Apple’s Friday night move to suddenly pull the plug on HomePod after three years has created a messaging problem. Is everything OK at home, Apple? That’s the question being asked by customers who have invested in Apple’s smart home pitch.
You can trust that Apple will continue to make new iPhones and Macs for the foreseeable future, but Apple’s home products resemble Google’s betting strategy more than Apple’s usual commitment to focus and delivery.
Apple Watch is a great example of Apple testing the market with a weird strategy, then dialing in on what works (health and fitness) and abandoning what doesn’t ($10K to $17K models).
This is also true for the iPad. The first two models were new and magical, but getting to the great iPad lineup we have today required a leap of faith in trying different models that appeal to specific markets.
Apple appeared to be doing that with HomePod last fall when it introduced HomePod mini for $99. Apple had a good and best smart speaker strategy: HomePod for the premium audio experience and HomePod mini to expand the benefits of a smart speaker to every other room in the house.
You don’t need to self-identify as an audiophile to hear the differences in the two models, either. HomePod can be your Dolby Atmos home theater system for Apple TV 4K. HomePod mini will probably beat your TV’s built-in speakers, but it doesn’t have the oomph to deliver theatric audio.
But alas, HomePod is dead while HomePod mini lives to see another day. In theory, existing HomePods should improve with software updates that are targeted for the HomePod mini, and improvements to Siri intelligence will continue to make HomePod better. HomePod mini also inherited all of the development work that went into HomePod features (as well as the remaining feature request list). The problem, however, is who wants to invest further in an experimental product line?
It’s not just about one HomePod model, either. How serious is Apple about smart home products in general? Perhaps HomePod mini strikes the balance that Apple needs to warrant further investment in smart home speakers.
We now know that Apple will pull the plug on products that executives deem unworthy of their effort even if software updates are still rolling out.
How confident are we that HomePod mini will be enough of a hit to keep Apple’s interest? How sure are we that Apple TV, the streaming media box, has a place in Apple’s lineup? Maybe the Apple TV app and AirPlay 2 TVs are like the HomePod mini in that they reach more households.
Apple discontinuing HomePod isn’t impossible to understand, but the move does leave me with a number of questions for Apple. What’s the threshold for success for home products? What does Apple hope to achieve with home products? Why should customers trust Apple believes in its home products when it doesn’t lead the market? Why not just invest in Amazon, Sonos, and other smart home solutions that feel less like a hobby?
Remember when Mac users had similar concerns about pro machines in Apple’s lineup? Apple rightfully held a roundtable event with a small group of press to communicate its commitment to professional customers with the pending release of an iMac Pro and development on a next-generation Mac Pro.
That strategy was very effective at taking a step toward earning back the trust that was lost over time with Apple’s pro customers. Apple’s Friday night statement that it’s happy with the response to HomePod mini and no longer producing the original HomePod needs a lot of follow up.
Apple has a Home division at the company that works exclusively on smart home products. I would love to see Apple let this team address these questions directly and restore the community’s trust in Apple’s home efforts.
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