Why Apple’s HomePod has failed to make waves in tech market

Apple is a market leader when it comes to smartphones, tablets and wearables, generating tremendous market response from consumers.

However, HomePod, the smart speaker it launched early this year, has so failed to make waves in the market. In terms of shipments, it remains far behind market leaders Amazon Echo and Google Home.

HomePod is Apple’s latest product category after Apple Watch under the leadership of CEO Tim Cook. But unlike Apple Watch, which has easily emerged as a market leader since its launch in 2015, HomePod continues to create weak market response.

HomePod hit the streets in January at the price of US$349, but field reports indicate that sales have been sluggish while inventory at retail outlets is piling up.

According to a survey conducted recently by eMarketer in the United States, HomePod has failed to make a significant dent in the digital speaker market. Amazon held a 70.6 percent slice of the market, Google had 23.8 percent, while HomePod was lumped together with “others” for a combined share of 5.6 percent.

Could pricing be the issue? True, the US$349 price tag may be a bit too stiff for those who are just thinking of buying a smart speaker. Its excellent sound quality is beside the point. On the other hand, Amazon Echo and Google Home provide a much better voice recognition system through Alexa and Google Assistant respectively.

The fact that HomePod runs on Siri may be a reason why Apple fans appear to be distancing themselves from the new product.

Siri has been a distinct feature of Apple’s iPhone since the launch of iPhone 4s in 2011. The voice-activated “assistant” can perform a range of functions on the iPhone, including searching for information, marking events and appointments on the calendar, and even composing short text messages and emails.

However, even after seven years of evolution, Siri has yet to endear herself to most iPhone users. People buy iPhone for the overall iOS experience as well as the camera quality, but they seldom cite Siri as a key factor in their decision to buy the iconic phone.

Siri is the earliest voice assistant in the market, but it is lagging behind Amazon Alexa and Google Home in terms of technology and application. For example, Amazon Alexa has integrated various third-party apps to enhance its service capability beyond Amazon’s ecosystem, but Siri is confined to the iOS and Mac ecosystem.

For most smart home speaker users, the main purpose of the system is to allow them to just use their voice to order a meal delivery, call a taxi, check a flight or book a restaurant table. HomePod, however, isn’t ready for such functions. Compared to its competitors, HomePod provides an “uninspiring user experience”.

Apple is most likely aware of this issue. Siri’s limitations are seriously hampering Apple’s overall planning for the deployment of artificial intelligence across its product line.

If the company is seriously determined to beat Amazon and Google in the AI race, it should spare no effort in overhauling the Siri system. Apple should make the service easier to use and more relevant to the user’s everyday life.

Early this month, Cook announced to his staff the appointment of John Giannandrea, Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, as head of Apple’s machine learning and AI strategy.

The appointment suggests that Apple is taking a more serious approach to AI technology development, and this will definitely boost the product development of Siri. It is not clear, though, if Apple will relaunch Siri.

Apple is not only competing with Amazon and Google in the digital assistant market. The product must be customized for the local community, otherwise, it would just a fancy speaker that is not very relevant to the lives of its users.

China’s Xiaomi, considered as China’s answer to Appple, has launched its own digital assistant, Xiaoai Tongxue, for Chinese users. So far it is performing very well and users consider it a great help in completing their tasks, prompting Xiaomi founder Lei Jun to declare its triumph over Siri in the China market.

HomePod is probably a good idea, but it was launched at the wrong time. It also shows that Siri is the weakest link in the Apple ecosystem.

Tim Cook should fix all these issues besetting HomePod and enhance its value with additional features and functions in order to make it more attractive and relevant to users. Otherwise, Apple may have to admit to itself that it is a failed product.

Originally published at www.ejinsight.com on April 18, 2018.

A columnist in political development in Greater China region, technology and gadgets, media industry, parenting and other interesting topics.

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