Apple announced their HomePod yesterday, a $349 home speaker. The positioning is interesting as the focus is on audio performance, not all the voice control stuff. Which is there, just secondary in its positioning. Some Apple fans have been comparing the HomePod’s performance to Sonos Play 1 ($99), when Sonos Play 3 ($299) is a fairer comparison. The Amazon Echo ($180) is not in the same class as the other two when it comes to audio performance. While the chatter compares the audio performance, its really the use cases, existing home environment, and the all important ‘good enough’ that matter more.
The Apple positioning confirms that voice control use cases are still finding their feet, they’re nice to have, but its not the compelling reason to buy. Popular use cases include timers, reminders, weather, traffic, news, games (sort of), music for the undiscerning, etc. I’ve discussed these use cases previously. I’m still not convinced on the calling and audio conference use cases on Amazon Echo as the mobile phone is good enough, and tablets cover the group video comms use cases.
Alexa on the Amazon Echo is a great equalizer for children, as they have as much control as the adults, its not an app hidden on the parent’s phone, it’s simply your voice. And children are generally less fussy about the ‘quality’ of their music. My son loves the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, so his current go-to songs are Come and Get Your Love by Redbone and Hooked on a Feeling by BlueSuede on the Amazon Echo. Which he insists on playing at ‘Alexa volume 7,’ and that is a compromise! For some use cases Amazon Echo is good enough for music.
For me, Sonos is really the only game in town to date, so we have them throughout the house, and yes, subwoofers. I find the Sonos app is ideal, as I can search and discover the music that suits the mood and control the volume levels through the house, I’m an Engineer. But for my wife, that’s too much faff. The official Alexa control of Sonos can not come soon enough, as it just has to work reliably without me being there.
Unfortunately my wife is also an Apple-fan, so there’s a fair chance a HomePod will appear in her office at some point. And my suspicion is the HomePod’s performance will be good enough, compared to the Play 3 for Apple fans. Sonos likely has a good margin on the Play 3 these days so could lower its pricing if there is a pinch in sales. But Apple fans buy overpriced products all the time as its a cult, HomePods will be no different, so the price drop would be for non-cultists.
The bottom line – audio comparisons between HomePod and Sonos Play 3 will be of only passing interest, HomePod is likely good enough. Its the use cases and existing environment that will determine how much share HomePod takes away from Amazon and Sonos. For homes with diverse people / requirements you’ll likely see multiple devices. Apple fans will buy HomePods regardless, the rest of us will hopefully make a more informed decision – hmmm, what happened in the last election?