spur the question of "why?"
From the preliminary hands-on reports it looks and sounds the same. The power cord is still affixed. It still lacks any inputs / ports. So far the changes look to be some additional sensors and a reduction of speakers & microphones (each losing 2). It naturally has a newer internal chip, but this also limits pairing this with a V1 HomePod. One thing Apple has budged on slightly is the price. At $299 it's still not cheap but it makes it a bit easier to swallow. I think the absolute upper-limit of what someone would spend on a speaker that's not from SONOS or Bose.
The HomePod's return strikes me as so odd. This is new ground for Apple and they must feel a second effort is worth it for... reasons. Historically they will leave a product to whither on the vine before completely overhauling it, but this is an instance where they took a different path. Will this new attempt at a home speaker meet a different fate? Right now I can't see how it will do any better.
The HomePod Mini is a fantastic, albeit still expensive compared to other similar, speakers. But to me it's the price point that makes it something to get. $99 is a sweet spot.
Asking $200 more for no Spotify integration, no 3.5mm port to plug in a turntable or other device, and no backward compatibility with V1 HomePods is asking a lot of people. Maybe it will be obvious later this year why they brought the HomePod back from the dead. For now, I remain skeptical as to how it can have a path to success.
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