Apple readies pre-orders for HomePod smart speaker
- Apple's $349 HomePod speaker will be available to pre-order on Jan. 26 and will arrive in stores on Feb. 9, more than a month after its originally announced launch date. Stores in the U.S., U.K. and Australia will first get the device, followed by France and Germany this spring, according to a press release by the company.
- Apple's Siri voice assistant responds to questions and commands through the device, which can interact with smart appliances equipped with Apple's HomeKit technology. HomePod users can ask Siri to send messages, set timers and reminders, check the weather, stream songs from Apple Music and play podcasts. IPhone users can set up the HomePod by placing their phones next to the speaker.
- Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone X isn't breaking sales records established by previous models of the smartphone, according to a study from Canalys cited by Fortune. The firm estimates the tech giant sold 29 million iPhone X devices during Q4 2017, including 7 million in the U.S., making it the most popular model of iPhone. The researcher didn't say which iPhone had the fastest sales.
Apple missed the key holiday shopping season with delays in getting the HomePod into stores, giving rivals Amazon and Google a chance to pounce with deep discounts on their smart speaker devices and further their existing footholds in what is expected to be a key area for consumer engagement going forward. The HomePod also isn't coming with previously announced features such as multiroom audio functionality and the ability to pair multiple speakers for stereo sound capabilities. Apple said those features will come later this year in a software update.
Apple will face an uphill battle to gain share from Amazon and Google, which dominate the digital assistant market with their wider selections of devices across a range of price points, making the speakers more accessible to consumers looking for a more budget-friendly option. Amazon and Google's devices let users give voice commands to play Spotify, but Apple Music doesn't work on rival devices, adding an element of exclusivity that could frustrate some consumers. Apple also will need to expand the HomePod's functionality with more features from Siri, such as voice-based food ordering or ride hailing. Apple's SiriKit is intended for developers to create apps that are compatible with the company's digital assistant.
The popular tech company seeks to differentiate the HomePod from competitors with better sound quality from an array of seven tweeters, automatic spatial awareness to properly fill a room with sound and "high-excursion woofer" powered by its A8 chip that adjusts audio in real time. At the same time, competitors Sonos and Google offer similar abilities to fine-tune the sound quality with "smart sound" tech to do many of the same things as Apple's HomePod.