Apple still hopes to battle Amazon, Google and Sonos in the smart speaker space, and one prominent Apple analyst thinks a new HomePod could be Apple's next weapon in that fight. In fact, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims, we could see the new speaker as soon as this year.
In a tweet (opens in new tab) highlighting his expectation, Kuo didn’t give away too much, other than warning us not to expect “much innovation in hardware design”.
Apple would release a new version of HomePod in 4Q22-1Q23, and there may not be much innovation in hardware design. Smart speakers are undoubtedly one of the essential elements of the home ecosystem, but I think Apple is still figuring out how to succeed in this market.May 20, 2022
Kuo doesn’t clarify whether this is a new full-size HomePod, a HomePod mini or something in between — though the fact that the word “mini” doesn’t show up suggests that this is indeed Apple’s second attempt at the full-size speaker that was discontinued last year.
Kuo stated that the new HomePod will arrive either in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2023, and there are advantages to both release dates.
An earlier launch would likely give HomePod a bit of a sales boost, especially from holiday shoppers. But if Apple has other products up its sleeve for the end of the year — and it almost certainly does — it may be wiser to delay the HomePod to 2023 to avoid drawing attention from other products.
Apple doesn’t want to accidentally overshadow big hitters like the 2022 MacBook Air, which has been tipped as a “nice holiday seller,” not to mention the iPhone 14 or Apple Watch 8. Both those updates are all but certain to arrive in the fall.
Apple's smart home ambitions
“Smart speakers are undoubtedly one of the essential elements of the home ecosystem, but I think Apple is still figuring out how to succeed in this market,” Kuo added in his tweet.
Personally, I think the two areas where Apple is struggling to compete on that front are price and smarts.
The former of those is easily — if painfully — rectified. Amazon sells its Echo Dot for $49, and a full-size Echo comes in at $99. By contrast, the HomePod mini costs $99, and the original full-size HomePod debuted at $350 — $150 more than Amazon’s top-of-the-range Echo Studio.
People are used to paying a bit more for Apple products, but there’s a weakness that makes this extra money hard to justify: the speaker’s smarts. Siri was undoubtedly impressive when it debuted in 2011 with the iPhone 4s, but it has long been superseded by Alexa and Google Assistant in terms of functionality and flexibility.
An intelligence upgrade for Siri could make HomePod far more appealing, though there are questions as to how much Apple’s hands are tied by the company’s admirable commitment to user privacy.
We shall find out more on both scores once the next HomePod rolls around. And if Kuo is correct, we should see it at some point between October and March 2023.