Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, the HomePod, is almost ready for launch.
After missing its release last year, the $350 smart speaker has now been approved for sale by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which means Apple will probably start selling it very soon.
Following its delayed launch, Apple said it “needed a little more time” to get HomePod ready for customers.
Apple said HomePod would start shipping the U.S., UK, and Australia “in early 2018”. Well, it’s early 2018, and everyone’s still waiting for the Siri-powered speaker to show up.
While the FCC approval doesn’t reveal anything new about HomePod, we know we’re in the home stretch before release. Inventec, one of the two suppliers assembling the smart speaker, says it’s already made 1 million of them, according to the Taipei Times.
Inventec and Foxconn, the other HomePod manufacturer, are expecting to ship 10-12 million speakers in total by the end of the year.
When HomePod finally does launch, it’ll face stiff competition from Amazon and Google. Apple’s entering a new space that Amazon’s been leading for years. Amazon says it sold “tens of millions” of Alexa-powered devices this past holiday season.
Google’s also moved a good amount of Assistant-powered Home speakers. The company says it sold “more than one Google Home device every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October,” which works out to more than 6 million devices. And that’s not even counting all of the Home speakers sold since the original launched in 2016.
At first glance, it may seem like Apple has no chance of catching up — it’s already well behind Amazon and Google, but this is still anyone’s game. As we saw at CES 2018, third-party device makers are just starting to incorporate Alexa and Google Assistant into their devices, so we’ve still got a ways to go before anyone’s declared a winner.
And while there weren’t as many new products with HomeKit compatibility as there were with Alexa and Assistant at CES, vendors are warming up to Apple’s smart home platform. Belkin’s even made a cool bridge adapter that automatically makes all WeMo smart home devices compatible with HomeKit.
Ultimately, HomePod’s success will depend on a number of factors:
Price: At $350, HomePod costs way more than a $50 Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, and still more than a $100 Echo, or $150 Echo Plus, or $130 Google Home.
Siri: Apple’s digital assistant is nowhere near as robust as Alexa or the Assistant. How well Siri handles questions, controls, and more will be important.
Sound quality: HomePod looks to have the best sound quality out of all the speakers (although we’ll have to see how it compares to the very loud and very good-sounding Google Home Max), but again, will people be willing to pay for it? An Echo or Home provides good-enough sound.
If you’ve been waiting for HomePod, just know this: It’s almost here. Be patient. We’re so close.