Yesterday, following on from the Space Grey HomePod going out of stock on their website, Apple confirmed to Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch that it is discontinuing the original HomePod:
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, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.
I love my HomePods for audio and HomeKit control. I also love them paired with my Apple TV, another product whose existence has been discussed a lot recently. It’s both a surprising move and also not surprising. So how did we get here, and what does it mean going forward?
I guess this is the central question, and to put it simply, the main reason is they weren’t successful sellers.
Diving deeper, I think what happened is that sales were already relatively low - it was only being bought by real Apple enthusiasts - but once they introduced the HomePod Mini, they dropped even lower. I’m guessing they got to a point where they weighed up production pipelines and costs versus demand, and it just didn’t make sense anymore. These devices, it’s important to remember, were very highly engineered. Apple was also, reportedly, wasn't making much profit off them compared to the margins on their other products. Or even losing money if you believe John Guber’s claim, which I don’t. Sorry, John.
At the end of the day, the product never took off and also didn’t make Apple much money on a per-device scale. Looking back at all this, it’s surprising this didn’t happen sooner. The fact that Apple made a statement about this means two things:
- They knew they couldn’t replenish stocks. So people were asking questions.
- They didn’t want people to start expecting a replacement speaker that would never arrive.
is this a surprise?
So maybe it isn’t a surprise. Well, that’s where there is some conflicting evidence. Take away the above talk about costs and sales, and Apple’s been actually making upgrades to the speakers recently. Mere months ago, they gained the ability to be paired with an Apple TV as ‘home cinema audio’and play ‘Dolby Atmos’. They also gained the ability to be permanently paired with your Apple TV as the default audio output.
Then there are the other moves Apple is making with audio. AirPods Pro continue to be big sellers, and they also released the AirPods Max, a pair of very high-quality audio capable headphones. Almost to the HomePod what the OG AirPods are to the HomePod Mini. Though maybe that’s unfair to the HomePod Mini.
Sure the HomePod Mini does decent audio, but it’s very much ‘for its size’. When I want high-quality audio for music while working in my study or outputting from my record player (article coming soon!), they just don’t cut it.
Apple completely removing the ability to play Apple Music on high-quality speakers made by them is saying something. Though what that is, I don’t know.
do they know?
Which is worth mentioning. Does Apple know what they’re doing here? If, as I suspect, this decision was driven more by practicalities of production and cost, where does that leave Apple in this field? This is where the uncertainty is.
With the supposedly imminent release of a new Apple TV (which, it should also be noted, is apparently produced with hardly any profit margin), does Apple just completely abandon the high-quality speaker market? Or do they combine that with the Apple TV and release an Apple TV sound-bar capable of producing Dolby Atmos?
Do they open up Siri to third-party speakers like Sonos in the same way they’ve done with the TV app? Thus meaning the ‘HomePod experience’ lives on. This seems unlikely due to privacy with Siri commands but never say never.
What does this mean for Siri? With one less device on sale to be used for Siri, does that harm that experience? I’m, of course, aware all iOS devices have ‘Hey Siri’, but the home speaker products are more suited to it.
It’s also worth casting a worried eye over at the AirPods Max. Sure they have only been around for months, but they really fill the same sphere as the HomePod: high-quality audio and build as well as being very expensive. Plus, they have had decent uptake and positive reviews to start with but also strike me as another Apple nerds only product (of which I am one). How will sales be in a year?
Whatever happens next, it’s clear that while Apple has a laser-focused vision of the future for iPhones, Apple Watches, possibly iPads and, more recently, the Mac, the areas of Apple TV, Audio and HomeKit are much less certain. Maybe we’ll get more answers later this month at the rumoured Apple event.