HomePod, Apple’s long-awaited answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home Assistant, arrives on February 9, with orders starting this Friday. But given HomePod’s high price, heavy emphasis on music fidelity, and lack of appliance integration — will anyone bother to get one for their smart kitchen?
We ask not just because The Spoon analyzes the future of food, cooking and the kitchen; but as of 2016, more than half of Echo owners had their device in the kitchen. Given that there are an estimated 39 million people with smart speakers now, the kitchen is arguably the most important market for any company that wants to win sizeable market share in the virtual assistant space.
Apple can obviously see the success of Alexa and Google, so the better question might be — does Apple even care about the kitchen?
There are a few reasons to think the company does not (at least not at this launch). First, there is the price. At $349, HomePod is basically seven times more expensive than the $49 Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, and is also way more expensive than the $99 second gen Echo or the $129 Google Home.
But Apple’s never been one to care how much something costs. And looking at the branding for this device, Apple is definitely pitching it as a high-end music device first, virtual assistant second.
We use the Echo in our kitchen to play music all the time, and it sounds… fine. I haven’t heard the HomePod, but I’m sure the fidelity is better than my current set up. However, my kitchen can also be a chaotic place with kids and a dog running around, so I’m less concerned about how clear the kickdrum is on REM’s “Radio Free Europe” than I am about quickly setting timers and getting reminders.
Additionally, the HomePod doesn’t seem to be “where the puck is going to be” in the kitchen. Sure, it integrates with Apple Home and can be used to turn things on and off. But at the recent CES we saw how widely integrated Alexa and Google Home are getting. Those platforms are moving beyond timers and reminders and into guided cooking, food management and smart shopping lists.
But perhaps a fancy Apple speaker is just a fancy Apple speaker, and there is more to come for the kitchen. There is still room for a breakout in the race to become the king of the kitchen screen, and there is certainly an opportunity for Apple to apply its advanced technology like face recognition in the virtual assistant space to provide tailored assistance.
Given the importance of functionality over audio fidelity in my house, however. I don’t think Apple’s HomePod will be anywhere in my home anytime soon.