Apple announced this morning that the HomePod smart speaker will ship on February 9th and pre-orders will begin this Friday, January 26th. This announcement was expected after the recent announcements that one million HomePod units were shipping from Apple manufacturing partners this month and the recent FCC certification of the device. Siri also received an update recently that made more news content available through voice and audio. HomePod is priced at US$349 and initially be available in the U.S., UK and Australia.
HomePod Coming to France and Germany in Spring 2018
Maybe the bigger news made in this announcement is that HomePod will also arrive in France and Germany this spring. The move shows that Apple may use its extensive Siri language capabilities to enter new countries at a faster rate than Amazon and Google have done to date with their smart speakers. Amazon Echo and Google Home both ship to Germany today, but only Google Home is in France. This puts pressure on Amazon to bring Echo and the Alexa voice assistant to France unless it is comfortable being the third, fourth or fifth smart speaker to enter the market.
The other factor here is that HomePod is solidly in the premium smart speaker category. So, in many ways it will not compete with Amazon Echo. However, Amazon Alexa partners are shipping high fidelity smart speakers and will no doubt have to contend with Apple’s presence. Google Home Max is a direct competitor in the high priced smart speaker category and is even priced higher.
And Then There Were Three
As we have said previously, Siri still has a long way to go in order to catch up to feature parity with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Siri’s feature set is constrained. However, the announcement today does show progress. For example, HomeKit for smart home features appears to be gaining more vendor support, the announcement mentions ESPN as a media partner which likely will be followed by many more in the category, and SiriKit integration is claiming integration with Evernote and other productivity apps. Then you have Apple’s position as the number two global music streaming service behind only Spotify. Add all of this to the global iPhone footprint and Apple’s reputation and you have the makings of a formidable new competitor for Amazon and Google. Let the games begin.