Apple starts to make smart speaker seriously


There is no doubt that smart speakers are still the category of major Internet enterprises and smart device brands. From the overseas Google home and Amazon echo playing hard, to the domestic market is being “three parts of the world” by tmall genie, Xiaoai speaker and Xiaodu smart speaker, the competition is still upgrading step by step.
Apple, which has a dominant voice in the field of consumer electronics, seems to have a slow reaction after entering the smart speaker Market: the homepod, which started its first attack, not only delayed its launch for half a year until 2018, but also has no follow-up products, becoming the only product of Apple’s smart speaker product line. We should know that other manufacturers have long formed a group operation covering different price segments.
The battle situation is expected to change in the autumn of 2020. With the arrival of a new product with both price and experience online, apple is going to add more to its smart speakers.
Homepod Mini is coming next week
Since the spring of this year, the news of mini HomePod has been transmitted with the headset AirPods Studio simultaneous interpreting, but it has not been exposed in detail as the latter. Until recently, Jon Prosser and other revelations have shown that HomePod Mini will be on the Apple’s October conference with iPhone 12.
Apple products with the suffix Mini always have a much smaller size than similar products. How small is the homepod mini? Kang, a microblogging blogger, said that the height of the product is 3.3 inches (about 8.38 cm), which is the height of the palm of the hand, which is very consistent with the name of the fit.
Another detail was mentioned in the disclosure that the homepod Mini will use the apple S5 processor instead of the apple A8 processor on the homepod, which is the same as the iPhone 6. Apple S5, previously used in Apple watch series 5, is a 64 bit dual core processor, and developers say it can run watchos applications smoothly.
The “degradation” of the processor may mean that the power consumption of the homepod Mini is no longer a chip, but a speaker related to sound quality performance. Due to its limited size, it is difficult to compare its loudspeaker volume and power with that of homepod. Moreover, according to foreign media reports, the number of speakers will also be reduced, and there will no longer be a luxury 7-unit 360 ° speaker combination.
The other good news is that the homepod Mini is ready to be launched on November 16 after its launch on October 15, and will be sold at a price of only $99 (about RMB 666). The visual design similar to sonic and Siri in the invitation letter also corresponds to the homepod Mini.
With its low price and portable fuselage, I believe this will be an entry-level homepod that not only changes in size, but also may be the first homepod for many people.
Homepod has been an eye-catching one. It has brought Apple’s industrial design capabilities to the field of home smart speakers, and has turned the familiar Siri on the iPhone into a voice assistant for the whole family with more accurate radio and LED screen light interaction. As a sound box, the audio performance is a breakthrough. The smaller fuselage has both high and low frequency and omni-directional sound, and it also dynamically adjusts the spatial position.
After a variety of innovations in hardware and audio, homepod has not been sold like other Apple products. It has not disclosed its market performance for more than two years, let alone become Apple’s new growth engine like airpods. The homepod, which has been polished for half a year after its release, lacks wide market recognition.
At present, most of the second-hand and quasi new homepods sell for about 1500 yuan. Combined with online discussion and user evaluation on e-commerce pages, we can draw a preliminary conclusion: the excellence of homepod is accepted by the outside world, but it can not sustain its official price of 2299 yuan. A little embarrassed is that homepod has been adjusted from its initial price of 2799 yuan, but its sales volume has not improved much.
The homepod mini, which costs less than 1 / 3 of the original version, obviously complements the biggest “short board” visible to the naked eye, and retains the advantages that are hard to see in other smart speakers such as appearance and interaction. But today, three years after homepod’s debut, low price is only the first step in Apple’s attempt to expand its market share of smart speakers. There are still many courses to be completed.
Smart speaker market needs entry products
According to the data provided by canalys and other research institutions, by the end of 2019, Amazon and Google respectively occupied the top two positions in the global smart speaker market, while Alibaba, Xiaomi and Baidu ranked in the top five with more than 10% market share respectively. Most of the time, apples are classified into others, accounting for less than 5% of the total. Homepod has not been able to “eat all kinds of fresh food”.
Although the overlap of core business is not high, the smart speaker products launched by Amazon and Google have many similarities: built-in intelligent voice assistant that can be widely used and constantly evolving, access to a wealth of intelligent device ecology, not only one product, but also covering different price segments and different use scenarios.
In addition to the flagship smart speakers like echo studio and Google home max, which are similar to the price range of homepod, Amazon and Google have a number of smart speakers with price close to that of homepod. Amazon and Google have a number of smart speakers with price close to the price range of $99, and even have entry-level products of $49 (about RMB 328). However, the functional difference is mainly in the sound quality rather than in the intelligent part.

Competitors are not only cheaper than homepod, but “smarter” than it is. Both Google assistant and Amazon Alexa created by the two companies have quite perfect semantic understanding, multi round dialogue and other capabilities. Compared with Siri, which is still at the level of executing instructions at this stage, it is difficult for even apple ecological users to refuse.
China’s domestic smart speakers are taking the advantage of low threshold to the extreme. Not only are entry-level products within 100 yuan, but also most versions with screens are less than 600 yuan, equivalent to less than 100 dollars. With the low price and the educational, video and other functions brought about by graphical interaction, even the homepod Mini is hard to fight head-on.
The performance gap of voice assistant has been widened due to the language barrier. The three products representing Alibaba, Xiaomi and Baidu AI technology respectively have better interactive experience with Chinese as the mother tongue, covering response speed, database and other aspects, not to mention rich “entertainment” content such as custom voice.
While selling smart speakers, these manufacturers will also attract consumers to buy suits at a very low price. Although they only have one more light bulb and switch that can be controlled by voice, they can clearly experience the efficiency improvement of smart home, and promote the popularization of smart speaker as the entrance attribute of smart home.
It can be seen that products within $100 have become the mainstream of the smart speaker market, and low price is the first step to attract users to buy and convert them into continuous use. Therefore, Apple needs to launch entry-level products for back defense, and $99 is already among the mid-range products, but it is a huge change compared with the $349 at the beginning of homepod’s launch.
The competition for audio quality is probably the last thing homepod Mini needs to worry about. It is expected that the reduced volume will be reduced ahead of time. Moreover, audio is not the focus of the low-end smart speaker market. Intelligent voice assistant is much more important than that. Siri needs to get an “epic upgrade” in order to face up to a number of competitors from Internet manufacturers that also cover hundreds of millions of users.
The homepod Mini’s computational audio capabilities are still to be looked forward to because of the hardware dependency. From the fact that nearly a year after the airpods Pro came into the market, it can also bring spatial audio, which can greatly improve the listening experience. Computing audio will be the biggest difference between homepod and other apple audio devices besides industrial design and interaction.
How far is homepod 2?
Apple has noticed the market of low and medium-end smart speakers and brought homepod mini, which overturns the previous products in terms of price. Does it mean that the flagship homepod is about to be replaced? So far, we have not found any relevant information, and the information from various sources also shows that there will not be homepod 2 or other iterative products coming out in the near year.
The first generation of homepod has been on the market for nearly three years, but it still hasn’t been replaced. This may mean that Apple’s attitude towards this smart speaker product line may be similar to that of Apple TV: the hardware level maintains a low generation frequency, while the software keeps the rule of one more per year. When the market environment and content ecology change, corresponding new products (such as 4K video and low-end smart speakers) will be launched.
In fact, homepod is also close to the state of “no change”. The industrial design and sound quality performance, which are closely related to the hardware itself, have been highly affirmed. The “soft” parts such as intelligent assistant and price are the main reasons why the market is not very popular. Apple can adjust it dynamically. Maybe in the next two or three years, it will maintain the high and low matching of homepod and homepod Mini.
The screen casting function may be a software update brought by homepod in the future. At present, Baidu and Google have added the cases of TV content projection to expand the boundary of smart speakers in their products, so there is no technical difficulty. Apple is also vigorously promoting its own streaming service Apple TV +, and will not miss any chance to appear in the living room. Even the Xbox game console has been arranged, let alone the smart speaker.
In addition to helping promote video content, the screen casting function is also a big advantage for smart home interaction. In the graphical interface, the home scene and the status of each device can be more efficient management. Imagine, the same information such as temperature and humidity can be scanned quickly with your eyes rather than waiting for the smart speaker to read it one by one.
The change direction mentioned above is not nonsense. According to the excavation of foreign media, homepod firmware has changed from IOS based to tvos based development, which means that storage space and system resource occupation are reduced. At the same time, homepod is likely to take advantage of TV related functions attached to tvos, such as voice control optimization for smart home.
Apple has taken the lead in reshaping the smartphone industry, but it also has to admit that the smartphone market has reached its limit and needs to explore new territory. Smart speakers covering both audio and smart home are good choices. On the one hand, people’s preference for sound has been proved by airpods, on the other hand, almost all smart phone manufacturers are making smart home.
The pattern of smart speakers seems to have been decided, but the audio and smart home behind it are still blue ocean. Apple, which has been killed by the low-cost homepod mini, is likely to have more than just launching a head of the industry product. The literal meaning of Apple’s “whole family barrel” may begin, and the iPhone will finally not be the only protagonist.
(statement: This article only represents the author’s point of view, not Sina’s position.)