After years of waiting, Apple has formalized its HomePod in Switzerland. But he is entering a market that is showing its first signs of weakness.
We couldn’t believe it anymore… Four years after the release of the HomePod, Apple’s connected speaker (the beefy Maousse version, since de-catalogued), and just over a year after the sale of its little brother , the HomePod mini, the apple brand finally decides to formalize its accessory in Switzerland. Since last Friday, March 25, we can finally find the connected ball in Apple Stores in the country (at a price of 99 francs), even though it has long been offered by other brands.
The novelty is that Tim Cook’s technicians seem to have finally tamed Swiss German enough to integrate it into Siri, the intelligent home assistant, and thus satisfy all customers in the country, since the machine already understood French, German and Italian. . Note that our Belgian friends are in the same situation as Dutch has also been added to the new languages understood by the AI.
The HomePod Mini gets colors
We would have liked to see the conquest of these new areas accompanied by new features, with the update to HomePod OS 15.4, but no: this firmware hardly offers the novelty of connecting to networks that require additional connections, such as a hotel … In other words, nothing special. In fact, we will have to settle for new colors – quite nice, we have to admit – since in addition to the existing space gray and white, the speaker is now also available in orange, blue and yellow.
As for the device itself, it’s always about the same principle at Apple: buying it only makes sense if you’ve invested in the home ecosystem, the functionalities are only related to an iPhone, iPad, Apple Music or HomeKit for most.
In absolute terms, this HomePod Mini is quite attractive. Firstly by its design, small compact and sexy ball, covered with a nice mesh fabric, from which we would have cut two opposite sides: one to form a base and the other to place some basic tactile functions (pause or resume playing a song, volume up and down, long press to summon Siri without having to say the words “Hey Siri”). The configuration is still just as simple, but it is above all the quality of the sound that stands out (especially when combining two devices for a stereo effect), with balanced mids and highs, as well as surprisingly strong bass for such a small size.
Siri slow to relax
The biggest flaw remains the on-board intelligence, which is still too limited compared to the competition, especially in French. If the speech recognition, in turn, is exemplary, it will remain impossible, for example, to launch two orders in the same sentence to Siri, while Google has long authorized this. And then try asking for the meaning of a word – a popular custom for English-speaking kids… Half the time, Siri just sends a link to different web pages on your iPhone, instead of saying it out loud. It’s frustrating.
There are a few more cool features, like being able to automatically transfer to your HomePod what you were listening to on your iPhone when you got home, simply by accessing the second of the first. And vice versa when leaving home. It is also possible to make a phone call through the speaker, or to send voice messages to all the speakers installed in the house, as well as to the iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches connected to it, thanks to the new “intercom” of Siri function.
The market slackening
However, this connected speaker is now entering the heart of a market that is still popular, but already showing signs of weakness. After a quite phenomenal growth jump in 2020, of 69% compared to the previous year, the connected loudspeaker market was much quieter in 2021, even below expectations, with growth of only 10%, according to analysis firm Strategy Analytics. Some specialists blame the shortage of electronic components that has hit the high-tech world, but last year the market was especially surprisingly poor in technological innovations. We’ll barely remember the sleep-detection feature Google introduced on its latest Nest Hub, which we also tested last May.
In terms of equipment, however, there is a real abundance. First, count the two industry leaders, Google and Amazon. The first offers the Nest (in the Audio version – approx. 109 francs – and Mini – 69 francs), and the second the Echo (in the Classic version – 119 francs – and Dot – 49 francs). Behind that, the competition is fierce, as many audio specialists have released their own model(s), generally more efficient in terms of sound reproduction, each equipped with Google Assistant or Alexa (or even theirs). Examples are Bose with its Home Speaker 300 (329 francs), Belkin and the SoundForm Elite (299 francs), Sonos with Roam (195 francs) or Motorola and its Lifestyle Sonic Sub 240 (89 francs). Even Ikea and Lidl have rolled in, proof that Monsieur and Madame Tout-le-monde are also interested. Thus, last January, the Swedish giant unveiled the second version of its Symfonisk loudspeaker (149 francs) and the German distributor has, currently only in France, and this for a short period in February, a loudspeaker in collaboration with SilverCrest (40 euros).
Functional level all meet more or less the same specifications. Each device offers compatibility with one or more music streaming platforms first. From the voice we ask the AI on board to broadcast the title of its choice. And here too Apple is lagging behind because it is limited to Deezer and Apple Music, while Amazon and Google not only add their own service, but also Tuneln, Spotify, Pandora or even Qobuz… But these speakers are also used for home automation. (lighting, heating, blinds, intercom, etc.) or to start routines to group different actions under the same command.
On top of that, touchscreen models have since been added, this time for video conferencing, watching a series on Netflix, a recipe while you’re in the kitchen or your sleep monitoring in the bedroom… market occupied exclusively by Google and Amazon, the first with Nest Hub (109 francs), and the second with the Echo Show (between 89 francs and 269 francs, depending on the version). At this point, Apple seems to have overlooked this configuration.
Important to boost sales
Still, the HomePod Mini is a big hit. Still according to Strategy Analytics figures revealed late last year, Apple climbed to the second rung of the market podium in the third quarter of 2021, selling 4 million through its connected speaker, just behind the unbeatable Google Nest Mini. million units sold.
But the small world of connected speakers is now looking at the Matter project, a new standard that promises to revolutionize home automation by offering a protocol perfectly compatible with the virtual assistants and ecosystems of the various market players. Primarily driven by Google, Apple and Amazon, the project should finally see the light of day this fall. And maybe at the end of the year the sales of these loudspeakers pick up again.