19-03-2021 | By Sam Brown

Recently, Apple announced that it will discontinue its HomePod device favouring its smaller version, the HomePod Mini. What is the HomePod and why was it a commercial failure?

Apple HomePod is Discontinued

Recently, Apple announced that their smart home speaker, the HomePod, is to be discontinued with continuing product support for those who already own a HomePod. According to Apple, the HomePod is being replaced with its successor, the HomePod Mini, which has shown better market performance and popularity.

Not all products are meant to be, and many products that do fail are not always bad products. In fact, many products designed that fail are most likely decent, functional products that can be useful in everyday life, but this fact alone does not determine product viability. Put simply, if a product has no market then it will fail.

This was commonly seen during the 80s with the many computer companies that sprung up worldwide. The Z80 and 6502 microprocessors' introduction saw many machines manufactured, and all of these designs were unique in their own way. Some companies would produce extremely powerful computers with large RAM sizes, floppy access, and colour graphics. Still, the BBC Micro and XZ Spectrum took the market thanks to their price, availability, and ease of use. It didn't matter how good of a computer that a company could produce; if no one could afford it, no one would buy it.

What is the HomePod?

The HomePod is a smart speaker manufactured by Apple that combines modern technologies to create an intelligent speaker for playing music and taking phone calls. One of the most notable features of the HomePod is that it utilises beam-forming in its 8 speakers to direct music towards listeners. 

At the heart of the HomePod is an Apple A8 64-bit ARM SoC with 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 16GB of storage. Interfacing with the HomePod is done via a 272 x 340 LED matrix touchscreen display, and voice commands via Siri can also control the device. Connectivity is provided over Wi-FI with MIMO and Bluetooth 5 while 6 internal microphones allow for directional discrimination of incoming voice commands. The HomePod can be controlled using other Apple products that support iOS 11, including the iPhone and Apple computer systems.

Why was the HomePod a commercial failure?

Apple has designed many products, and many of these products are commercial successes. However, Apple has had many other failures including the macintosh portable, the Apple Newton, the round mouse, Apple eMate, and the U2 iPod. But it should be understood that Apple generally provides technological innovation as a result of their experimental designs.

The HomePod, however, is not entirely new in concept or design with similar devices such as Amazon  Echo already being well established. While the HomePod does include features such as music beam-forming, an intelligent speaker's concept had already existed before the HomePod.

The first nail in the coffin for the HomePod came from the mixed reviews it received upon release, and these included the overpricing of the product and the lack of third-party support. While the sound quality is said to be better than competitor products, the much higher cost does not justify the product, and the inability to connect to non-Apple products means that users are limited.

The second nail in the coffin came from the silicone base used in the HomePod. Despite extensive home testing done by employees, the HomePod damages wooden surfaces with a white ring that can only be removed with aggressive sanding and cleaning action. 

But the final nail in the coffin comes from its successor; the HomePod mini. At almost $200 cheaper ($99), the HomePod mini provides customers with an almost identical product that meets their needs in a smaller design. As such, the mini has essentially made the HomePod redundant with sales for the HomePod dropping.

In conclusion, engineers should look at the failure of the HomePod and recognise problems that products can face. Firstly, just because a design is good does not mean that it justifies its price. Secondly, a good product may simply not be in demand. Thirdly, designing restrictive products can quickly irritate customers.

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By Sam Brown