Initial sales of Apple’s HomePod have underperformed — even measured against the company’s conservative forecasts — leading Apple to cut manufacturing orders and lower forecasts, Bloomberg reports. After debuting to mediocre reviews, the smart speaker was found to damage wood surfaces and stumble over Siri requests, and Apple is still working on fixes.
The report cites both comparative sales data from Slice Intelligence and inside information to suggest weak and slowing sales. Slice said that the speaker was buoyed to an initial 10 percent share of smart speaker sales by strong early preorders but within three weeks had slipped to around 4 percent — a change the report claims has resulted in per-store sales of fewer than 10 HomePods per day at some Apple retail locations. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Echo family has maintained a 73 percent share, with Google’s Home series in distant second place at 14 percent.
While reviews of HomePod’s audio quality varied from positive to middling, given its high price point, nearly everyone agreed that the speaker’s software side was troubled. Stereo pairing and multi-room playback were delayed until some point in 2018 but are now being tested in beta versions of iOS 11.4.
Similarly, the HomePod’s AI-based digital assistant Siri had obvious issues handling common voice requests, which Apple appears to be addressing by ramping up Siri hiring — and adding a collection of mostly terrible jokes to give the feature more personality. Yet Siri’s failure to rival Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant when it comes to practical tasks, including answering questions or ordering food, has placed HomePod at a competitive disadvantage compared to less expensive smart speakers.
Another issue, HomePod’s tendency to mark certain wood surfaces with white rings, was discovered soon after the speaker’s release. The problem appeared to stem from a specific plastic used in the speaker’s base that interacted poorly with oils and waxes. According to the report, Apple is “now working to rectify [that issue] with a new material,” though it’s unclear whether the company will repair existing units or just quietly introduce the improvement in later production runs.
Extrapolated sales and manufacturing order changes for Apple products are notoriously plagued by questions of source reliability, but they have generally shown accurate point-in-time understanding of sales trends. If this report’s numbers can be believed, Apple’s physical stores alone would be on track to sell nearly 2 million HomePods in 2018 — before considering online and third-party retail sales — but this is a trickle compared with other Apple products.
The report cites revised analyst predictions of 7 million HomePod sales this year, which amounts to roughly a quarter of Amazon’s Echo sales and less than half of Google Home sales. It leaves open the possibility that Apple’s numbers will improve when HomePod’s hardware, software, and pricing issues are addressed.