Apple has been lowering sales forecasts and cutting back manufacturing orders for its HomePod speaker amidst weaker than expected sales, Bloomberg reports, citing a person familiar with the matter. While Apple’s new smart speaker and a promising start out of the gate, with initial pre-orders and sales accounting for a third of the U.S. smart speaker market, by unit sales, that initial surge didn’t continue, and by the time HomePods arrived in stores, sales were “tanking” according to Ken Cassar, principal analyst for Slice Intelligence. Balanced out over the first 10 weeks of sales, HomePod only managed to gain 10 percent of the smart speaker market, as opposed to 73 percent for Amazon’s Echo family of devices and 14 percent for the Google’s Home speakers, with sales slipping from around a third of the market down to only four percent of the smart speaker market a mere three weeks after the launch. According to some Apple store employees, inventory has actually began piling up, with some locations selling fewer than 10 HomePods a day.
Of course, unit sales may not be a fair comparison between Apple’s HomePod — which entered the market at $349 touting superior sound quality — with Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, of which the cheapest models come in at a mere $50. However, as analyst Shannon Cross points out in the Bloomberg report, consumers likely had higher expectations for HomePod based on what competing voice assistant products could already do, and were therefore somewhat disappointed with the results. While Amazon and Google’s assistants can answer a wide variety of questions and even help you order a pizza, HomePod didn’t expand greatly on Siri’s existing capabilities, limiting it to answering a more limited set of questions around general knowledge (via Wikipedia), and movies, TV shows, and sports. Voice-controlled music playback was also limited to only content from Apple Music and iTunes Match, versus the much wider array of streaming services available to other smart speakers, and controlling only Apple HomeKit devices, which represent a limited subset of those devices supported by Amazon and Google’s platforms. In short, as we noted in our review, Apple’s HomePod is an iPhone accessory more than it is a standalone speaker, and requires a higher level of commitment to Apple’s products and services than any other product we’ve yet encountered, making it arguably a niche product right out of the gate.
According to the Bloomberg report, however, this appears to have been an intentional design decision on Apple’s part, with sources who worked on the project indicating that Apple never envisioned the HomePod as anything more than an accessory, putting in the same category as Apple’s AirPods, with upper management looking to build a high-quality speaker there than a digital home assistant. Whatever the ultimate vision for HomePod, was, however, it’s also clear that the company has struggled with realizing that vision, with the speaker missing its originally promised late 2017 ship date, and then finally shipping with features such as stereo pairing and AirPlay 2 support deferred to a future software update. It remains to be seen whether these enhancements will spur more sales, although it stands to reason that there are at least some satisfied HomePod users who are looking forward to adding additional devices once the multi-speaker support is available.
Not all analysts see the HomePod’s future as bleak, however. Veteran Apple analyst Gene Munster, co-founder of Loup Ventures, has gone on the record saying that he expects HomePod sales will pick up later this year in the holiday shopping season, estimating that Apple will sell seven million HomePods this year, and close to 11 million in 2019. Munster predicts that Amazon will sell 29 million Echos in 2018 and 39 million in 2019, and that Google will see sales of 18 million Google Homes this year and about 32 million the next. While these numbers don’t necessarily suggest HomePod will be beating the competition, there’s no doubt that Apple will continue to improve the speaker, and the company has a long history of first-generation devices — going back even to the original iPod in 2001 — that initially met with lacklustre reviews and outright skepticism but later expanded to meet with overwhelming success.