Eclipsing other news coming out of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, this week, the tech titan just unveiled its first smart speaker.
Named HomePod, the new gadget is expected to begin selling in December for $349. Synced directly with Siri and Apple Music, the powerful speaker will play whatever it is told to play.
Rather than taking on Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, however, analysts see HomePod less as a “smart assistant,” and more as a pure music player.
“HomePod … is actually more of a competitor to a Sonos or Bose speaker,” said Forrester analyst Julie Ask. “The notion of a ‘home assistant’ or ‘virtual assistant’ seems to be secondary.”
“Apple justified the price by positioning HomePod as a high-end speaker rather than a virtual assistant, which is smart,” she said.
Apple is also wise to be leveraging its Music service, said Thomas Husson, another Forrester analyst. “The focus on music is smart and Apple can leverage Apple Music to compete with Google and Amazon,” he said.
With HomePod, Apple is also offering some robust personal security features, which should work to its advantage, both Husson and Ask suggest.
It is also likely only a matter of time before HomePod starts getting services akin to those already being offered by Amazon and Google.
“For now,” Husson said, “Amazon is ahead of the curve and more advanced with Alexa, but this is a marathon. Apple will try to replicate what it did with the iPod, starting as a music device and then progressively morphing it into the iPhone with a range of apps and services.”
With or without the HomePod, smart speakers are becoming the next big thing in consumer gadgetry. Year-over-year, the number of U.S. consumers using voice-activated assistant devices is up 128.9%, according to eMarketer.
On a monthly basis, that means about 35.6 million consumers are chatting with Google Home, Amazon Echo, or a similar device.
“Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement,” Martín Utreras, VP of forecasting, eMarketer, noted in the report. “As prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to adopt these devices,” he added.
For time being, Amazon is dominating this new category. Indeed, its Echo speaker will have 70.6% of users this year. Conversely, Google Home will trail far behind with just 23.8% of the market, per eMarketer. The remaining portion will be shared among smaller players like Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel.