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If you were hoping to see a replacement for the full-sized HomePod smart speaker this year, it sounds like you can stop holding your breath. Apple’s flagship speaker is no more.
Despite many rumours over the past couple of years suggesting a second-generation HomePod was waiting in the wings, Apple has instead made the rather surprising move of discontinuing the speaker entirely to place all of its focus on the diminutive HomePod mini.
Apple’s decision came to light late Friday evening in a statement to TechCrunch, where the company, of course, spun it in a positive light, pointing to the wild success of the $99 HomePod mini, and therefore suggesting by implication that it’s completely eclipsed its larger sibling.
HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod.Apple’s statement to TechCrunch
That said, as with most of the products Apple discontinues, the company isn’t pulling it off the shelves — you’ll still be able to buy the HomePod “while supplies last” at various retailers, including the Apple Store — and Apple has also promised to continue offering software updates, service, and support for the product’s normal lifespan.
It’s not hard to figure out why the HomePod mini has been so much more popular than the full-sized HomePod, as it’s a speaker that’s priced for the masses, and addresses what was one of the most common complaints when the original HomePod landed back in 2017: that it was overpriced for a “smart speaker.”
Of course, the HomePod was so much more than a smart speaker, and it’s arguably one of Apple’s most misunderstood products since the 2006 iPod Hi-Fi. Much like the now vintage speaker system that represented Apple’s original foray into first-party speakers, the full-sized HomePod was designed to focus predominantly on producing great audio quality in a simple and straightforward package.
In the case of the iPod Hi-Fi, that was all about being able to drop an iPod onto the dock and just go with it. There were no controls to fiddle with, no adjustments to be made, and in fact the speaker didn’t even feature a power button. It was the ultimate in user-friendly simplicity, yet it still punched out incredibly powerful room-filling sound with virtually no distortion.
Much like the HomePod, however, the iPod Hi-Fi entered an era when there were already many other compelling alternatives from established companies like Altec Lansing, Bose, and JBL, and the result was a somewhat controversial product.
So, it’s probably not a big surprise that history repeated itself with the original HomePod. While the reasons for the controversy around Apple’s first smart speaker were somewhat different, they were nonetheless a result of Apple trying to punch above its weight class by producing a premium product rather than a more accessible one.
The original HomePod was a labour of love for Apple’s audio engineering team, with over five years in development, and even when Apple unveiled it, the company had made it abundantly clear that this was a high-quality speaker first, and a voice assistant second. It was a miracle of audio engineering in many ways, and as TechCrunch notes, Apple had gone so far as to build a completely separate development centre just for the HomePod, with “with a dozen anechoic chambers, including one of the bigger anechoic chambers outside of academic use in the US.”
When it was finally released back in 2018, many reviewers considered it one of the best speakers ever made, noting that Apple had spared no effort to focus on producing the best quality possible in a speaker of its size.
In other words, the HomePod was positioned to compete with the likes of Sonos, not with Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home. Unfortunately, that’s not how the consumer marketplace ultimately saw it, and the consensus was that it was way overpriced for a smart speaker.
As a result, the HomePod got far less of an uptake than Apple had hoped for, while many of even the staunchest Apple fans fled from the Siri ecosystem favouring Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant. Not only were these available on much more affordable speakers, but the HomePod also remained tied to Apple Music, while others supported just about every other music service on the planet.
In what may have been the first sign of the end, Apple dropped the price of the HomePod two years ago, undoubtedly hoping to goose along sales. Since by all reports Apple had already been selling the smart speaker virtually at cost, the price drop also meant that it likely began taking a loss. Moreover, the HomePod also became one of the most-frequently discounted Apple products in history, to the point where you could almost always find it somewhere for $50–$100 less than the sticker price.
Ultimately, however, it seemed like the market for premium smart speakers had been massively overestimated, and to be fair Apple wasn’t the only company to discover that — Google also discontinued its highest-end Google Home Max speaker late last year.
So, in the end it probably shouldn’t come as a giant surprise that the HomePod is being put out to pasture. There were reports as far back as last spring that Apple was planning to sunset the speaker in favour of the smaller one, so if anything it’s more interesting that it’s taken this long, considering the HomePod mini was released last October.
This would seem to suggest that Apple didn’t make its decision to discontinue the HomePod until more recently, as it seems odd that it would build an entirely new feature for a product that was slated to disappear a few months down the road.
While it’s impossible to completely rule out the possibility of Apple releasing another larger HomePod someday, the company’s statement seems to have a pretty solid air of finality about it. Not only did it bluntly state that the original HomePod was being discontinued — without a replacement — but it also seems pretty clear that there are no alternatives to the HomePod mini in the cards.