My family left for a spring break vacation yesterday, so I’ve been a little out of touch. Imagine my surprise when I checked the Apple news this evening and saw that Apple has officially killed off the original HomePod after its rocky three year run.
The news came courtesy of Matthew Panzarino or TechCrunch. According to his article, Apple had the following to say:
Apple has discontinued its original HomePod after four years. It says that it will continue to produce and focus on the HomePod mini, introduced last year.
That’s a short and not so sweet eulogy.
In a way, I’m not surprised. The HomePod was never a great success as anything other than a high-end speaker for iOS devices and services. Also, as good as it is in this regard, the fact that it is so heavily bound to the Apple ecosystem held it back. Most other high-quality audio components in the same price range have aux ports and Bluetooth connectivity, making them far more versatile.
However, I have owned a HomePod since day one and happen to think it’s pretty great as a home speaker. I am heavily embedded in the Apple ecosystem and didn’t have a home stereo system at the time, so the HomePod filled a needed role for me when I bought it. For those looking to use one primarily as speaker, it’s actually a very good piece of hardware and worth the current price.
However, the HomePod also came out a few years too late for what it was. It came into a world already filling with good intelligent speakers and it didn’t match up well at all for over a year. It didn’t have the features or the ecosystem, which was just impossible for Apple to work around. Even now after several updates and feature additions, the HomePod is still just adequate in this role, which makes it a poor value because of it’s high price relative to the competition.
I get why Apple is moving on from the original HomePod hardware. Along with all of its shortcomings listed above, the HomePod Mini is much more price competitive with similar products and delivers sound quality that will be good enough for most. The popularity of other intelligent speakers, many of which deliver mediocre results as actual speakers, tells us that. The original HomePod was an odd fit for the market the day it was released and is only more so now. Apple reducing the price over time has helped a little, but three years on, it’s time to move on.
However, I do think Apple is missing an opportunity to improve on the HomePod with a new design that’s a better fit for the market. A more modest device that delivers better sound quality than the HomePod Mini, but isn’t as large or as expensive as the original HomePod would be a good fit today, I think. First off, Apple introduced the Home Theater Audio Mode last year, which allows a stereo pair of HomePods to deliver Dolby Atmos and stereo surround when paired with an Apple TV 4K. Apple is supposedly about to deliver updated Apple TV hardware, but what happens to this capability? The HomePod Mini can’t deliver this level of output and isn’t compatible with this feature. Does it just disappear unless you buy up used HomePods?
While it’s a niche use case, I would love to see Apple continue to serve those of us who want the HomePod to be more flexible as home theater speakers, as well as music speakers and a home automation hub. Again, a new mid-size HomePod model could fill this role without the price tag and baggage of the original. It might also be a good strategy for Apple to allow such a device to sync up with a stereo pair of Minis and act as a subwoofer, as well. I think there is a lot that Apple could still do in the higher-end speaker space that would serve their core customers well.
As for the direction Apple is going at this moment, I get it. The HomePod Mini is a nice device and I still use my pair around the house, including with my bedroom TV. It has much more potential to grow Apple’s market share in this space. I hope that Apple continues to develop this size of speaker and adds features that will grow their home automation ecosystem and improve Siri and their intelligent speaker features over time.
However, I also hope that Apple hasn’t decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because the HomePod wasn’t the right device at the time when it was released or today, that doesn’t meant that they should abandon speaker products larger than the Mini going forward. I believe that learning from what worked and what didn’t and moving forward with new models is a better long-term decision than just tossing in the towel and never looking back. Right now, it’s hard to say which one of those roads Apple is going to take.