The Apple HomePod delay until 2018 was revealed late Friday. That means Apple will miss the entirety of the 2017 Holiday shopping season. It also means that many Apple fans that planned to wrap up a HomePod as a gift will have to find another iOS product (maybe Watch) or another smart speaker manufacturer. Amazon and Sonos should be the biggest smart speaker beneficiaries of Apple’s delay with Google getting a small boost in Australia.
Keep in mind that HomePod was only due to ship to three countries: Australia, UK, U.S. So, the key will be who has presence in those markets. Each of those markets has some momentum behind smart speaker adoption and Holiday 2017 is already filling up with Black Friday and other deals on the products. Amazon and Sonos currently ship to two of those countries and Google to all three.
The Amazon Fallback Strategy
Amazon Echo is a safe HomePod stand-in gift for a number of reasons. Many people are Prime members so they automatically get the voice shopping benefit with the gift of an Alexa-enabled device. Amazon created the market so just about every smart home and related service supports Alexa integration. The risk of incompatibility with existing investments is simply lower than everything else on December 26, 2017. There are currently almost 24,000 Alexa skills in the U.S. and over 8,000 in the UK. Plus, Amazon is not Google. Apple users have opted into the iOS ecosystem and adopting Google Home will seem like a move into Android.
Then there are the price point and form factors. Amazon Echo devices have an affordable entry-level device (Dot), a slightly more expensive device with a better speaker (Echo Gen 2) and the pricier but still less expensive than HomePod, Echo Show that carries a screen as well. The Echo Show may turn out to be the real winner. It is less expensive than HomePod, but boasts and entirely different value proposition from screenless smart speakers. For consumers looking for that higher priced gift that won’t really replace a HomePod, Echo Show fits the bill and has no comparable peer in the market. Everyone else can simply purchase an Echo of either model for less than $100. That gives their gift recipient a smart speaker to try out and doesn’t in any way preclude going for HomePod later if it becomes a must-have.
Sonos Gets a Lifeline
I in no way want to talk down Sonos. It has a large installed base of customers, was the leading WiFi speaking just two years ago and continues to have good awareness in the smart speaker market. However, with Apple and Google above it in price point and maybe performance, Amazon below it, and many premier brands with comparable pricing, SonosOne was going to have trouble standing out. However, it may well be the highest profile, high-end smart speaker today in the Alexa ecosystem. Audiophiles are likely to take a serious look given the Alexa support by SonosOne.
It brings many of the benefits of Alexa enumerated above along with presumably higher quality audio. Sonos One also has the added benefit of stating that it will be a multi-assistant device. Google Assistant support is committed for 2018 and you could hypothesize that Sonos would also want to support Siri if Apple opens up to device manufacturers. At $199 it is not inexpensive, but it is setting the low end for pricing in the audiophile segment. Sonos One may seem like a safe fallback for a HomePodless Christmas.
Crikey! What About Google Home?
Google may seem like it is in equal running with Amazon and maybe even better positioned than other device manufacturers to pick up would-be HomePod buyers. The Google Home Max is the priciest of smart speakers, the largest and clearly in the high-end audiophile segment. JBL has a Google Assistant powered smart speaker with high audio fidelity. Google Assistant also has an excellent app for iOS devices. But, Google is the opposite of Apple. There are many Apple fans that also have Gmail and use Google Search. Over time Google may be able to win them over. However, too many Apple users will see Google Assistant as tied to Android. This will mean that Amazon and Sonos will have a near-term advantage for iPhone owners.
The exception will be Australia. Google Home is the only game in town right now in Australia. Google will greatly benefit from Apple HomePod’s absence this Holiday season. Of course, Google will benefit even more from the absence of Amazon Echo on the continent.