After four years of disappointing sales, Apple discontinued the original HomePod and will focus its efforts on HomePod mini (see “Apple introduces the $ 99 HomePod mini, ”October 13, 2020). The company provided a statement to Matthew Panzarino of the TechCrunch, saying:
HomePod mini has been a success since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, a smart assistant and smart home control, for just $ 99. We focus our efforts on the HomePod mini. We stop the original HomePod, it will continue to be available until the supply is exhausted through the Apple online store, Apple retail stores and Apple authorized distributors. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates, services and support through Apple Care.
Although the HomePod was a great engineering marvel and delivered great sound, it wasn’t competitively priced with smart speakers from Amazon and Google, either at the starting price of $ 349 or $ 299 at which Apple subsequently resigned (see “Beyond music: comparing HomePod with Amazon Echo and Google Home, ”March 15, 2018). It was often on sale for $ 199, and when TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers bought one at that price, it was on the shelf for so long that it lagged behind several iOS versions.
The price seems to have been what pulled down HomePod sales, given that the $ 99 HomePod mini sold well. For $ 99, the HomePod mini compares extremely well with its older brother. It boasts a surprisingly good sound for its size and almost all the features of the HomePod, including support for stereo pairs and the ability to act as a HomeKit hub. The HomePod mini can handle sound even better thanks to its U1 Ultra Wideband chip.
The main advantages that HomePod has over HomePod mini are:
- Better sound, based on its larger and more capable audio components
- Spatial awareness that allows HomePod to adjust its sound to suit room features
- A “home theater with Apple TV 4K” feature that relies on HomePod space awareness to add a captivating home theater experience
It’s easy to say that Apple has exceeded the price for the HomePod. However, it is probably fairer to say that Apple designed it excessively and therefore had to charge a premium price to take into account both the initial investment and the manufacturing costs. This plays into the narrative that Apple charges too much in certain product categories, such as the Apple TV, whose prices of $ 149 and $ 179 are significantly higher than competing streaming media products from Amazon, Google and Roku.
However, such a narrative falls into other seemingly similar categories. Both AirPods and AirPods Pro were hugely successful, despite the steep prices of $ 159 and $ 249 and several competitors. In addition, the new AirPods Max headphones, which retail for an attractive $ 549 – hundreds of dollars more than comparable products – appear to be selling well, if shipping delays are to be followed (see “Apple’s AirPods Max headphones are expensive but good, ”March 15, 2021).
We really enjoyed our HomePods and it looks like Apple will make sure they are useful for years to come. It may be sad to see the HomePod discontinued, but it’s better for Apple to recognize the reality of a slow-selling product and focus on the more powerful HomePod mini.