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article imageApple's HomePod was meant to be much more competitive

By James Walker     Nov 21, 2017 in Technology
Apple's upcoming HomePod smart speaker has been in development for five years and was once a much more ambitious device, according to a report today. Apple delayed the launch of the HomePod last week but it's far from the first time it has been setback.
The HomePod has been cancelled, delayed and reconsidered multiple times since Apple engineers started working on it as a hobby back in 2012. After making progress on the device for over two years, they were "blindsided" by the launch of the Amazon Echo, Bloomberg reported today.
The Echo, now the most successful smart speaker on the market, was capable of doing everything the early HomePod prototypes could. Crucially, it was also available for sale and featured Amazon's young digital assistant Alexa.
Over the next two years, a small team at Apple continued work on the as-yet unnamed HomePod. After buying and dismantling several Echo units, they found the sound quality was inferior to their own prototypes and decided to pursue the project further. Eventually, the HomePod was adopted as an official Apple device and incorporated into the accessories division.
This decision would prove to be critical for its future. Because of its designation as an "accessory," HomePod has never received exclusive attention from any of the teams vital to its success. It's been one of several products vying for development time from the group responsible for Siri. This is why the HomePod has no exclusive functionality that the Amazon Echo can't also lay claim to.
Apple HomePod
Apple HomePod
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Apple allowed the HomePod to languish as a music-first speaker with Siri built-in. By contrast, the Echo puts Alexa as its star feature, enabling it to become the focal point of a futuristic smart home ecosystem. The HomePod tacks this crucial functionality on as an afterthought, a point which could see Apple lose out in the market.
While other smart speaker manufacturers concentrate on selling consumers a digital assistant, Apple's pitch centres around a lightly connected Hi-Fi system. "This is a huge missed opportunity," one unnamed insider told Bloomberg.
The circumstances surrounding the HomePod suggest Apple's still trying to find a path towards future technologies. As its rivals look ahead to smart homes, AI and proactive assistance, Apple's left concentrating on the fundamentals of its devices.
Although good sound quality is a vital attribute for a speaker, it loses out to cloud integrations as the most important component of a smart speaker. Apple's failed to look beyond its hardware capabilities to focus on its services. Paradoxically, this has allowed retail giant Amazon to gain dominance in a hardware market of its creation.
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