The HomePod, a $350 speaker that's been described as having tremendous sound quality but subpar "smart" features, means more than just another Apple product, however — it's a test of loyalty for Apple fans, and it's a test they seem to be passing, with the HomePod selling out of its preorders.
So, what test is this, and what does it mean for future Apple products? For starters, consider the fact that the HomePod is unapologetically hostile to other platforms. What does that mean? Well, customers can't even use it if they don't already own an iOS device, so that effectively erases a large consumer base who exclusively uses Android or other operating systems. Apple is fine missing out on a huge potential for consumers, however, as it was with the Apple Watch, which is similarly platform-locked.
Why Apple Is Confident About The HomePod
Why? Well, for one, there are plenty of iPhones, iPads, and other iOS devices lying around globally for it to be confident that it'll still push many units of the HomePod. For many years now, Apple is perhaps only one of the very few brands with extremely loyal customers, and the company has always worked hard to achieve that kind of relationship.
The HomePod is for those loyal fans, the kind of folks who buy the newest iPhone model year after year, and perhaps buys the new MacBook model whenever it comes out. Whether they know it or not, these people have been locking themselves gradually inside Apple's ecosystem, and if they buy the HomePod — they most likely will — they're not going to have any problems because it was made for them and for them alone.
As The Verge points out, the HomePod is more than just a smart speaker: it's a symbol, a "point of no return" for Apple fans, a purchase that'll cement their irrevocable devotion for the Cupertino brand.
"If you thought you were locked inside the Apple ecosystem before, buying a HomePod is like adding an iron ball to those chains," said The Verge's Vlad Savov, and that's exactly right. Buying a HomePod expands that ecosystem and keeps it limited to Apple devices, and it's easy to imagine that this is what Apple wants, for its customers to be using products only Apple makes.
The HomePod Is A Major Turning Point
But hold on. What makes the HomePod different that, say, an iPhone? Aren't they both locked into their own ecosystems? Aren't they both hostile to other platforms? For the most part? Yes. But consider this: an Android user buys an iPhone. He then loads it up with apps from Google, like Gmail, Drive, Photos, and others. Essentially, they'll be able to mimic the Android experience, just not that dramatically.
Another example: suppose a person buys a MacBook. They can opt to ditch Apple's native apps and instead use Google's web services primarily, essentially enabling them to mimic what one would experience on a Chromebook. It's even possible to ditch macOS entirely and install Windows on a MacBook.
Not so with the HomePod. For starters, it doesn't even support Spotify natively; the music service does load up, but controls are not as fluid and well-integrated as on Apple Music. It doesn't even work as a Bluetooth speaker, most notably. Again, it's locked into the Apple ecosystem. For now, at least. There's always the chance Apple could open it up slightly as months go by.
But customers should know by now: if the HomePod appeals to you, you're probably an Apple fan, a very loyal one at that. If it doesn't, Apple didn't make the HomePod for you.