Apple HomePod gets mixed reviews, Nest returns to Google
The battle for the smart home is well underway, triggered by the advent of smart speakers. Apple’s entry, HomePod, will finally be released tomorrow. Meanwhile, it was formally announced that Nest will become part of Google, which now has a formidable hardware division.
Unfortunately for Apple, the HomePod is getting very mixed reactions from those who’ve had early access. Almost every review I’ve seen says a version of the following:
- It sounds better than any other speaker in this segment or at its price range.
- It tries to force users to adopt Apple Music and isn’t natively compatible with other streaming services.
- Siri’s capabilities are fewer and performance weaker than Alexa or the Google Assistant.
The New York Times review explicitly told people, “Don’t rush to buy it.” These very mixed reviews will convince the majority of fence-sitters to avoid it entirely, or at least wait until Apple makes other music services natively available and improves Siri.
Apple has tried to position HomePod as a Sonos competitor that happens to have Siri on it. But it’s being judged by standards and expectations set by Google Home and Echo, which lean more heavily on selling the value of their virtual assistants.
HomePod was already at a competitive disadvantage because of its $349 price tag. It had to be better than Google Home and Echo to gain traction. Apple fans and audiophiles may still buy the device, but the larger public will likely skip it. Accordingly, Apple will need to start on its HomePod 2.0 efforts immediately and consider developing a lower-priced version.
The smart speaker market has become the front door to the smart home. The companies that dominate the smart speaker market will potentially also control the smart home device ecosystem. Apple’s larger smart home efforts will be hurt without a competitive smart speaker. Beyond this, as I’ve argued before, Siri needs to improve to keep the iPhone competitive over time.
Meanwhile, Nest’s move from Alphabet to Google brings more coherence to its combined hardware and smart home strategies.
Google acquired Nest in 2014 for roughly $3.2 billion (an acquisition Apple probably should have made). It maintained Nest as one of Alphabet’s “other bets” until now. Independently, Google recently acquired HTC’s hardware business for more than $1 billion.
The HTC hardware group and Nest under Google now give the company a significant hardware product lineup and production capability that extends to an array of connected home devices, including thermostats, security cameras, alarms and others.