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Apple’s Perplexing Home Strategy

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac, explains why Apple’s move to discontinue the original HomePod last Friday raises a number of questions about its home strategy and is cause for concern that extends beyond the HomePod itself:

Apple discontinuing HomePod isn’t impossible to understand, but the move does leave me with a number of questions for Apple. What’s the threshold for success for home products? What does Apple hope to achieve with home products? Why should customers trust Apple believes in its home products when it doesn’t lead the market? Why not just invest in AmazonSonos, and other smart home solutions that feel less like a hobby?

Hall puts his finger on something that’s been bothering me since news of the HomePod’s demise broke. In January, I reviewed the HomePod mini, and I love it; not because it’s the best-sounding speaker I’ve used, but because it fills a role that the larger, more expensive HomePod couldn’t fill in my home. However, the mini isn’t a replacement for the original HomePod. The smaller speaker can’t fill larger spaces like my living room the way the original HomePod can. Nor can the mini play the same role in my home entertainment setup.

As long as Apple continues to support the original HomePod, my multi-room audio and TV setup will be fine, but it’s also undeniably a dead end. It’s not as if I don’t have other options. There are plenty of good AirPlay 2 speakers available that I can eventually swap in, as Hall points out. However, coupled with the expensive, long-in-the-tooth Apple TV, I don’t have the confidence I once had in Apple’s home strategy, especially when it comes to audio and video entertainment, which feels especially strange to say when Apple Music and TV+ are so clearly important parts of the company’s service strategy. All of which led me to nod as I read Hall’s conclusion:

Remember when Mac users had similar concerns about pro machines in Apple’s lineup? Apple rightfully held a roundtable event with a small group of press to communicate its commitment to professional customers with the pending release of an iMac Pro and development on a next-generation Mac Pro.

That strategy was very effective at taking a step toward earning back the trust that was lost over time with Apple’s pro customers. Apple’s Friday night statement that it’s happy with the response to HomePod mini and no longer producing the original HomePod needs a lot of follow up.

Perhaps a spring media event will clear up some of the questions raised by the elimination of the HomePod. For now, though, Apple’s home strategy is more perplexing than ever.