Alexa, HomePod, and the Apple Watch

From this very thoughtful post by Neil Cybart:

When introduced at WWDC 2017, HomePod was marketed as an iOS accessory that will serve as the best speaker people have ever owned. The $349 price certainly reflects this accessory mindset. While Apple briefly went over how HomePod will be able to serve as a type of smart home hub, it was almost more of an afterthought. At its core, Apple does not think the only function for stationary smart speakers is to pipe digital voice assistants.

And:

I don’t think stationary smart speakers represent the future of computing. Instead, companies are using smart speakers to take advantage of an awkward phase of technology in which there doesn’t seem to be any clear direction as to where things are headed. Consumers are buying cheap smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants without having any strong convictions regarding how such voice assistants should or can be used.

And:

If the goal is to rely on a digital voice assistant, an Apple Watch wearer has access to Siri at pretty much every waking moment. When simply wearing an Apple Watch, Siri is instantly available everywhere in the home. The same kind of access to Alexa would require five, ten, or maybe even 15 Echo speakers spaced strategically throughout the home (another reason why Echo sales are becoming increasingly misleading – some consumers may be buying a handful of $20 speakers at one time). With a cellular Apple Watch, Siri is now available outside the home even when users are away from their iPhones. Meanwhile, Alexa is stuck within four walls – at least until Amazon unveils its Alexa smartwatch.

To me, this is the core flaw in the argument I’ve frequently seen that HomePod is competing with Echo and Google Home, that Apple is late to the game.

Another way to look at it is, Amazon is late to the game. The Echo is a big seller, no doubt, but it is Amazon’s ingenious mechanism to get their digital voice assistant shoehorned into the space with Siri and Googly (my name for Google’s identity free voice assistant) when their phone strategy did not catch on.

Read the rest of Neil’s piece. It’s very interesting. I’m looking forward to the HomePod, to getting a sense of Apple’s long term strategy here.



  • Caleb Hightower

    I just wish someone would make a wireless speaker system that stays in sync with my TV. Yes, there’s Sonos. Yes, there’s Sony, Bose, JVC, UE bluetooth speakers. All are clunky to use.

    Give me a speaker that auto connects to ATV when I turn on my ATV & Samsung SUHD curved 65″ TV, and doesn’t have lag, that I can add one, two, or seven more speakers for full 7.1 surround sound, all wireless, all auto connecting, and all priced for around $100-$150.

    I’d buy several of those in a NY-second.

  • Meaux

    “The stationary speaker market is a stopgap measure taking advantage of relatively low wearables adoption. My estimate is that Apple Watch adoption stands at 3% of the iPhone user base (10% to 15% of iPhone users in the U.S.). As that percentage increases, my suspicion is we will start to see the stationary smart speaker market begin to experience usage and retention troubles.”

    Does any data bear this out? I would hypothesize that smart speaker ownership and usage is higher among owners of Apple Watches than the broader iPhone owning market. I own both and I use Alexa orders of magnitude more than I use Siri.

    • Alex Hon

      I am holding off on voice-enabled smart speakers, still rather use high end “dumb” speakers connected to AppleTV and/or receiver through optical cable.

      In the mean time, Siri on my iPhone X and iPad Pro on a stand still works well enough for me!

      • Meaux

        I’m not saying that everyone does. However, I suspect if you did a poll of Apple Watch owners and compared it to iPhone owners as a whole, a higher proportion of the former own a smart speaker than the latter. If Cybart’s hypothesis is correct (that high-end wearables replace smart speakers), it would be the other way around.

  • Colin Mattson

    Also on the “Amazon’s questionable strategies” note, Amazon’s requirements for third-party Alexa implementations are so lax that the ENTIRE Alexa experience frequently becomes mind-blowingly terrible once you add them into the mix. (And we’re talking about products Amazon itself is crowing about as prominent platform citizens, not weird bottom-of-the-barrel AliExpress schlock.)

    The whole market’s in a weird and uncertain state, but Amazon is in perhaps the weirdest.

    • rick gregory

      cf the Sonos One which doesn’t do what it advertises and of its reviews, 39% are 1 star. On Amazon.

      A friend of mine who’s tech-savvy has been after Amazon and Sonos for weeks about this… silence (though Amazon did refund her the price).

  • Mo

    “Consumers are buying cheap smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants without having any strong convictions regarding how such voice assistants should or can be used.”

    Bingo. If my anecdotal experience is any indication, non-tech-enthusiast people are saying things like “Ooh, should I buy an Echo? I saw one used on that tv show. What does it do, again?” before buying them.

    Side note: I’m still waiting for the first stories that investigate how they’re being used to eavesdrop on private conversations at resort hotels. 😉

  • Terry Grier

    I agree that the watch – or even airpods and watch/iphone is a much better solution. The problem comes back to Siri. Just Today – I was trying to call my Vet (which is not in my contacts) and doing that using my airpods and iphone was so frustrating. I try and try with siri and it is difficult to get into flow or sync with it. That is what they need to work on. They being Apple.

    • rick gregory

      I think Siri does much better on stuff like calling people IN your contacts than the reverse. They assume, not unreasonably, that if you want to call someone they’re in your contacts. But of course that doesn’t work for new people, etc.

  • rick gregory

    Here’s what I don’t get about the HomePod. If a main purpose of it isn’t to be a Siri node and it’s not about being a smart home hub… why is it worth $349 again? To be a nice speaker? I can get nice Sonos Play 1 or Play 3 speakers and, frankly, that feels like a niche market.

    I get that they view things differently because of Watch but I don’t quite get why the HomePod exists. It’s far too expensive to compete with Google Home or even the full Echo. I can’t see a HomePod Mini coming out soon enough to matter. I can see it as a competitor for the Sonos Play line but… that feel niche for Apple.

  • spazsquatch

    I assumed that “Google Lady” had a real name that I just didn’t know for some reason. It seems like “Assistant” is her name, but I need my digital assistants a little more anthropomorphized than that, thank you.

    • Margaret

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  • Alain

    I will never wear a ‘wearable’. And at those prices, I suspect they will stay in their niche. Cheap digital assistant in every room to turn on the lights or the heat is OK, and much less expensive than an Apple Watch on every wrist. Why is a product doomed because it’s not the ‘future of computing’ ? The future might well be a variety of everything.

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