After Apple’s HomePod missed its December 2017 ship date due to an eleventh-hour delay, the smart speaker is now beginning to ship from one of its two assemblers, the Taipei Times reports. The initial shipment from Inventec includes around 1 million of the 10-12 million HomePods expected to ship this year. Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, is expected to fulfill half of the orders.
According to the report, the HomePod’s delay is attributable to “fine-tuning of software and hardware integration,” a presumably critical final step for a speaker featuring Apple’s Siri as its voice-controlled AI assistant. HomePod suppliers reportedly received a shipment notice from Apple at the beginning of January, leading them to believe the HomePod will hit stores soon. Apple has provided only an “available early 2018” time frame for the HomePod’s release in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
The HomePod’s delay cost Apple some fraction of the rapidly growing smart speaker market, though the extent of this loss is likely to remain unclear throughout 2018. Priced at $349, the HomePod is substantially more expensive than virtually any of the smart speakers that have gained traction over the past three years, most notably Amazon’s $50-$230 Echo series and, more recently, Google’s $50-$400 Home speakers. Apps for Amazon’s and Google’s speakers dominated Apple’s App Store holiday download charts, reflecting their popularity with iOS users who began to explore smart assistant options other than Siri.
While Inventec’s initial shipment doesn’t guarantee that Apple will immediately release the HomePod, it is an indication that the product’s debut isn’t far off. Like iPhones and iPads, the HomePod runs a customized version of Apple’s iOS operating system that must be pre-installed in a usably complete form prior to leaving the factory.
Following the disastrous release of an early HomePod beta in late July, which wound up revealing details about the then-unannounced iPhone X, Apple released a new and less revealing HomePod beta in mid-December. The newer version, or one substantially similar to it, will be on each HomePod as it arrives in stores.