Why Apple Shouldn’t Have Created the HomePod?

At the recent World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC 2017), Apple introduced HomePod. HomePod is a speaker that is smart. It is actually not unique at all. It’s unique selling point is it’s positioning (the age-old P of Marketing).

The Market has a lot of Smart Speakers (e.g. Echo and Google Home) that take a Artificial Intelligence (AI) first approach. Then there are great Wi-Fi speakers that are geared towards Wi-Fi Speakers that aren’t smart. Why not create a product that is at the intersection of these. How about a great Wi-Fi Speaker that is also Smart. The Positioning could be a result of many things — positioning it to the customer (duh) or trying to shy away from direct comparison with the early movers (read Echo and Google Home). In either case, Apple’s media strategy is getting increasingly confusing and that confusion bleeds into HomePod.

In the most confusing of decisions (or) desperations, Apple Music now plays Planet of the Apps. In its quest to differentiate from Spotify or Pandora, Apple may have seemingly launched this experiment.

One could explain Apple adopting VEVO (anyone remember that App yet) or something like its already planned CarPool Karaoke, and do more to connect musicians with Music lovers. However, that isn’t the case with Planet of the Apps. The program is a misfit into the Apple Music screen. People subscribe to Apple Music for Music not to see a show that is SharkTank for App Developers. It seems like a forced value-add to the Apple Music subscribers or may be something to attract new subscribers.

I dare not mentioned Beats Radio. Apple was going to figure out a way to integrate Radio into Apple Music.

The future of TV is Apps” ~ Tim Cook mentioned during the launch. App is a means to the outcome and not the outcome itself. The future of TV is seemingly an unified and personal viewing experience much like Apple News. However, it is just complicated due to the stranglehold of media companies, licensing terms, business models, and more.

The TV App makes a bravo attempt to get there. Yet it falls short. I have rarely launched the TV App on my iPhone. In a world where the media strategy was clear, a show like Planet of the Apps would feature on the TV App — I would at least launch to check it out.

Separate from Apple Music and TV is the Podcast App. Podcast emerged as the way for creating short audio-based stories. Almost many News and Radio agencies have their own Podcast channels which basically publish very similar content to radio. By introducing Music and then a half-baked Beats Radio without actually a radio strategy, Apple continues to be unclear about its approach.

Apple TV Device (not the App) launched with a lot of fanfare and actually even opened to good reviews (not great). After years of labeling it as a hobby project, Apple finally launched it as a powerful hardware that is completely integrated into its ecosystem. However, it didn’t go all in.

It was a bit of an App Store, a lot of TV, and a little bit of games. It’s own App Store data should be enough proof that games are the top sellers in its App ecosystem. After all the years of hobby and watching the XBox/PS2 from sidelines, all Apple could do was launch a really poor attempt at games in Apple TV.

Should Apple have gone all in to make TV the entertainment center for the house? It missed the opportunity to simply capitalize on that market. It then missed a golden chance to one up Echo by not foreseeing the Smart Home Ecosystem.

If you have been with Apple like have been since the iPod days, you can potentially chart the growth of its product line. With each of its product line, Apple launched a “different” store. App Store is where you buy Apps. Then there is the iTunes Store where you buy media — music, movies, TV shows. iBooks Store is where you buy books (duh). All of podcasts are browsed/subscribed and searched in the Podcast App. While the Apps call upon each other, filter information for each other, the entire buying experience has gotten defragmented. Simply, compare this with Amazon or Google Play — one place to go buy and then consume.

First the name. I don’t know how I feel about it. I totally get it iPod and HomePod. Who is asking for a speaker? A speaker geek would buy a Bose and a cost-conscious Amazon loyal would buy a Echo. They both do the job well enough. Then there are intermediaries who may go for HomePod. I am sure Apple will sell enough of the HomePods and I may myself buy/gift them but with increasing disdain.

Let me just tell you — if the unique selling point of HomePod is its deep integration with Apple Music along with great sound, you cannot consume Planet of the Apps on it. It almost seems like the folks who produce content for Apple Music didn’t talk to the folks making HomePod.

First, Apple needs to reimagine its media strategy. There are three types of things people do-Read (Books, News, Articles etc), Listen (Radio, Podcast, Music), and View (User Generated Videos, TV, Movies). They do this in different settings. It is just that simple. The Media Strategy has to be reimagined that way and so should the free, freemium, and paid business models. It’s all gotten too complicated.

Second, Apple needs to reimagine its buying and consuming experience. Apple needs to address its challenge stemming from its growth. It is reaching that point where it needs to get serious about its commerce. It needs to create one Apple Store where people can go buy Apps, Music, TV, Movies, Books, and even its Products. The same view needs to be pre-filtered for context. For example if someone launches it in the “Listen” context — then show all things associated with Listen. The consumption of that “Listening” has to occur in one place instead of confusing people.

Third, Create One Apple Home Device and make it affordable within the Apple Pricing. The Beauty of iPhone is that it is one device. It has to learn that it didn’t succeed in creating a cheaper version but it did succeed charging premium for different screens. The Apple Home Device has to evolve to that maturity. You have one Apple Home Device that can serve as both a TV, HomePod, and Minimal Gaming experience. It is a category of its own. Then there is the full-on version that does TV, HomePod, and All-in Games that strikes at the heart of XBox/PS2 in a powerful way. It would again be a category of its own. It can then charge its premium pricing.

Fourth, Stop fragmenting itself by being a follower. The current HomePod seems to be a case where the Marketing department took the lead as opposed to the relentless excellence from Apple to disrupt spaces that we all have come to expect. The Marketing Department priced it for Apple Premium while creating a Product that plays on Positioning rather than disruption. The HomePod seems to be a quick follower to not lose ground on the Echo/Google Home Category. Seemingly an exercise in haste than in thought.

What do you all think? Please let me know your thoughts via comments.

Image Courtesy/Credit: https://static.pexels.com/photos/25861/pexels-photo-25861.jpg

P.S. All thoughts, opinions, and views expressed in this post are my own.

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