After four years of disappointing sales, Apple has discontinued the original HomePod and will focus its efforts on the HomePod mini (see “Apple Introduces $99 HomePod mini,” 13 October 2020). The company provided a statement to Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch, saying:
HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.
Although the HomePod was a tremendous feat of engineering and delivered excellent sound, it wasn’t price-competitive with smart speakers from Amazon and Google at either its original price of $349 or the $299 to which Apple later dropped it (see “Beyond Music: Comparing the HomePod to Amazon Echo and Google Home,” 15 March 2018). It was often on sale for $199, and when TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers bought one at that price, it had been on the shelf so long that it was several iOS versions behind.
Price really does seem to have been what dragged down HomePod sales, given that the $99 HomePod mini has been selling well. For that $99, the HomePod mini compares extremely well with its larger sibling. It boasts surprisingly good audio for its size and nearly all the features of the HomePod, including support for stereo pairs and the capability to act as a HomeKit hub. The HomePod mini may even do better at handing off audio, thanks to its U1 Ultra Wideband chip.
The main advantages the HomePod has over the HomePod mini are:
- Better sound, based on its larger, more capable audio components
- Spatial awareness, which enables the HomePod to adjust its audio to match the characteristics of the room
- A “home theater with Apple TV 4K” feature that relies on the HomePod’s spatial awareness to add an immersive home theater experience
It’s easy to say that Apple overpriced the HomePod. However, it’s probably more fair to say that Apple overengineered it and thus had to charge a premium price to account for both the initial investment and the manufacturing costs. That plays into the narrative of Apple charging too much in certain product categories, such as with the Apple TV, whose $149 and $179 price points are notably higher than competing streaming media products from Amazon, Google, and Roku.
However, such a narrative falls down in other seemingly similar categories. Both the AirPods and AirPods Pro have been huge hits, despite steep $159 and $249 prices and ever more competitors. Plus, the new AirPods Max headphones, which retail for an eye-watering $549—hundreds of dollars more than comparable products—appear to be selling well, if shipping delays are anything to go by (see “Apple’s AirPods Max Headphones Are Pricey but Good,” 15 March 2021).
We’ve enjoyed our HomePods immensely, and it seems likely that Apple will ensure that they’re useful for years to come. It may be sad to see the HomePod be discontinued, but it’s better that Apple acknowledge the reality of a slow-selling product and focus on the more compelling HomePod mini.