By Stephen Hackett
October 6, 2020 9:00 AM PT
The Hackett File: Apple’s Home Products Should Think Cheaper
Apple’s two smart home products have something in common: they are far too expensive for the markets they compete in.
Apple TV 4K
The Apple TV 4K was announced in September 2017, over three years ago. It carried forward the app-based model and software that debuted on the previous generation announced in 2015. (Which is still on sale, because of course it is.)
While Tim Cook’s proclamation that “the future of TV is apps” hasn’t quite panned out, and Apple Arcade is a bit lackluster on the platform, I believe the bones of tvOS are in pretty decent shape. The Apple TV app is a nice way to pull content in from across multiple streaming services, even if Netflix is notably absent. Features like AirPlay and multi-user support are nice additions as well, and see frequent use in my living room.
However, the hardware is downright ridiculous. The A10X Fusion-powered box retails for an eye-watering $179, unless you get duped into spending an extra $20 for 64 GB of storage.
Then there is the Siri Remote. Which is… ummmmm… hot, hot garbage.
Strolling into a Best Buy really shows how out of place the Apple TV 4K is these days.
The just-announced Chromecast with Google TV is priced at $49, and features a wide range of streaming services, including Netflix data integration. Sure, the Chromecast lacks AirPlay, Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, but I’m not sure anyone thinks those additions are worth $130.
Roku has been killing it in this market, too. The company offers a wide range of streaming boxes, priced from $29 to $99. Like the new Chromecast, they come with remotes designed for actual humans, and voice control. Rokus can even stream Apple TV+ content.
If Apple wants to keep a high-end option for people who want to game on their streaming box, that’s fine, but for those of us who just want to stream in 4K and use AirPlay, it’s time for the company to become competitive. That means having a product that is smaller, cheaper and easier to use.
It’s just far too painful to recommend or buy an Apple TV right now, and the company is losing what ground it had in the living room.
Oh, the HomePod.
Introduced at WWDC 2017, Apple’s smart speaker didn’t end up shipping until February of the next year. In his initial pitch for the product, Phil Schiller described it as an incredible wireless speaker, designed to sound better than anything on the market. It was going to “reinvent home music” and “rock the house.”
I can’t deny that the HomePod does sound good, especially when set up in a stereo pair. However, people want more than a good speaker — they want a smart one.
At WWDC 2017, it seemed like the non-music aspects of what Siri could do on the device were pretty limited, and that turned out to be true once the HomePod started landing in living rooms and kitchens. Since then, Siri on the HomePod has gotten better, but it still lags behind the Google Assistant and Alexa in many areas.
Thing is, I think most regular people interested in devices like this are more interested in the smart than the speaker aspect, and the initial price tag of $399 for something that wasn’t as useful as much cheaper options from other companies wasn’t that enticing.
In April 2019, Apple shaved $100 off the price of the HomePod, but even at $299, it’s not a great deal for most consumers. Even those who prefer Apple Music and the company’s privacy standards would be better off searching for a model on sale at someplace like Best Buy or Target.
If Apple is serious about making the HomePod a more serious contender, a smaller and less expensive option is a must. People are far more forgiving of smart speaker that costs $99 than one that runs $299. I’m sure Apple could still ship something that sounds pretty good, too.