The Apple HomePod joined the smart-speakers battle on Friday, with first shipments of the device landing in people’s living rooms and kitchens. The first takes on HomePod in last week’s reviews are hardening into a wider critical consensus: that the device offers excellent audio quality, but that its ‘smart’ aspects are more limited than the main rivals.
Investment firm Loup Ventures published an interesting study comparing the main smart speakers along those lines: posing 782 voice queries (in categories including local, commerce, information and navigation) to a HomePod, a Google Home, an Amazon Echo and a Harman Kardon Invoke – the latter uses Microsoft’s Cortana for its smarts.
“Siri understood 99.4% of queries and answered 52.3% of them correctly. This places HomePod at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of AI assistant performance,” wrote Loup Ventures’ Gene Munster (a long-time Apple analyst). “Overall, Siri performed above our expectations given the limited scope of HomePod’s music focus. Adding domains will quickly improve Siri’s score. Some domains like navigation, calendar, email, and calling are simply not supported.”
Loup has also published some predictions. It expects Apple to sell 7m HomePods in 2018, taking a 12% share of the global smart-speaker market, with shipments rising to 10.9m in 2019 – “we expect HomePod units to grow between 40% and 45% per year over the next three years”. In 2018, the company expects smart speakers using Amazon’s Alexa to take a 52% share of global shipments, followed by Google Home’s 32%. By 2022, it reckons that the shares will see Google Home in front with 48% of shipments, followed by Alexa’s 37% and HomePod on 12%.
(It is a little confusing the way Loup Ventures compares ‘Amazon Alexa’ with ‘Google Home’ – the first is a voice assistant and the latter a range of speakers. Our suspicion is that the company is focusing on the former – so ALL speakers using Alexa or Google Assistant, including those made by third parties.)
Anyway, all these forecasts can be thrown into the air by new developments and product releases. That’s highlighted by a prediction from another Apple-watching firm, Rosenblatt Securities, which is predicting that Apple will launch a “low-end” HomePod as soon as this autumn, costing $150-$200 rather than the current model’s $349 price. We’ve gotten used to regular crystal ball-gazing (or, indeed: random, inaccurate predictions) about upcoming Apple products. HomePod will be no exception.