Home Sweet Alexa: Getting it wrong about the HomePod

by Uluroo — January 12, 2018

Regardless of your opinion about the HomePod, it's going to make at least something of a difference.


When making devices that act as extensions of other devices, electronics manufacturers tend to make their products work with devices that are currently shipping. They do not like to make their devices compatible with products that aren't in consumers' hands yet because, well, nobody would buy one.

That sounds like a great reason to doom Apple's HomePod, thinks Macworld's Michael Simon. He declares, "Alexa is eating Siri's lunch at CES 2018, and HomePod isn't going to make a difference."

Apple never really participates in CES...

Wait... then why did Siri leave its lunch at the CES cafeteria for Alexa to steal?

... the news coming out of CES floor is dominated by smart home gadgets and connectivity. From showers to speakers and everything in between, CES is all about making the dumb things in your home smart. And more often than not, Alexa is the way you'll control them.

So what you're saying is that these third-party smart home device makers are making products that are compatible with other products that are shipping? So what will happen when the HomePod ships? Presumably a lot of third-party products will be made compatible with it, right?

Amazon's early bet on the smart home has paid off in a big way...

If by "paid off in a big way" you mean "lost a few hundred million dollars."

... no matter how much better the audio from the HomePod sounds than an Echo, it won't do much to close the gap.

Nobody makes products that are compatible with the HomePod right now because the HomePod is not available yet. You can bet that, once Apple's entrance into the smart home arena becomes "official," there will be a rise in the number of HomeKit-compatible devices. Clearly Apple's ecosystem will never be as large as Amazon's — but then again, none of its ecosystems are as big as its competitors'.

(Seems like they've made a good bit of money off those smaller ecosystems, though.)

[When Siri launched in 2011,] it wasn't hard to imagine a world where Siri was always at our command, no matter where we were. Seven years later, that vision is nearly here...

Correct! At any time, Uluroo can just turn in the direction of his phone or raise this wrist computer thingamabob and say "Hey, Siri," and his virtual assistant is ready to do his bidding.

But you aren't talking about Siri, are you?

... except it's not Siri that's doing the answering, it's Alexa.

For some people. About 20 million people. And 20 million devices sold is great, but compared to the number of omnipresent Siri-enabled devices (aka Apple Watches) that have been sold... Well... that number is over 30 million (or was back in August of last year). And Uluroo won't even bother adding iPhones into the mix.

Unless I'm doing something directly on my iPhone such as setting an alarm or playing a song, I'm asking my Echo instead of Siri.

Just for kicks, Uluroo set out to see how many devices are capable of using Siri. He's being very conservative with these numbers, as you will soon see. First of all, let's see how many active iPhones there were almost a year ago. 715 million. In December of last year, iOS 11's adoption rate was 59% of active iPhones (which is over 421 million, but keep in mind that we're going by an earlier estimate of the active iPhone count, so it's even more than that).

So 421 million devices are on the latest version of iOS. That does not include the devices that are on even older versions of iOS (Siri has been on iOS for seven years now). So even with all these friendly-to-Amazon estimates — which are low compared to today's numbers — there are way more than 421 million iOS devices that can use Siri. That's a lot of Siri in a lot of people's hands, and Uluroo didn't factor in Apple Watches.

Now, obviously, HomeKit doesn't offer the range of accessories that Alexa's ecosystem does. But when the HomePod launches, it will begin a third-party manufacturer trend of Siri support. And even people who don't buy a HomePod will benefit from the richer range of products offered for HomeKit. The HomePod's influence will stretch beyond its own sales.

Of course, Apple's HomePod delay hasn't helped its presence at CES, but even if the $349 speaker was shipping, Amazon would still steal the show.

Why?

Apple's smart speaker is first and foremost a music player, and from what we've seen so far, it barely competes with the Echo as a smart home companion.

Correction: Apple is marketing the HomePod as a music player first. The emphasis on hardware quality is clearly intended for Apple's usual crowd, because build quality is one reason people buy Apple devices in the first place. And just because Apple is marketing the HomePod in a certain way doesn't mean third-party manufacturers won't make devics compatible with it.

Apple hasn't shown off any skills, routines, or dedicated smart home integration.

Hey, Uluroo agrees that Apple should be firmer in positioning the HomePod as a viable smart home candidate. But HomeKit already exists, and Apple might just be waiting for more compatible devices to show up before changing its marketing strategy. Anyway, this isn't a debate about whether the HomePod is better than the Echo; we're talking about whether it will make a difference in the smart home market. And regardless of your opinions on it, you can be sure it'll make a bit of a splash.

Which does not mean to drop your HomePods into the pool to see if they make a splash. That will void your warranty.

For the same price as a HomePod, you can buy an Echo for the living room, two Dots for the kids' bedrooms, and a Spot for your bedroom, with a few bucks left over.

Apple products are too expensive!

By the way, while we're looking at price, let's take a look at some of the smart home-integrated products Michael mentioned! We should find a vast range of very affordable products, right?

First up, Kohler's new products. There's a $1,332 smart mirror with Alexa integration. Um, okay. Things can only get better from here, right? Well, there's a shower system that costs $1,060! That's pretty good compared to the mirror!

The shower and bathtub products are designed for remodels or original construction. You won’t be able add these high-tech features to your existing fixtures.

Oh, so you have to pay to remodel your house in order to buy these. Sounds affordable. Well, how about a smart toilet seat for $7,500?

You could buy 20 HomePods for that price.

Simply put, Alexa is everywhere. It's not just speakers and phones: At CES, iDevices (a company that once specialized in iPod and iPhone accessories) announced a light switch with Alexa built in... That's a level of smart home integration that Siri can't emulate and probably never will be able to.

Well, maybe instead of paying for a light switch, you could just tell Siri to adjust the lights from your Apple Watch (which is really everywhere with you). Apple's business model has never been "Jam as many features into as many places as possible" because eventually they become unnecessary. What, do you want to say "Alexa" and have your Echo, light switch, shower, toilet, etc. to all go off at the same time? Maybe before giving Amazon congratulations for all this integration, you should consider whether this much integration is really what we need.

Siri isn't a home assistant, it's a mobile one, one of the main reasons why HomeKit has struggled to get off the ground.

If only Apple were shipping a smart home assistant-focused speaker sometime soon!

Apple is barely contributing to the smart home conversation, so manufacturers and consumers are naturally gravitating to the company that is: Amazon.

And when Apple releases the HomePod so that it can "contribute to the smart home conversation," you think nothing will change?

Okay.