When Apple announced that it was delaying launch of its HomePod — specced out as a premium smart speaker with superior audio — it seemed like a clear fail to us. Sonos had just launched the Sonos One speaker, combining the gleaming Sonos reputation for audio quality with the Amazon Alexa operating system for voice control. The Sonos product was priced at half of HomePod’s projected cost, and Apple seemed to slink away from the market in November.
But Siri is playing in the voice-controlled audio space, as of a recent iOS update (11.2.5) which opens the command: “Siri, play the news.” In an obvious emulation of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — the two leading voice operating systems, both of which play news briefings culled from multiple sources — Siri can play brief updates from NPR, Fox News, CNN, and Washington Post according to one description of the feature.
Think of this as dipping its little toe into the smart speaker waters. but with 375-million active Siri users as of last June, a toe-dip by Apple could activate a lot of voice commands. One question, about which we have not seen research, is how many loyal iOS users have already bought in to Alexa and Assistant. Smart Speakers, and their underlying operating systems represent ecosystem plays, where capturing and retaining users is paramount. That’s what makes it so risky for Apple that the company has been outplayed in this field, and has fallen years behind.