With the market for smart speakers currently driven mainly by lower-end devices from Google, Amazon and (in China) Xiaomi, Alibaba and Baidu, Apple’s HomePod has been somewhat on the fringes: not a flop, exactly, but more a premium-priced niche in a world of cheaper competition.
For example, research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that Apple shipped 2.7m HomePods in the second half of 2018, pegging the company as the sixth biggest manufacturer in that period, but with less than 5% market share. In other research-firm estimates, Apple isn’t even broken out of the ‘other’ category of speaker-makers beyond the top five.
However, Apple has been adding more features to its flagship speaker – it’ll soon be able to recognise different household members and serve them accordingly – bringing its price down, and selling it in new markets. The next of those will be Japan, it seems. The company’s Japanese website has been updated with details of a ‘summer’ launch there for the HomePod, priced at ¥32,800 (just over $300).
The HomePod is launching in Japan at a still-early stage of the market there. A study in June 2018 by research firm Cint claimed that just 7% of Japanese adults owned a smart speaker – the lowest penetration of 10 countries studied for its report, with the US topping the list with 35%. Google, Amazon and Line have all had smart speakers available in Japan since the autumn of 2017, with a survey conducted in February 2018 by Marketing Research Camp finding that 10.4% of respondents were thinking about buying a device, while 30.6% were ‘interested but will not purchase now’.
Those studies are quite old now, in a fast-moving market, but Apple will be hoping that its HomePod can make a splash in Japan among higher-income consumers – and perhaps contribute to the ongoing growth of paid music subscriptions there too.