Those of you who know me well know that I am an Apple evangelist. I read the entire Apple IIGS manual when my parents brought home the computer in 1986 and figured out how to automate some of the bookkeeping for my parents’ business before I graduated from high school. I was one of Guy Kawasaki’s EvangeListas and was bummed when he shut down the newsletter in 1999. I even spent my lunch on my 28th birthday at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store watching Steve Jobs introduce the original iPod and then spent the next year watching more and more people on Metra wearing those distinctive earbuds. So, yes, I am a big Apple geek.
But now I have a problem. I find myself increasingly willing to give other technology companies a chance. It started with buying Kindle books from Amazon instead of Apple iBooks because we could read them on any device. Then we ended up with Amazon Kindles because they are exceedingly good at one thing: displaying text. Then we gave Amazon Fires a chance because they were much cheaper than Apple iPads and had most of the apps we needed (they’re actually quite good). This holiday season brought Echos and Alexa into our lives.
I found myself unwilling to wait for Apple’s HomePod mostly because of the pricing. I could add four Amazon Echos to our home for less than the anticipated price of one HomePod. That did not make any sense to me, and if someone like me cannot find a reason to wait for the Apple product, then Apple really has a problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am sure Apple’s HomePod will be amazing. If the rumors are true, Apple developers should be able to write one app that works for iOS, tvOS, and MacOS. From a developer’s perspective, this makes a very powerful argument to write software for the Apple ecosystem. I suspect the major producers of audio content will jump on board quickly, and interestingly, I suspect Amazon to be one of those audio producers with Audible and Amazon Music.
The big question in my mind is whether or not Apple is too late this time. iPods worked because all other products on the market at the end of 2001 offered truly awful user experiences. The same can be said with iPhones and iPads. Apple’s problem this time is that its competitors tried a lot harder to not suck. The Echo sounds really good, and Alexa seems to work better than Siri. Alexa Skills are a lot easier to set up than Apple’s HomeKit too. I can also ask Alexa to order items from Amazon. The Echo can do everything the HomePod can do and more.
Apple will need to partner with a major reseller like Target and will need to release a HomePod mini if it hopes to really take market share from Amazon and Google/Walmart. Apple will find soon enough that unless it opens its Apple Music and iTunes content to other platforms, longtime subscribers will move on to other options. The thought has definitely crossed my mind. Your move, Apple.