Apple's $349 smart home speaker, the HomePod, is finally ready to launch on Feb. 9 after a delay last year. In a highly-competitive speaker market, is the HomePod too late?

Amazon and Google currently dominate the smart speaker market with their variety of products, and the race is tight. Both companies raked in great sales during the holiday shopping season while Apple stood on the sidelines.

Apple HomePod Delay

The HomePod was initially supposed to launch in December, which would've made sense with the holiday season coming up. However, Apple delayed it without giving any explanation. It missed out on the crucial shopping frenzy when all those consumers who bought a smart speaker from Amazon or Google might have opted for an Apple one instead.

It's too early to tell now how using the HomePod will be like and whether the experience will be similar or better to that of existing speakers.

Breakthrough Music Experience

Apple touts that its smart home speaker will deliver a breakthrough music experience, which might set it apart from its rivals.

"HomePod delivers stunning audio quality wherever it's placed - in any room in the house, playing any style of music," says Apple. "Using just your voice, it's easy and fun to use, and works together with an Apple Music subscription for a breakthrough music experience, providing access to one of the world's largest cloud music libraries.

Siri constantly learns about users' music taste and preferences, which should further improve the experience. Moreover, Siri enables the HomePod to check the news, weather, set a timer, and so on. There's nothing groundbreaking here as Amazon and Google speakers already do this, too.

Compatibility Level: Walled Garden

Apple keeps mentioning Apple Music, Siri, iPhones, iPads, HomeKit, and other products and services in its ecosystem, with great integration between hardware and software. However, this strongly indicates that the HomePod will function within Apple's walled garden.

While Amazon and Google have welcomed third-party integrations, putting their assistants into a slew of smart home appliances and whatnot, Apple seems to prefer keeping Siri and HomePod locked into its own ecosystem.

For instance, Apple's HomePod works only with Apple Music, which requires a monthly subscription since it has no free tier. Google and Alexa play nice with Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, and more. Users can even add a rival music service as the default option.

Apple HomePod Price

It's no big secret that Apple devices are generally expensive, and this is no exception. The entry price for an Amazon Alexa or Google speaker can be as low as $50 and sometimes, even lower if various promotions are in place. on the contrary, the Apple HomePod costs a whopping $349 and the price alone could deter potential customers.

Product Diversity

Apple is just getting started, and it has just one expensive HomePod. Amazon has six Alexa-enabled Echo speakers of its own on sale now, and there are dozens of other different speakers that work with Alexa. Google has three speakers of its own, and Google Assistant will soon power dozens of different speakers too.

Incomplete Features

Even with the delayed release, the HomePod will still launch with incomplete features. The stereo pairing of two speakers, or multi-room audio, for instance, will not be available at launch. These are central features for a home speaker, but they will arrive later this year via a software update. Google Assistant, Alexa, and Sonos are already offering these features.

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