Technologically, Apple’s upcoming HomePod speaker is three-years behind its direct competition, the Amazon Echo smart speaker, says a revealing new report published by Bloomberg this week, which goes on to cite that not only was the HomePod a “side project” at Apple, but that the project itself was axed and revived so many times over the years that the final product set to launch early next year is, in essence, not as capable as its closest competition.
“The HomePod was originally a side project cooked up about five years ago by a group of Mac audio engineers, who wanted to create a speaker that sounded better than the ones sold by the likes of Bose, JBL and Harman Kardon,” Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman explains, noting that “Side projects aren’t uncommon at Apple, where employees are encouraged to follow their muse so long as their day jobs come first.”
About two years into their research and development, having experimented with a number of early prototype models, the report alleges that Apple’s HomePod team was “blindsided” when Amazon released its Echo device — a dedicated smart speaker with inbuilt voice-activated personal assistant features powered by Alexa.
“The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon,” Gurman says, citing sources with knowledge of the situation, adding that members of the team then went out and bought Echo units so they could dismantle them and determine how they were put together.
Meanwhile, as Apple’s HomePod team vacillated around a number of odd concept designs (one measuring 3-feet tall), Amazon’s newly unveiled Echo smart speaker was capturing the hearts of millions who were impressed with the device’s abilities made possible by Alexa. For instance, Gurman noted how “Amazon offers thousands of skills [voice-activated apps] that let users do a range of things, including buy stuff from Amazon.”
Nevertheless, Apple forged on with the HomePod “figuring that creating a speaker would give customers another reason to stay loyal,” which is interesting because the company allegedly “never saw the HomePod as anything more than an accessory” in the first place, Gurman suggests. And, perhaps as a result, when the $349 HomePod debuts early next year, it “won’t be able to do many of the things” Echo can.
“The HomePod will be mostly limited to playing tunes from Apple Music, controlling Apple-optimized smart home appliances and sending messages through an iPhone,” Gurman notes, while one source who requested anonymity to talk freely on the matter added that “This is a huge missed opportunity” for Apple.
Sadly, Apple also declined to comment on the report. However the company’s recent announcement that the HomePod will be delayed until early 2018 means the company will not only be even further behind — missing its promise of a December 2017 release — but it’ll also miss its golden opportunity to profit during the expectedly busy 2017 holiday shopping season.
Of course, let’s also not forget that ‘HomePod 2’ is right around the corner.