At Tuesday’s launch event for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, there was a notable absence. Apple’s HomePod, the smart speaker set for launch this December, was nowhere to be seen.
The company’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, it could have taken its place front and center alongside the new Apple TV living room box and Siri-powered iPhone. It’s slated to go on sale in just a few months, but Apple has been largely quiet about the product since first announcing it last year. The strategy with the HomePod has been rather odd, and it raises questions about the product’s place in Apple’s lineup.
Superior sound is meant to be the big selling point for the $349 HomePod compared with its competitors. It has precision acoustic horns, an array of seven beam-forming tweeters with individual drivers, and an Apple-designed woofer and automatic bass equalizer. Multiple HomePods can work together to create a more powerful sound. And, just like the Echo, users can invoke a voice assistant using a trigger command and call up useful information. It’s meant to be a key piece of the living room of the future.
During the two-hour conference on Tuesday, Apple had a chance to outline this future, and it didn’t. It announced the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple TV 4K, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, and software enhancements for all devices. There was even time at the start to explain how Steve Jobs helped design the new Apple Park campus. All of the above mentioned products use Siri, which HomePod is meant to integrate into the living room, but Apple did not highlight how it may fit into this developing ecosystem.
The product was announced in June, during the annual Worldwide Developers’ Conference, half a year before it was set to go on sale. That’s not too unreasonable: Apple announced the first iPhone in January 2007, months ahead of its summer release.
But the iPhone was a different beast altogether: the press called it the “Jesus phone,” it was that highly anticipated. It’s unlikely that consumers are going to be lining up around the corner just to get a smart speaker. At the same time, it seems odd Apple doesn’t want to remind people that this big product launch is coming.
There is a major bonus to Apple’s strategy to announce early. Unlike the iPhone, little was known about the HomePod before its announcement. A report in September 2016 said that Apple was working on a Siri-powered speaker, and a report in May said it would carry some form of Beats technology, but there was no leaked images of the device and little news about finer selling points, a stark contrast to the iPhone X.
Apple has a tricky balancing act to pull off. It can reveal a product close to launch, risk a large number of leaks in the process but ride a wave of publicity to the sale date. On the other hand, it can reveal it early, keeping many aspects a secret in the process, and generate hype around a mysterious product. But since June, there’s been little HomePod talk in the press. The hype around the surprise didn’t quite materialize.
The company could have announced the HomePod during the iPhone X event or at a separate event closer to the date. But with the product already announced, and no mention at the show, it seems Apple is not willing to push a wave of hype up to the product’s launch, leaving a question mark over how valuable the HomePod is in the larger product lineup.