Apple Struggles to Sell the HomePod

Posted on April 12, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Apple with 42 Comments

Apple’s premium smart speaker, the HomePod, is off to a disappointing start for Cupertino. Following strong pre-order numbers, Apple is reportedly facing problems with selling the HomePod.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the company is selling less than 10 units of the product in some of its stores per day with inventories rapidly piling up in most locations. When the HomePod first went on sale, it grabbed 72% of the revenue in the smart speaker market, but the share of revenue dipped to 19% in February and March, according to analyst firm Slice Intelligence. Gene Munster, a long-time Apple watcher, reportedly told Bloomberg that Apple will sell around 7 million HomePods this year and 11 million in 2019 while Amazon will sell 29 million Echos in 2018 and 39 million in 2019. Google, on the other hand, will likely sell 18 million Home speakers in 2018 and 32 million in 2019.

This isn’t the first time Apple has struggled to get a hot seller for a new product category. The first gen Apple Watch, for example, wasn’t too much of a big hit — but future iterations of the product helped Apple Watch become the leading product in the smartwatch market. In the case of the HomePod, though, the picture might not be as bright.

Apple fumbled the launch of the HomePod, first introduced at WWDC last year. The product was supposed to be released in December just in time for the holidays, but Apple missed the release and delayed the product. That’s not all — Apple’s HomePod is one of the most limited smart speakers in the market, and it’s essentially locked into the Apple ecosystem. Many potential HomePod customers — including myself — are disappointed with the lack of native Spotify support, as well as the lack of multi-room audio support (coming later with a software update). The product did receive raving reviews for its audio quality, however.

Apple is cutting orders of the HomePod with a manufacturer for the time being, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the company continues to push on with the product. Cupertino is, however, expected to introduce a new version of its popular AirPods earbuds, as well as a new, premium over-the-ear headphones under its own brand sometime later this year.

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Comments (43)

43 responses to “Apple Struggles to Sell the HomePod”

  1. dontbe evil

    oh this is an event, people start to be bothered to get milked from overpriced apple crap?

  2. Andi

    Let's remind ourself how the "glowing" reviews happened. Literally all mainstream reviewers had to attend a "listening session" operated by Apple. Here's what David Pogue tells us:


    "The PR person could switch playback from one speaker to the other without missing a beat. They even had a halo light rigged to turn on behind whichever speaker was playing, so you’d know which was which."


    Audio reviews are very psychological, that's why blind tests are used. Apple did the opposite and used glowing light to make sure you know which is the homepod.


    Also, David shares this: "An Apple rep told me that the test songs were streaming from a server in the next room (a Mac). But each speaker was connected to it differently: by Bluetooth (Amazon Echo), Ethernet (Sonos), input miniplug (Google Home), and AirPlay (HomePod), which is Apple’s Wi-Fi-based transmission system.

    Since the setup wasn’t identical, I wondered if it was a perfectly fair test. (Bluetooth, for example, may degrade and compress the music it’s transmitting, depending on the source and the equipment.)"


    Not only Apple did not do a blind test, it made sure to give the homepod all the advantages, no EQ settings were disclosed, and glowing lights used to show which is which.


    Afterwards all the reviews from the Verge, Techcrunch, ArsTechnica, etc said it sounds "better". No one, I repeat, no one disclosed the test except David Pogue.


    Finally, once some objectivity was thrown in, David Pogue's blind test, Consume Reports and to some extent WaPo, the homepod was no long the best.

  3. will

    While it may sounds good, and it does sound really good, in the era of Alexa and Google people are looking at function over form. Not everyone has a dance party or big event in their house that needs room filling sound all of the time. What people would like is an AI that gives them control of their smart home devices and works with the services they use (Office 365, Spotify, etc.). Having good sound is second, AI is first.


    Apple went down the same road they have done in the past of "people will buy this because we made it". It was a product that launched to soon, but in a way it was Apple's own fault. They should have been investing in Siri for YEARS and not just doing little things here and there like movie times, or better jokes. Had they not squandered years of lead time with Siri and started with a basic speaker with Airplay support, people might be more inclined to "upgrade" to a better sounding version.


    I would not be surprised to see an Echo Premium device later this year that has great sounding audio, sort of an Echo Max or something like it. Personally I think Amazon should buy Sonos and then they would have a massive lead to work from audio wise.

    • BrickPrinter

      Not sure you can say that sound quality is "form" as the function of a "speaker" is to put out sound. And maybe that is not what you are saying. Of course the function of a "smart speaker" is of course all the other cool things also. But one of the big gripes about the Apple one is that does not support Spotify--a music service. If your one of your main reasons to purchase is music services--then pretty much sound quality is a primary function. I have honestly been very happy with my Invoke because of this fact (and that only spent $99 for it) and it plays my music stations great as well as simple stuff like timers, answering basic questions, etc. I think am waiting for Alexa to come out with a killer speaker with Cortana also available. Or an Invoke with seamless Alexa integration. Really should probably try a Google one also.


  4. red.radar

    Its a beta product. It only works with Apple Music, and Siri is not very good right now. Give it to Rev 2. One thing we have learned is that Apple commits to a product and will see it through (right or wrong).


    It is a good speaker, but that is all it has going for it at the moment and the price is a little high considering it is just a speaker.


    Can't say I am shocked by the results. I am curious to what Apple does with the product in the long term.




  5. Scott Ross

    It's simple. Apple was too late. The Home Pod needed to come out around the time of the original Echo. Also Amazon is doing really well with their Home Digital Assistant platform because it is pretty affordable. I got into the ecosystem not by spending money, but by getting my first Echo Dot as a gift. Now I want to have some in certain rooms like the kitchen or garage. If I put an echo in the living room its the high end one, because that is where I need better sound. Apple would want to much for their theoretical cheap version of the Home Pod. Knowing them they would want to sell it for $100 where the echo dot would retail for $30-$40

  6. markatcristorey

    It's expensive, but I decided to try one out and it's easily my favorite purchase of the year. Saving up to buy another one for our bedroom. I don't really trust the whole "always listening" smart speaker thing, but I guess I have a bit more faith in Apple than Amazon or Google . . .

    • iPhoneX

      In reply to markatcristorey:

      I agree, this is the strength. Apple's privacy doctrine, which they are able to do due to their high prices, is admirable. Of course, it can all be taken with a grain of salt, but they are the only company to publicly defend and advocate for privacy.

      • Andi

        In reply to iPhoneX:

        Google is a company that also defends your privacy. It has an absolute sterling reputation in that field. Rock solid, crucial services, that are second to none. All the techniques that Apple brags to use in anonymizing your metadata is employed by Google before Apple even though about it. Stop falling for Tim Cook's ruse. He is not a neutral entity.

  7. LocalPCGuy

    I'd like these more if they were stereo capable.

    • Stooks

      In reply to LocalPCGuy:

      A planned future update is to allow syncing of multiple HomePod's to support stereo, intercom etc. Supposedly later this year. WWDC?

      • nbplopes

        In reply to Stooks:


        Apple is dropping the ball in that aspect. In 10 yearsI haven’t got used to present something in one year only to be available 6 months after and feature complete in 10 or more. It’s starting to sound too much like MS or Sony. What is next? 18 months after?


        its not they are firing on a great number of cylinders for the consumer sake. I am not buying a spaceship or tickets to go to fashion show, or to listen to Tim Cook’s political views in TV shows if you know what I mean.


        Apple needs return back to be a grounded yet ambitious company whose opinions manifest themsefs primary through all their products. ALL their products.


        Hopefully they will manage to that.

  8. YouWereWarned

    My parents have an all-Apple house--phones, tablets, and computers. When I heard HomePod was on the way at $350 a pop, I quickly snapped up a pair of Invokes for them. Six months later, my Mom is still thrilled that she can command Cortana ("that woman") to play Frank Sinatra et al, and be reminded to take meds or go to an appointment. And my Dad is thrilled he doesn't have to keep telling her how to use it, because Cortana has become quite adept at recognizing your intention. They can spend the left-over $500 on something else. The Invoke + Cortana meets their needs completely.

  9. Ugur

    As Apple is still doing blockbuster style in earnings, they of course always have a chance to turn things around while that is the case, they have the money reserves to push this for several iterations while it is not doing that great until it does, if thy want to.

    That said, i'm not into the current iteration AT ALL and find it quite baffling if they expected it to sell any better than it does (which seems to be the case as they overstocked it).

    I mean, sure, there are always a few Apple die hard fans lining up to buy pretty much any new Apple product released, but come on, it is pretty obvious that besides the large first wave purchases due to that, this product is quite unappealing to most regular users.

    No native support for most commonly used services?

    Automatically cuts off interest by a large chunk of potential buyers.

    Then general lock in aspects to the Apple eco system beyond that, cuts off another good chunk.

    Then, people like me, who actually don't listen to music on speakers that often, but could maybe be convinced of a smart ambient assistant? Well, Siri is like (besides Bixby which i don't judge since many iterations behind, basically in gen 0.5) the clearly worst assistant, not something i'd pay money for to buy a device which is mainly controlled with that.

    So yeah..let's say it has potential to become much better with later iterations and bigger software updates.

  10. nbplopes

    Hi. I still have not seen or heard a sound from the HomePod. But judging by the reviews I would say its not a well rounded product/smart-speaker, in-spite of the touted sound virtues. This is why I have not bought one.


    I guess the above is why its not selling well. Even when considering its charcteristics we conclude that its primary contender is the Sonos Play5, a more expensive device.


    Still I think that most negative comments on this site are more a counter action to a general positive opinion around Apple and its products. Not so much about its specific products. Even when relatively positive there is generally an implicit negative charge.


    Let me try explaining why.


    If you look at Apple history in deploying new products, very rarely they were a hit. They had extremely interesting characteristics that set it apart yet they were not well rounded. A well known example was for instance the iPhone, but also the Apple Watch. Only in v2 or v3 of these products it actually became well rounded.


    By not being well rounded I mean maybe lacking the flexibility people expect. In this case Apple faces the added fact that some other company, Amazon, already defined the category. Even if its execution is deep and robust in the covered feature set, close to being flawless. Which comes to what defines Apple approach in comparison to others.


    Apple usually approaches a new product like this:


    1. A couple of features that set it apart from the rest.
    2. Aim deep and robust execution of a very focused feature set, some might argue that is restricted to the point of triviality (more about that later).
    3. Strong marketing around the above.
    4. Price middle to high.


    In each iteration Apple does the above over and over. What I mean by depth is that Apple aims to implement a feature to the point where it becomes meaningful in practice to the user, not in some future vision. I mean by robust is that the user experiences a recurrent behaviour with minimum hiccups, if any at all.


    The side effect is that they seam to move slow. Probably they are in certain aspects, but overall its not that simple to conclude.


    Other companies do it differently. They usually try to set the product apart by the number of features.


    1. Pack as much features they feasibly can.
    2. Aim an execution with compromises in quality given the relatively large feature set. How could they otherwise?. That is, some if not all require depth (hoping for feature versions) and some do not work well at all (hit or miss game).
    3. Strong marketing around the above and the future (vision).
    4. Some price it high and let others come up with lower priced options (Microsoft), other price it low to middle. (Amazon, Google).


    The side effect is that they seam to be moving fast. But overall they move very little in peoples lives because it lacks robustness. With the rain of so many features, takes a long times to achieve meaningful results in practice, if ever. Some features that seam important are simply forgotten, broken for ever.


    These are two different approaches to product management. But create entirely different expectations in the user base. So much so that creates an irrational tension between people interested in technology.


    People that expect the first will always criticise the second lacking depth and robustness, even if it the product they prefer do not support as many features. These people can't understand why someone would favor a larger feature set over depth and robustness. These are according to some the non "Pro's", the people that don't know what to do with their money and that are easily influentated (sarcasm)


    People that expect products resulting from second approach, a more feature rich list, even if its materialisation does not work that well, always criticise the first. Some to the point of arguing that whoever prefers the first are thoughtless, or that Apple produces high priced cr* while never actually using it for a long time. These people can't understand why someone would favor a smaller feature set. These are the "Pro's", the smart people (sarcasm).


    Considering the I once felt that was betrayed by Apple. The iPad 3 (the first Retina) was a piece of ... Slow, slow slow with more features. So much so that Apple in 6 months revised the product, unprecedented. This had such an impact on me that back than decided to move my household tech to Windows (Windows Phone, Surface Pro2 and than Surface Pro3) ... But I found the second reality, which I knew well too, but nevertheless, was surprised. I was expecting MS had changed the approach to face Apple. But it did not, it actually pumped up the volume of the second approach! I just could not live with it and found that was actually spending more money, getting a larger feature list but way less effective.


    This is to show how deep can go the effects of these two different approaches. Both in terms of expectations and willingness to commit to one or the other approach.


    There is no right or wrong really in this. Its a question of preference of each person. How each person likes to deal with tech. For instance. I could have bought the Galaxy S9, but I simply could not probably absorb all the feature set it provides in one year, further more I'm sure the lack of robustness of its implementation would drive me nuts regardless of how beautiful it looks (the Surfaces's drove me nuts and they were at the time beautiful devices too). This is something clear that after a couple of minutes of operation can be observed. If you pick up say an Galaxy S9 and an iPhone 8 if not the iPhone X, one immediately feel that the second as a smoother operation. I prefer that, others prefer the first. Still in that larger feature set, some features that I have in iOS / OSX are not there.


    The same with these speakers. In comparison with other options, even if its not a well rounded product, some might . For me, a non well rounded product is a no go, but understand that people might take a dive on. Different people different expectations.


    So can ever Google or MS take on the first approach? I don't think they can. Not because they don't have the technical ability, but because that is not what their users expect! That is not how they educated their market. They don't have the culture for it. The moment they try to do the first, I'm sure the Microsoft Press will start complaining about the number of features even if its execution is flawless. They start complaining that they need to move faster, that they are loosing the race, so on and so forth. They start to get bored and move on to whoever feeds the feature list need, dooming the company. Because they erroneously learned to take flawless execution as something simple to achieve, they don't value it as much as a long feature list, they were educated by MS towards that expectation. As such they don't understand how someone can buy Apple products, they dislike and some even despise Apple for being successful with the first approach.


    Could Apple adopt Google an MS approach? No. Users would flock out, opting for immediately "cheaper" options. This I feel, its the risk Apple takes with its approach. If they start stepping on the ball on depth and robustness most users will leave them. This is a risk that neither Google or MS have. Because its user base are used to think in terms of the next version will fix it towards some grand futuristic vision, now its AR/AI /Cloud until Gartner move to some other literature about the future.


    Cheers.

  11. mariusmuntensky

    Of course they have issues selling it. It is way too limited! No standard BT and aux connection? Really?

  12. Tony Barrett

    I think these days Apple are so blinkered by their self-importance, success and belief in their ultra loyal fanbase, they think they can launch pretty much anything with their logo on it, and it will sell by the bucket load. Maybe the 'fans' aren't so stupid after all. The HomePod probably sounds very good, but as usual, it's designed for complete lock-in to Apple services, and doesn't even have that 'wow' factor. This is Apple launching a 'me too' device, and not a very clever one either.

  13. Jules Wombat

    But still 10x more sales than the total Cortana device sales.

    Don't throw stones from glass houses

  14. melinau

    You don't buy a gadget like this for audiphile reasons. Google & Amazon's speakers are perfectly good enough for casual listening to MP3 music streams, though the echo dot won't win any awards.


    By making a "great-sounding" speaker with such limited services access Apple has missed the point. The iPhone is only currently extant becuase Apple made it much better than existing 'phones, and managed to build-up a user-base "iphone" became generic in the way that "Hoover" is.

    Spotify is the default streaming Service, Sonos the default hardware. If you don't support Spotify, and can't compete on value with Sonos, you won't sell too many "great-sounding" speakers.


    Ignoring all of that, Apple's "platform" is under-developed and horribly limited, so your posh speaker does very little more than stream iTunes...

  15. pecosbob04

    Doomed, Doomed I tell you! Has Apple ever launched a product that Paul or one of his minions at this site or the predecessor site didn't write basically this same article condemning the product to the ash heap of history based on incomplete, limited and often just wrong channel and survey data? I think I will keep both my HomePod and AAPL. For another perspective:

    https:// appleinsider.com/articles/18/04/12/slice-sales-data-on-homepod-likely-as-wrong-as-it-was-about-apple-watch-in-2015


    Link was broken to allow post delete spaces after "//".


    • Chris Payne

      In reply to pecosbob04:

      Great link. While it may have been slightly biased (being on Apple Insider), it highlights all the ridiculous doom and gloom a lot of blogs and sites report on Apple, and yet Apple consistently blows away market expectations. I've been hearing how Apple is flubbing it for years and years and yet they continue to make more money, gain market value, and sell increasing numbers of their products every year.

      • Ugur

        In reply to unkinected: It's riding out the momentum wave of the great successes of the past while also cranking up the price/profit margin for most categories so that lower unit sales numbers still have nice high profits with them.
        So the Apple is dommed saying people are neither wrong nor right at this point.
        Apple is still doing blockbuster style currently in profits, but anyone who thinks they will continue to do so for more than 3-4 years if they don't massively course correct on most product lines is a bit naive.


    • Jaxidian

      In reply to pecosbob04:


      So what in this article is wrong then?

      • pecosbob04

        In reply to Jaxidian:

        The article is pure speculation based on incomplete information from sources that consistently get it wrong. The article that I attempted to link to describes it well. To point out what is right or wrong in the article will have to wait for the upcoming investor calls.

  16. PincasX

    This is kinda interesting. If I’m to belive the bloggers of thurrott dot com the HomePod is coming up short, the new iPhones are coming up short, new Macs have been rejected by customers and yet none of this have has impacted Apple’s financials. It’s pretty amazing that Apple can miss expectations on so many products and still consistently make its revenue guidance. I wonder how our esteemed bloggers think Apple is making up for all that revenue shortfall.

    • Wolf

      In reply to PincasX:

      As long as you have a core user base that's willing to pay 2 or 3 times what a product is worth, your financials will look good. Apple has proven over and over again that astronomical profit margins provide consistently high financials as long as the lemmings continue to pay. They don't need to make a huge number of sales to look good. Doesn't necessarily reflect the quality or feature short-comings.

      • Stooks

        In reply to Wolf:

        They must have an amazing and I mean amazing core user base in terms of size. Apple prints money.

      • PincasX

        In reply to Wolf:

        You seem to be missing the point. At the outset of each quarter Apple offers guidance on how that quarter will do finically. If these claims are correct, Apple is not meeting is own targets and would thus miss it's guidance for the quarter since the guidance is dependent on products hitting their sales goals. I'm curious how the folks that write hear square the news that Apple is coming up short in hitting their targets of the majority of their products and still don't have to adjust their guidance as they would be legally required to do. These articles simply don't match reality.

    • Ugur

      In reply to PincasX: Actually things do affect Apple.
      Yes, they still make huge profits, but as inventory is piling up for the Homepods, obviously they are not selling as many units as they want. They can still make nice profit from them since they have a very large profit margin on each device, but, well, profit margins are not automatically a good indicator for market penetration/unit numbers shares percentage.
      Likewise, the Macbooks have a large profit margin, too, but obviously are not doing that hot in market unit share as it is below 10%.
      The iPhone X is likely the phone with largest profit margin on the market by far, so yes, despite the known info that they are not selling in the quantities Apple would like at all, they still make a huge profit amount of course while they sell them at all.
      It is known that the iPhone X sells in way lower numbers than previous iterations but since the profit margin is that large, that makes up for a lot.
      Apple is basically well aware that they will sell less and less units of most of their device categories over the next few years in most countries, as the markets get saturated for those categories for a while, so they have cranked up the profit margin more and more over the last few years over their already bigger than most competitors' prices and margins.
      In 2-3 years one will quite likely still see a drop in profits for Apple in several of these device categories if Apple doesn't counter steer in other ways than just attempting to make up for lower sold unit amounts by constantly cranking up the price/profit margin per device, because there is a limit how much most people are accepting to swallow that.


      • PincasX

        In reply to Ugur:

        You aren’t getting my point.


        Apple provides revenue guidance for each quarter. That guidance is based on their sales projections. If I am to belive the writers here Apple is coming up short against its own projections and therefore would miss its revenue guidance.


        Profit margins and hwo

        they do in terms or market share in any given product category are irrelevant to that point.


        Apple is legally obligated to to warn shareholders if they are going to miss their guidance. They didn’t do this for the most recent quarter therefore it is safe to assume they hit there guidance. That is a hell of a feat when when they can’t hit their own sales targets. So, either they are in violation of SEC laws or these stories about iPhones, HomePods and MacBooks coming up short of Apple expectations are just bullshit. Certainly any one of those could be short and carried by something else that did better than expected but there is no way they all did.


  17. Daekar

    Part of me feels like this whole speaker thing is going to be a flash in the pan. I know everyone is convinced that ambient computing is the future, but why, exactly? That involves shoving tiny computers, batteries, and radios into a million things that don't need them, that function fine (or better) without them, that now need to be updated for security.... What need, other than that artificial one generated by exposure to modern advertising, would this actually fulfill? What does this achieve that my phone can't already do?


    As much as I don't personally care for Apple products in general, I don't feel like this is a big deal for them at all.

    • Ugur

      In reply to Daekar: I don't see ambient computing as fad at all, the opposite, i'm convinced it will for sure become huge in the future.
      (Even then though it's nonsensical to asume like some do that it would make us get rid of our screen device usage, there are always many valid reasons why one wants to have visual content shown and maybe even interact with it in tactile or other way)
      But in that case, with "the future" for it panning out in huge way i man several, at least 4 years down the line, for sure not this year nor the next.
      For right now and the more immediate future (again, at least this year and the next if not longer), i totally agree: it is totally a fad.
      Why those two so contrasting views based on the timeline?
      Because right now these assistants are just way too limited, lacking and bad, next to security and many other concerns.
      Yes, a good number of millions of people will buy them despite all those current limitations, but not in the huge massive numbers some are already expecting and predicting for the next few years.
      And most buy the cheapest ones if at all to give it a try and then not use the assistant side that much at all.

      Most average everyday people (not people reading sites like this one, so not people heavily into tech etc) will not buy such a speaker if no tech lover family member buys it or will then use it a bit and then get way too annoyed by the limitations quickly in most cases.

      I mean just listen to any halfway recent tech podcast and in most of them the people speaking are either regularly interrupted by their speaker assistants accidentally interpreting a totally different word as wake phrase and then doing nonsensical things, or the people speaking accidentally say the wake term themselves hence annoying everyone in the audience listening with speakers and having those assistants themselves at home..


      That's just one of the many current downsides, others like the security disaster of them listening to any voice instead of just the programmed owners' ones or other issues like them reading out messages on locked devices or likely also being easy to hack in general and yeah, well, most of them can't be used for much more (usually less) than the already limited assistants on phones.


      Us tech lovers put up with many things and then think it's similar for most other people.


      I showed my sister Siri once, she thought the idea of talking to a digital assistant in public was completely ridiculous and still stupid enough to not do at home, too. She tried it once to give a command to it, it didn't get it, that was it for her, she'll likely not try it again for the next few years.

      I as tech enthusiast gave it quite a fair try, several times, basically each time they announced some slight update for it, and today, so many years after its first introduction, it still sucks.


      The only digital assistant i find halfway usable (i tried Siri, Bixby and Google assistant, can't say much about Cortana as i never used it) is Google assistant, and even for that the limitations are still so many that i don't see any reason to buy a speaker with it until they fix at least half of those issues.


    • nbplopes

      In reply to Daekar:


      Yes. I don't know if it is a fad or not. But I'm still not convinced by this device category. I mean, I'm sure it will be part of the future, but for now, something that allows me to project app audio from a smartphone, tablet or laptop as easily as possible is the thing we really use in the house all the time.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Daekar:

      We just got one. We are iOS/Apple Music users already.


      I also agree that the Smart Speaker/Assistant Speaker is just a fad that will die off. It is the gift you give someone when you don't know what to give them 2016-2018?


      As far as great sounding portable speakers, well that has been here for a while now and will continue to grow. Bose has been selling them for a long time. I do not know anyone that has a old school amp/speaker setup anymore.


      We tried to a full size Echo last year. The "assistant" part was a gimmick that we all got bored of in a week and it did not sound nearly as good as our 2010 Bose SoundLink BT it tried to replace.


      The HomePod from a sound perspective is 10x better than the echo and easily 2-3x better than the Bose.

  18. mariusmuntensky

    Even so but it sold more than that Invoker speaker with JUNK Cortana. :)))))

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