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Why Apple Struggles to Sell Speakers 2021

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Key Takeaways

Apple has stopped selling the HomePod after just three years.2007's iPod Hi-Fi Speaker lasted roughly a year and a half.AirPods Max may be Apple's next big failure. Apple

Apple has discontinued the HomePod after just three years. Its other attempt to sell a high-end speaker, the iPod Hi-Fi, lasted just a year and a half. What is it with Apple and speakers?

Apple accessories are known to be both expensive and great. The Magic Keyboard for iPad starts at $299, but it's amazing. AirPods Pro are similarly great, similarly expensive, and universally popular. But when it comes to high-end speakers, Apple can't seem to pull it off. That's because they're too expensive, and too good at the wrong thing.

"Apple headphones and speakers are absolutely too expensive for what you're getting," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Ach5 via email. "You can buy high-end speakers for half the cost, and they're far more durable. They do what they need to do without any unnecessary frills, whereas Apple has definitely over-engineered a lot of their peripherals."

Nobody Cares About Sound Quality

Consider two kinds of speaker buyers. Audiophiles go for quality over anything else. They're well-served, and almost certainly have a great setup already. Audiophiles are happy to pay a lot for their speakers, but while the HomePod sounds fantastic for its size, it's also a smart speaker. It never could compete with dedicated speakers.

"For most people, sound quality isn't going to matter enough to pay that much for a first-party set of speakers," says Freiberger.

The other speaker buyer wants something that sounds better than their phone and has a killer smart assistant. Speakers from Amazon and Google are good enough, sound-wise, and their voice assistants are streets ahead of Siri. Why spend $349 (the introductory price of the HomePod) when it uses Siri, a voice assistant so bad there's a Reddit group called SiriFail?

"The competitors have much better products and dirt cheap prices. Like an Echo Dot will blow away any Apple speaker in a heartbeat," Michelle Aran, CEO of phone accessory seller Velvet Caviar, told Ach5 via email. "And even though Siri is one of the most intelligent voice assistants out there, Alexa is just better at recognizing commands and also has better functionalities."

When you can pick up an Echo Dot (with bundled smart lightbulb) for just $40, even Apple's latest HomePod mini starts to look overpriced.

Over-Engineered

If Siri is HomePod's main drawback, the other problem is that the hardware is too good. The engineering inside the HomePod is remarkable. It listens to the room and automatically tunes its audio. It can connect to another HomePod to become a stereo pair. And the sound is quite excellent for something so small.

But that engineering is so expensive that Apple can't knock the price down. Tellingly, the HomePod has been available at discounted prices from resellers for quite a while, but Apple never dropped the price to compete with other smart speakers—possibly because it couldn't.

"Apple headphones and speakers are absolutely too expensive for what you're getting."

Back in 2007, Apple released the iPod Hi-Fi, a boombox-style stereo speaker system with a 30-pin dock to fit the iPod. It, too, went for $349, and was discontinued after just one year and 189 days, according to Wikipedia.

It seems that nobody wants to spend that kind of money on a speaker accessory, whether it's a boombox or a smart speaker. The advantages just aren't there. In other realms, Apple accessories offer features that are better-executed, or just aren't available elsewhere.

The Magic Keyboard is incredible. AirPods were the first good true-wireless earbuds, and the AirPods Pro are just great. Ask around, and you'll find that people really, really love them.

And when it comes to Macs and iPhones, Apple gear is similarly priced to the competition—it's just that it doesn't compete in the cheaper markets. 

AirPods Max 

Which brings us to the AirPods Max. Like the HomePod, the AirPods Max were in short supply at launch. Also like the HomePod, they're extremely expensive and over-engineered.

And who is the target buyer? Audiophiles have better options at this price, and lovers of convenience and noise-cancelling can get something just as good for much less money. The AirPods brand may still be red hot, but AirPods Max are AirPods in name only.

Apple

"As far as the AirPods Max is concerned, I do think that will fail to make an impact on the market as well," says Freiberger. "The price is ridiculous. $549 is a price point that's only going to appeal to a very small demographic, and even then, they may hesitate. There aren't any features that are going to blow anyone away."

It will be interesting to see if the little HomePod mini can succeed for Apple, but it's still way more expensive than the competition, and Siri is still lacking compared to other voice assistants.