Don’t expect to pick up an Apple HomePod this side of Christmas, as it has been officially delayed until ‘early 2018’. That’s a huge blow to the iPhone-maker’s plans, as it will now miss out on the busiest shopping period of the year, allowing the likes of the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos One to become the must-have gadgets of 2017.

The HomePod launched with all the glitz and glamour that one would expect from an Apple launch. In fact, it was given the prime position of being the ‘one more thing’ at WWDC back in June, meaning the company had high hopes for its first entry into the busy smart speaker market.

Apple pulled out all the stops to make the HomePod the most desirable smart speaker on the market. It packed seven tweeters and a 4in subwoofer into a tiny form factor, and paired it with a small screen at the top which would pulsate when the speaker was listening. In terms of design, no other smart speaker on the market could come close to the HomePod.

Unfortunately, time is a scary thing and that fact is no longer the case. Amazon, Google, Sonos, and many others have since released new or updated smart speakers, all hoping for a big slice of the growing market. Amazon’s redesigned Echo speaker has been a popular offering, with a greatly reduced price and attractive design, while the Google Home Mini finally offered an alternative to the insanely popular Amazon Echo Dot. None of these were designed to compete with the HomePod, however.

A Smart Speaker For Music Lovers

When Apple announced the HomePod, it was lauded as a smart speaker for music lovers, boasting unparalleled sound quality. While the speaker impressed those who had the opportunity to get hands-on with the device at WWDC, other manufacturers have since come out promising their very smart speaker for audiophiles.

Amazon has thus far remained on the lower-end of the market, but that hasn’t stopped Google and Sonos competing to become the ultimate smart speaker for music lovers. Sonos arguably has the most to gain from the HomePod’s delay, as the Sonos One has been universally praised for its impressive sound quality.

The Sonos One packs two Class-D digital amps, a tweeter and a mid-woofer, which gives it that unrivalled sound quality at its £199/$199 price. The speaker also boasts support for Alexa, one of the most popular smart home assistants thanks to the countless third-party skills that are available for it. While Alexa is available at launch, the Google Assistant will also be coming in due course, meaning it’s one of the first smart speakers to offer both Alexa and the Google Assistant in one package.

Not everything is great about the Sonos One, however. The smart speaker is still unable to play music from the world’s largest streaming music service, Spotify, much to the annoyance of users. Sonos has promised to rectify this by December 21, and once it does, then there is little to hold this smart speaker back.

The only other mainstream speaker that could be seen as a real threat to Apple’s offering is the Google Home Max. This gigantic speaker boasts two 4.5in woofers and two 0.7in tweeters, and is ideal for music lovers that enjoy a bassy sound at high volumes. Users can also pair multiple speakers together for a truly immersive set-up, making the Google Home Max a compelling speaker.

How much will these speakers actually harm the HomePod’s chances? Well, in the case of the Google Home Max, its $399 price tag and US-exclusivity could fill part of the gap filled by the HomePod, but it’s unlikely to be the number one replacement. That honour goes to the Sonos One, which is going to be available in more markets – the UK, US and Germany – than the Google Home Max, and will also be more accessible, having been priced at £199/$199.

Is There A Market For The Apple HomePod?

Apple may have delayed its HomePod’s arrival until early 2018, but does that risk it being dead on arrival? The answer to that is yet to be determined, but Apple has already showcased that it doesn’t need to be the first to market, or even the best, to make a success of its product line-up.

Take the iPad for instance. Apple trailed other manufacturers to market, but the iPad quickly became one of the most successful product launches in the history of the company. It’s now the de facto tablet for many, which is largely due to its simplicity and desirability. If Apple can achieve the same feat for the HomePod, then it doesn’t matter when it arrives – it’ll be a success.

There could be some factors that hinder its success, however, and that could be what Apple is working on right now. One of the biggest problems some users have with the HomePod is its use of Siri. While it was the smart assistant that most users have come to know and love, it’s been usurped by the likes of Alexa and the Google Assistant. That’s because they offer better smart home control, and are more capable of answering complicated questions.

Smart speakers live and die on their smart assistant, and while the HomePod may deliver on the big acoustic promise, if Siri doesn’t improve drastically in the near future, then the product could easily fall flat on its face. Apple will also need to be more open with its platform than it currently is.

The Apple HomePod is expected to only offer access to Apple Music, which dramatically limits its appeal as a music listening device. Spotify is currently the number one music streaming service, while users of the Google Home, Amazon Echo and Sonos One have access to countless other services – including Deezer, TuneIn, and users can even Bluetooth their own music to the speakers. Apple’s speaker does support AirPlay 2, however.

There’s also the issue of third-party developer support. That’s something Apple isn’t willing to open up just yet, whereas Amazon and Google have both embraced third-parties to develop interactions with their respective platforms.

Apple won’t comment on the reasons behind the HomePod’s delay, although in a statement the company notes: “We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers.

“We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”

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