Daniel Eran Dilger, AppleInsider:
Rather than being the phenomenal, exciting new product category launch that pundits love to praise, the Alexa-powered Echo is Amazon’s salvaged booby prize for failing in smartphones: a few million units sold at low margin, versus the tens of millions of smartphones other Android licensees have been able to sell (or the hundreds of millions of high-margin iPhones Apple has been selling each year).
Ouch. But I agree with the premise. The Echo is a highly successful pivot. If Amazon’s 2014 Fire phone had caught on, it’s not clear that they would have gone down the Echo path.
Echo and related Alexa-based smart speakers are really “smart mics” for listening to commands. Amazon’s retail background works to leverage this to take online orders from Alexa users, but its original goal in hardware was a mobile phone with a camera, display and mic all working together to identify potential products to sell, not just a simple voice appliance. Amazon laid this out in excited detail at the Fire Phone launch, it just wasn’t able to sell it.
Google’s Home is a straight up knock off of Echo, designed to counter the threat of Amazon reaching audiences of online buyers before they ever think to search Google.
HomePod isn’t a “smart mic” seeking to force Siri into more places to intercept users’ attention. Despite cloying narratives of how Amazon is dominating the “smart speaker” market it created out of necessity after Fire Phone imploded in a cloud of smoke, Apple has always had a commanding lead in the number of people using its Siri voice assistant worldwide.
Unlike Amazon, Apple isn’t trying to intercept buyers before they head to a retail store. Apple’s happy with connecting users with either stores or online retailers; Apple Pay works for both, and iOS apps create a blurring line that serves either, or both at the same time. Apple’s Siri doesn’t attempt to keep people out of rival apps or stores; it seeks to help them launch apps to find whatever they need.
HomePod responds to Siri commands and passes them to your iPhone for launching apps or presenting a visual answer. But HomePod isn’t just a “smart mic” like Echo and Home. Primarily, It’s an intelligent speaker designed to produce exceptional home audio that intelligently fills whatever space it is installed in.
These are just snippets. There is so much more to process in this insightful, well written post, but the quotes laid out above should give you a basic sense of where Daniel is going with this.
Terrific job, definitely worth your time.