Why Apple’s HomePod is three years behind Amazon’s Echo

“Apple Inc. audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon.com Inc. with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa,” Mark Gurman reports for Bloomberg. “The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.”

“More than two years passed. In that time Amazon’s Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa’s ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off. Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation,” Gurman reports. “The project was cancelled and revived several times, they said, and the device went through multiple permutations (at one point it stood 3 feet tall) as executives struggled to figure out how it would fit into the home and Apple’s ecosystem of products and services.”

“Despite having all the ingredients for a serious competitor to the Echo — including Siri and the App Store — Apple never saw the HomePod as anything more than an accessory, like the AirPods earphones,” Gurman reports. “As a result, when the $350 gadget debuts early next year (on Friday Apple delayed the launch from December), the HomePod won’t be able to do many of the things the Echo can. Amazon offers thousands of ‘skills’ (voice-activated apps) that let users do a range of things (including buy stuff from Amazon). The Google Home, which debuted earlier this year, is similarly endowed. The HomePod will be mostly limited to playing tunes from Apple Music, controlling Apple-optimized smart home appliances and sending messages through an iPhone. ‘This is a huge missed opportunity,’ said one of the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter.”

MacDailyNews Take: Something along the lines of Amazon Echo is what Apple should have done if run by competent, forward-thinking management. When Apple finally does do their version of Amazon Echo (and they will get around to doing such a product eventually) they will rightly be called a follower. The company had all of the ingredients to make their own Echo before Amazon, except for the vision, it seems.MacDailyNews, March 29, 2016

“The Echo is a truly standalone product at the center of an ecosystem. The cloud-based operating system has made it easy for developers to create thousands of skills or voice-activated apps,” Gurman reports. “By contrast, the HomePod is essentially an extension of the iPhone, like an accessory. When someone asks the HomePod to open a third-party app, the request won’t go directly to the cloud, as with the Echo, but to an iPhone. As a result, developers can’t write apps for the HomePod. They must create tweaked versions of existing iPhone apps. What’s more, Apple has limited the kinds of apps to messaging, to-do lists and notes. If Alexa is the beating heart of the Echo, Siri is almost an afterthought.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This wouldn’t have happened this way under Steve Jobs.

The HomePod’s internal code name ought to be “Clusterfsck,” but that’s already been taken by the Mac Pro.

Steve Jobs could see the whole picture and into the future. He would inherently know how to use Siri to tie together Wi-Fi connectivity, home automation, Bluetooth, Apple TV, sound reproduction, Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, etc. and he’d direct his staff to work towards the goal(s) he defined.

When you lose your visionary CEO and replace him with a caretaker CEO, this is the type of aimless, late, bureaucratic dithering that ensues.

Luckily for Tim Cook, Steve Jobs left him a perpetual profit machine that can absorb pretty much any lackadaisical fsckatude that can be thrown into the spokes.

We can almost see the smiles of the Amazon Echo and Google Home execs from here. — MacDailyNews, November 17, 2017

Missing one Christmas might not seem like a lot, but every user lost to another ecosystem is much, much more difficult to convert into a customer when you finally get your ass in gear and ship.

And, under the tree this year, there will be millions upon millions getting Amazon Echo and Google Home products and into their ecosystems*, not Apple’s.

*And other services, like Spotify instead of Apple Music, for one prominent example.

Apple really screwed the pooch on this one.

Real artists ship. – Steve JobsMacDailyNews, November 20, 2017

There could be a psychological component to this that leads people use Alexa over Siri precisely because they know the Echo is there (it’s a physical object), but forget about Siri being everywhere, even on their wrists (because Siri is embedded inside devices that are “for other things” in the user’s mind (telling time, watching TV, computing, phone calls, etc.) and therefore “hidden” to the user. Hence, Siri gets forgotten and goes unused while people use Alexa…

Again: We believe people use Alexa because Amazon Echo is a physical manifestation of “her,” while forgetting about Siri even though she’s on their wrists at all times and/or in their iPhones and iPads because Siri is hidden inside objects whose primary function is something other than “personal assistant” in people’s minds (watch, TV, phone or tablet, as opposed to “Siri.”) Alexa is present thanks to the Amazon Echo. Siri is absent because she has no such counterpart; no physical manifestation.

Siri is a ghost. Alexa is that cool, fun, glowing tube right there on the counter.

Apple would do well to not discount the psychology behind why people use certain features, even though cold, hard logic tells them it’s a redundant and unnecessary product.

An “Apple Echo” device would sell in the millions of units per quarter and boost Siri usage immensely.MacDailyNews, June 15, 2016

SEE ALSO:
Under ‘operations genius’ Tim Cook, product delays and other problems are no longer unusual for Apple – November 20, 2017
Apple delays HomePod release to early 2018 – November 17, 2017
Apple CEO Tim Cook: The ‘operations genius’ who never has enough products to sell at launch – October 23, 2017
Apple reveals HomePod smart home music speaker – June 5, 2017
Apple’s desperate Mac Pro damage control message hints at a confused, divided company – April 6, 2017
Apple is misplaying the hand Steve Jobs left them – November 30, 2016
Apple delays AirPod rollout – October 26, 2016
Apple delays release of watchOS 2 due to bug – September 16, 2015
Apple delays HomeKit launch until autumn – May 14, 2015
Apple delays production of 12.9-inch ‘iPad Pro’ in face of overwhelming iPhone 6/Plus demand – October 9, 2014
Tim Cook’s mea culpa: iMac launch should have been postponed – April 24, 2013

41 Comments

    1. HomePod has no reason to live. Apple is creating a me too product that is inferior to the competition in terms of its smarts.

      It will flop, like Apple TV has. I have Siri in my pocket on my iPhone, which can be wirelessly connected to a Bluetooth speaker. Very few people will run out to buy a HomePod because it just doesn’t offer enough value over the current device mix.

  1. Apple is behind because they have to wait to see what Amazon does, so they can copy them and rip them off.

    Apple innovation died with Jobs. Now it’s a who can we copy game.

        1. The experience, the approach to solving the same problem, Apple reduces friction, makes things more human, easier, adds design to the equation, some thoughtfulness. I don’t care what you call it, there’s a reason Apple succeeds where others do not, and it isn’t marketing. Maybe it is that Apple gives a crap about the customer and thinks about the experience of using whatever product for more than a minute, while others churn out junk. I’ll buy a couple Homepods because of the sound. The other products like Homepod are junk when it comes to the sound they produce.

          1. Take off your Jobs colored glasses, Apple is no longer doing any of things. Yes they hear the customer base, but they choose to ignore or throw out some piece of over priced crap with a bunch of overhyped specs that don’t matter in the real world.

          1. I was using Soundjam in 1999 before Apple bought it and renamed it iTunes.

            Apple at one time did have some of the best most intuitive interfaces, but those days are gone.

            Apple’s primary focus today is disguising the golden ropes that keep everyone chained to the iOS app store. Zero innovation elsewhere.

            1. In 2001 Intel sold the Pocket Concert with a whopping 128 MB of space. Products on the market with a few GBs of space were quite large and expensive, up to a couple thousand dollars. It was also a headache to get MP3 files onto them. The iPod solved two key problems, storage space and loading your songs on it easily. After the iPod the market followed and MP3 players quickly improved. It’s easy to forget that the iPod was not a huge success for three years or so, giving others plenty of time to copy the iPod model so we end up ‘remembering’ that lots of other MP3 players offered all the same things as the iPod, but in 2001 that was not the case.

            2. The Rio Carbon was 2004 and a top of the line Palm PDA had 8 MB in 2001. In 2001 iPod was the smallest device with the most storage. It’s our faulty memories that think Apple was following, because it wasn’t until around 2004 that the iPod really took off and by that time there were lots of copycats.

            3. iPod became Windows compatible in the summer of 2002. It was only the first generation iPod that was Mac-only. We do tend to forget how revolutionary the iPod was in 2001, mainly because the iPod didn’t ‘take off’ until a few years later and by that time there were plenty of other devices using the iPod model. Transfer speed was another improvement in the 2001 iPod, that it didn’t take hours and hours to move your music onto a device.

  2. I currently have a multi-room system “cobbled together” with speaker systems plugged into AirPort bases all around the house. I manage the music with iTunes via AirPlay. Personally, I’m looking forward to HomePods controlled via AirPlay 2.

    1. I don’t know what you currently use for speakers, but if you care about music fidelity, i would encourage you to focus on speaker placement and speaker quality rather than assuming that any one point speaker array will ever provide an enjoyable listening experience.

  3. Pretty much confirms what I said yesterday, this thing was there over 3 years ago but wasn’t considered important enough to make an effort with even though the media in telling us what they were doing back then were describing exactly what they should be doing if by some lunacy they weren’t.

    Its arrogance (and even SJ could suffer at times remember) they thought no one else would do it any time soon soon so they didn’t need to hurry sat on their asses put it on a shelf with the sticker ‘take another look in 3 years’. Probably no one noticed it till they took down the AppleTV, MacPro, MacMini and any number of devices we no nothing about sat on that shelf until a few engineers had enough time to work on them in their coffee break.

  4. Why is anyone comparing Echo to HomePod? Echo is just a spy with crappy sound. I have one. It’s junk. I’ll happily wait for a HomePod. MDN, your recent takes reflect some kind of “KnowItAll” delusional thinking. The only mistake they made was to announce it before it was ready – it should have been a surprise. You cannot name one replacement for Steve Jobs who would have taken the job or performed as well as Tim. Steve didn’t always perform very well either, BTW.

    1. You are full off crap! Echo is not junk and I don’t even have one but have friends who do and, they love it. Yes, HomePod will no doubt have good sound but so what?????? Siri, still lightyears behind and anyone who says otherwise is full of shi_. I have many Apple products and enjoy those that I do have but it doesn’t change the fact that the company is vastly different today and not necessarily in a better way. Apple should rightfully be ahead the curve with billions in the bank and I suspect a good number of talented people. The iPhone is “The” product for the company and that isn’t saying much which is why the stock will continue to take hit. The truth Apple can’t survive in it’s current form, with a $5B dollar super quarters without one lonesome product.. iPhone….. They need to change the way they manage their business so that when. I product is announced they can deliver.. They need to be embarrassed.

  5. You guys seem a little off base. Apple IS an innovator, but is rarely first-to-market. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player or the mobile phone. It didn’t invent wireless headphones or even tablet devices. What Apple does is wait until a product proves demand, and THEN builds a better mousetrap.

    IMHO, the mistake is being concerned with sound quality versus functionality. Most people have an Echo for convenience of data, not listening to music.

  6. So, is this the day when MDN finally agrees with me about how Tim is a fucking moron. He should have sacked himself instead of Forstal. The day he apologized for Apple Maps was the day it became crystal clear to me that he was a moron. It was also crystal clear to Forstal too, because he (quite rightly) preferred to be sacked rather than apologies for something that needed no apology. Steve would have agreed with Forestal.

    So MDN, if you have finally come to your senses, please also stop pushing Arendt for the next CEO. That will end up even worse. How worse? Don’t even ask, but remember what she said……it was something ridiculous like, “I had no idea Apple customers were so evangelical”,just after she introduced new Tshirts for Apple employees…..and nothing else.

    The amazing thing is…..Forstal was the guy no one liked as…..Steve was before Steve was Sacked. Now Forstal has gone though what Steve went through when he was ousted from Apple. So now, Forstal should be ready for a comeback to Apple just as Steve did. Maybe now Forstal might be likeable even by Ive.

    1. Maybe some people would prefer changing bubbles, whining on Echo Daily News for a change, buying products they think Steve Jobs would have created- first. Frankly, the only thing I’m concerned about is who the fkkk they’d get to replace Tim Cook. As if he is responsible for every single variable involved in the art and shipping. As if either he or even Steve should have conquered every single market that every single one of their “competitors,” or other companies dabble in. I’d say they’re doing pretty well without the perfectionist judgmental guidance from here, there, and everywhere. Armchair critics, CEO’s, artists. Start your own damn companies and then curse yourself for not being Steve Jobs- the man who told his successor to think for himself.

      1. Anyone could do as well as a caretaker ceo as Cook has done.

        Remember, it took many years before anyone outside GE realized Immelt was coasting. To be fair, Immelt was left with a shell of a company in 2001 and had to manage through both the 2001 crisis and 2008 financial implosion. So by 2009, Immelt was spent. Now 9 years on, GE is fat & slow but diversified. In 2017 Apple is fat slow bloated, politically motivated, and for all practical purposes focused on one product only. A fatal flaw in the iPhone or a major security lapse on iOS would sink Apple faster than Cook could fine Ive to commiserate.

        Cook is enjoying the fruits of Jobs’ work. That is it.

  7. Lack of vision and absence of animal spirit combine to suck value potential from this company every day. HomePod is just the latest product with lukewarm commitment. Maps could be a disruptor; ApplePay could own the payments market; Airport could have been the key to my home; gave up on iCar just before autotech went parabolic. Numbers and pages can’t be made to work consistently across ios, desktop and web platforms. AppleTV has evolved nowhere and consumers puzzle over why they’d pay premium. Oh but never mind they have new iMessage stickers every few months and $200B earning money market and investment grade bond returns; why? because they’re safe. Ugh.

  8. Do people actually use an Echo to just blindly order items of amazon? I’d never just order something without knowing exactly what variation I was getting and checking the price. It’s the same with the dash buttons, I know you can change what pressing it does, but with the way prices vary on amazon I’d still want to check and thus the button becomes pointless.

    The music capability of HomePod really isn’t of interest to me. I’ve got a decent sound system but nowadays I don’t really use it as I tend to use headphones or just rely on my iPhone/TV speakers as I move from room to room. Personally I’d like them to add the Siri functionality in a smaller device, possibly as part of Apple TV so I could have it in every room. Echo would do this at a reasonable price but I just don’t trust Amazon (as well as Google and the rest) to have a microphone in my house.

  9. I think where Amazon are getting it right is that they’re making them cheap enough that people will have multiple devices in their house giving wide coverage. I can’t see huge numbers of people having a HomePod in every room in their house.

    I’ve always thought that Apple have missed a trick by not keeping old Apple TV’s a little more up to date. I’ve bought every new one they’ve done (other than 4K as I don’t have a 4K TV) but I’ve not got rid of my old ones I’ve just moved them into other rooms.

    I’ve started adding HomeKit devices to my house and as a result am actually using Siri for certain things (90% of it is automated, or I do it manually because it’s easier to browse the options than remember them all) but my iPhone is not always with me, not every person in my house has an iPhone where Hey Siri works when unplugged, so it would be good to have an always on device to take commands. I don’t have the money, space, or desire to have a HomePod in the majority of my rooms.

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