There was a very infomercial-like “how much would you expect to pay?” moment during yesterday’s unveiling of the Apple HomePod speaker.

High-end WiFi speakers from companies like Sonos typically cost $300 to $500, while smart speakers like an Amazon Echo or Google Home tend to cost between $100 and $200. So you might expect to pay $400 to $700 for a HomePod which combines aspects of both, right?

But no… the HomePod is “just” $349.

If you’re comparing to the speaker to an Amazon Echo that’s a pretty steep premium. And that’s basically the comparison we all expected to make when rumors of a Siri-powered Apple speaker started making the rounds. But it might not really be the best comparison to make.

Apple says HomePod doesn’t just sound better than Amazon or Google’s speakers. It designed HomePod to compete with premium WiFi speakers from Sonos and others.

And while we’ll have to wait a while for detailed reviews from experts in home audio equipment, early impressions seem to be pretty positive. Plenty of tech journalists report that the HomePod is competitive, if not better than a Sonos speaker and makes the Echo and Google Home line of products seem like toys.

Viewed in that light, it’s probably best to think of the HomePod as a premium speaker with built-in Siri functionality. That’s how it’s priced, and that’s allegedly how it sounds. And from that point of view, $349 is actually a pretty competitive price.

Of course, not everyone wants to drop that kind of money on a single speaker. If all you want is a voice-activated device for news, weather, and traffic updates, question-and-answer, games, and maybe a little music thrown into the mix, Amazon and Google have much cheaper options to sell you.

And since Amazon and Google are making their Alexa and Assistant software available to third-party developers, we could eventually see smart speakers that do sound just as good as a HomePod in the future. Just don’t expect them to be as affordable as today’s Google Home/Amazon Echo/Tap/Dot devices.


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5 replies on “Is Apple’s $349 HomePod overpriced? Maybe… maybe not”

  1. Except that “premium” wifi speakers sound worse than a low end hifi. Get your granddad to leave you their old 50 year old hifi and you will be blown away by the quality.

  2. But the missing key here is that both Amazon and Google’s ecosystems have cheap and easy linking via industry standards to whatever speaker and amp anyone wants to use. New. Old. Vintage. Whatever you want.
    Amazon – Echo Dot leaves you about $300 to invest in that speaker/amp.
    Google – Home plus Chromecast leaves you about $200 for the same exercise.

    And that’s if you only want one speaker. Google with two speakers that sync if you want – $130 for Home and $70 for two Chromecasts. Now you’ve got $500 left to spend on speakers and amps against two Applepods @$350 each.
    Even worse, Google Assistant is on the verge of being everywhere so that $130 Google Home probably isn’t even necessary. You can probably just use the Chromecasts and whatever entry point for Google Assistant you want. That leaves over $300 after buying a Chromecast to buy something to pipe it through. A single amp with two speakers for stereo? You’ve now got $700 (homepod x2) – $35 (single Chromecast) or about $670 to put that together. What can you get in the way of a sound bar with Google Cast built in for $700? Something pretty nice I’d guess. And that will double as a home theater system for movie night too.
    The more speakers you want in your home the worse the math gets for Apple.
    I think they’ll sell a lot of them. Apple fans will buy in a heartbeat. Lots of people don’t think anything more of spending $350 than some people think of buying a coffee. Some only want one audio source and use Apple’s ecosystem and will be happy for the sound and functionality for the price.
    But I don’t think they’ll sell in the large numbers media demands of Apple products to call them successful. So I think they’ll sell decently enough and then one year from now the media will be here writing stories about how Applepod failed. And I don’t mean you necessarily, Brad but the tech media world in general.
    That’s my expectation.

    1. Yeah, I sort of touched on the Echo Dot + speaker in my previous post, but didn’t feel like rewriting it today. But I do think that Apple has the chance to create a Sonos-like ecosystem here. HomePod might just be the first of many products.

      Perhaps they sell the 1st-gen model for $349 and it becomes sort of the home hub/speaker. Then in a year or so they start to offer $100 – $600 satellite speaker accessories that you can use to build out your whole-home sound system. Maybe there’ll even be a $50ish mic and cheap speaker that you can put anywhere in the house just for Siri interactions, while the good speakers are in just a few rooms, sort of like NVIDIA’s Spot accessories for the Shield TV.

      1. “Premium Speaker”… I for one am disgusted with the market and the use of “premium” for marketing. And with Sonos testing Alexa integration, what would separate Apple from Sonos?

      2. Fair enough but it’s not like the other ecosystems will be sitting still going forward either.
        Another point of interest is what connectivity Homepod has. I have not been able to find that out with a quick look around. If the only connectivity is through Apple software then that’s a real letdown. I would expect a good speaker properly taken care of to last for many more years than even Apple will be supporting this product with software I’d suspect.
        I currently listen quite often to stuff via a Chromecast Audio into a Tivoli Pal speaker I’ve owned for some time. I couldn’t even tell you how long at this point. 20 years? Something like that anyway.
        It sat on a shelf for a number of years doing nothing but collecting dust since radio reception is lacking where I live now and I also just don’t listen to much local radio any more. But along came Chromecast and – boom. Perfectly useful perfectly good little speaker and amp back to use again.
        I really hope Homepod has some kind of straight audio in jack so it’s value doesn’t die with software support down the road.

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