Sorry, Apple, The HomePod Doesn’t Reinvent Home Music – Fast Company
Where have I seen this before?
A couple of places: HomePod borrows heavily from the functional concept and even the marketing language of music-streaming hardware pioneer Sonos. And while it’s clearly a direct shot at Amazon’s Echo, I couldn’t help but notice that its design felt familiar too. Whyd, a French startup, debuted its voice-controlled smart speaker last year. And it looks almost exactly like the new HomePod.
Not only does the HomePod (like other gadgets before it) mimic the Wi-Fi-connected, multi-room, high-quality audio speaker concept that Sonos created years ago, the imagery and wording used on stage at WWDC feels like it was lifted directly from the Santa Barbara, California company’s marketing playbook. CEO Tim Cook’s vow to “reinvent home music” makes sense given the HomePod’s intended use case, but these words could just as easily have appeared in Sonos’s 2013 advertising campaign to “fill your home with music” or its more recent campaign about fixing “the silent home.”
Of course, both products are speakers that are designed for use in the home, so the inclusion of the words “home” and “music” in Apple’s unveil seems like an almost unavoidable coincidence. But it might feel more innocent if Apple weren’t touting a spatially aware, room-tuning feature that looks a lot like the TruePlay technology Sonos rolled out with its Play:5 speaker in 2015. Granted, Apple achieves this acoustic-tuning feature using microphones built into the speaker, rather than using the mic on the iPhone as Sonos does. But the concept—and the graphics used by Apple to illustrate it onstage—feel familiar.
A Similar Cylinder
The HomePod even takes on a similar form factor as the entry level Sonos Play:1 speaker (or, as some have pointed out, a jumbo-size roll of toilet paper). But even more uncanny is its resemblance to the Whyd speaker released last year. The two speakers share almost exactly the same rounded-edge, cylindrical shape, with a 360-degree mesh around the exterior and a sold, plastic top. Again, it could be a coincidence, but almost everything thing else about the HomePod feels like it was lifted directly from another product. It’s almost as though the product team said, “All right, we don’t have a lot of time. What are our favorite features of smart speakers and wireless Hi-Fi products on the market? Let’s just combine those and put Siri inside.”
Such mimicry comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Apple’s history. Steve Jobs famously borrowed ideas for the Macintosh graphical interface from Xerox PARC in the 1980s. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it hit a new sweet spot in terms of how compact and well designed it was. Same with the iPhone. When the iPad shipped in 2010, it quickly commanded 83% of the tablet market, according to IDC. Again, it wasn’t the first of its kind, but Apple gave the tablet just enough polish to dominate the category. And subsequent tablets, just like smartphones, were certainly inspired by Apple’s design.
But this is different. New Apple hardware doesn’t typically look exactly like that of existing competitors. And in terms of functionality, there’s very little here that the Amazon Echo and Sonos don’t already do. Just swap out Alexa for Siri.