Apple has been selling a variety of premium headphones and speaker brands in its retail stores for years, but it looks like that’s coming to an end as the company makes way for the arrival of its own flagship audio products.
Until recently, you could visit an Apple retail store, or even the Apple online store, and pick up a variety of headphones and wireless speakers from brands such as Sonos, Bose, and Logitech’s Ultimate Ears, but according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, these have disappeared from Apple’s shelves, presumably to prepare for the debut of Apple’s own first-ever on-ear headphones and likely at least one new HomePod speaker.
This isn’t just a matter of products falling out of stock, either, as Gurman notes that not only is the disappearance of these products widespread, but employees at Apple’s retail stores have been specifically told to remove the products from sale.
Further, Bose confirmed to Bloomberg that Apple would no longer be selling its accessories, and Apple specifically told Ultimate Ears that “they will no longer carry third-party speakers at retail from September onwards.”
Although third-party products do, of course, come and go from Apple’s Stores from time to time — Sonos, in particular, has had an on-again-off-again relationship with Apple retail — the timing of this particular shift speaks much more strongly to Apple getting rival products out of the way since most reports have suggested that the rumoured AirPods Studio are likely to land any day now, and might even get a bit of stage time at this month’s iPhone launch event, which is expected to happen next week.
The move isn’t entirely unprecedented either; back in 2014, Fitbit fitness trackers similarly disappeared from Apple’s shelves following the announcement of the Apple Watch, for obvious reasons.
In fact, many suspected the AirPods Studio would have already arrived by now, with reports last spring indicating that production of the new cans had already started in Vietnam. However, just because Apple has a product ready doesn’t mean that it has to launch it right away, and it’s understandable how it might be holding the new on-ear headphones back to make a bigger splash.
While the rumours have been a bit more sparse when it comes to Apple’s smart speaker, there’s been enough evidence to suggest that the company also has a HomePod mini in the works that could also be accompanied by a new version of its larger flagship model, and certainly the disappearance of speakers from Apple’s shelves would suggest that this is about more than simply new headphones.
It’s also perhaps telling that despite the release of iOS 14 and tvOS 14 last month, no update has yet appeared for the HomePod, suggesting that Apple may be waiting until new models are unveiled. Of course, this also wouldn’t be the first time the speaker has lagged — it didn’t join the iOS 13 family last year until late October, and even then, it had a rocky start with iOS 13.2 — so it’s hard to say for sure what the delay actually means for the HomePod.
The only major feature that Apple has announced as coming to the HomePod in this year’s software update, which is reportedly moving to tvOS this year instead of iOS, is Doorbell Notifications that will incorporate facial recognition actually to announce who is at your front door. There are also rumours that you’ll be able to use third-party music services such as Spotify by default (that is, without having to specify “With Spotify” in your Siri command), but Apple hasn’t officially confirmed this.
While a HomePod mini is widely expected to be unveiled as a lower-cost alternative to the smart speaker if Apple also chooses to release a second-generation version of the full-sized HomePod, it will be interesting to see what other features may come along with it.