Talking tech since 2003

When Apple announced HomePod back in June 2016 at WWDC I was really excited about it as one could tell by my Instagram. I loved the focus and attention Apple was giving to audio quality when it came to their household assistant. This is something I’ve felt existing products on the market have failed to address. I was excited to buy a HomePod this holiday season but then Apple decided to delay the product launch until early 2018 and I began to question whether I really needed a HomePod. Honestly, the question about whether or not buying a virtual household assistant is worthwhile has been bouncing around my head for a while, dating back to when Amazon released the original Echo back in 2015.

I keep asking myself, what problems are these household assistants really solving for us? Everything they do can be done by another piece of technology you likely already own. I assume the initial novelty of them wears off after a while, though I actually haven’t purchased any of the devices on the market yet from Amazon or Google, so I can’t say for certain. That being said, one thing is clear, people want to try them.

According to a recent press release by Amazon, the Echo Dot was the best selling product on all of Amazon this holiday season. When you pair that with a recent report by SensorTower which shows that the Amazon Alexa reached the top of the App Store on Christmas as people were opening their brand-new Echo devices it makes for a solid case that people are intrigued by these voice-activated household assistants.

I’d really love to see usage charts for Amazon Echo devices as well as Google Home devices a month or two out from Christmas. I think that data would be really telling if these types of devices are providing real value for people or if they are simply novelty products. I understand the potential behind Amazon’s Echo devices because Amazon is cultivating a heathy App Store behind them in form of Alexa Skills, but what I wonder, is how many people can currently take advantage of Alexa Skills for smart home products which still aren’t nearly universal or widespread by any means. I guess what I’m getting at is perhaps the value of these devices is yet to be fully realized and by the time it is, will people have moved on?

That being said, because of the Skills API companies are working on some neat integrations, for example, this year you can vote for the NBA All Stars with your Amazon Echo device. That’s nifty, I guess.

But going back to the HomePod, there’s a couple issues now facing Apple that I think is really going to be problematic for them. The first is obviously the delay. Missing the holiday season and seeing Amazon rack up all those Echo sales has to sting. The second is, I’m not sure, despite my excitement about it, that improved audio quality–even if it’s significantly better than Amazon’s or Google’s–is enough of a differentiator to succeed in this marketplace when the HomePod is significantly more expensive as well, coming in at $349.

The more I think about this, the more I realize how atypical I am–especially when it comes to audio quality. I have friends who are my age or younger who couldn’t care less about the quality of audio coming out of their device. I’ve seen people listen to music directly on their iPhones and be plenty happy about it. I personally don’t understand how that’s enjoyable but that’s me and I’m in a minority. The fact is, audio quality isn’t a huge deal to most people and I realize Apple is known for its quality products–that’s one of the reasons I love what they make, but I just don’t see the HomePod being a success for them.

What do you think? Am I right, wrong, stupid? Leave a comment!

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