business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

You may remember that a couple of months ago I did a FaceTime commentary from the new Apple Store in Chicago, relocated to the banks of the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue, overlooking the River Walk and Esplanade.

My point at the time was that, as spectacular as the new store is and as dedicated as I may be to Apple products, I’ve not yet been persuaded that I need the company’s new HomePod smart speaker system, and certainly not that I should think about replacing the Alexa-powered Amazon speakers in which I’ve already invested. I actually was surprised that, when talking to one of the folks working at the Apple Store and giving him a chance to make the case, he was honest enough to say that that he couldn’t. (Not yet anyway. He left open the possibility that future upgrades would provide him with a compelling argument.)

Now Barron’s reports that things have not gotten much better - Apple apparently “has scaled back its sales forecasts for the device as its market share has slipped … March numbers from Slice Intelligence reported a strong debut for the HomePod but put its share below 1%, well below that of a number of Amazon devices, among others. At a time when the smart speaker market is growing quickly, investors might’ve expected a warmer reception.”

Now, the story cautions that it isn’t all bad news - that there will be updates and improvements that will make the HomePod more attractive and work out whatever kinks it may have (I’ve heard that before), that it will have the 2018 holiday season to build sales (it came out too late for the 2017 holidays), and that Apple might even “produce a new, smaller, cheaper device” to build the HomePod brand.

All true.

But, Barron’s also points out that “the broader logic around smart speakers these days” seems to be that “big companies (are) racing to get them into as many homes as possible, giving them a peek at the potential of smart home technology.” These big companies want to get a head start on providing smart home technology to the masses, believing that a first mover advantage will add up to long-term relationships and sustained sales.

And, the story makes the following concluding point: “Amazon’s Echo, particularly, introduced millions to a category of product most probably didn’t even realize they wanted before it existed—and helped digital assistant Alexa rival or even surpass, in the cultural consciousness sense, Siri. HomePod flop or not, that‘s seems like a fight Apple needs to be in.”

I agree. The painful reality these days is that competitive windows are not open forever. The person and/or company that gets through them first often has the ability, more than in the past, to close it just a little bit to the people and/or companies that are late to the party.

The Eye-Opening point, I think, was made by Leonardo da Vinci, who once spoke of “the urgency of doing.”

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply,” he once said. “Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
KC's View: