(Bloomberg)—Apple Inc. entered the growing field of voice-controlled speakers for the home on Monday, taking on early leaders Amazon.com Inc. and Google.
Apple’s speaker, called HomePod, emphasizes the enjoyment of music in the home. It’s Apple’s first major new hardware product since the Apple Watch’s release in 2015, and it comes at an important time for the company. The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant is seeking new revenue streams after becoming heavily reliant on the success of the iPhone. HomePod will be available starting in December, initially in Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., Apple says.
The market for internet-connected speakers and other smart home technology may be big enough to help Apple, No. 2 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, diversify. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged nearly 600% year over year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon (No. 1) taking about 88% share and Google 10%, according to consultant Strategy Analytics. Spending on smart home related hardware, services and installation fees will reach $155 billion by 2022, up from almost $90 billion this year, with devices accounting for about half of that, the consulting firm also estimates.
CEO Tim Cook has stressed the importance of Apple’s services business, predicting it will double in size by 2021. The new speaker establishes a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into these services. It also combats the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: Those don’t support Apple services like Apple Music, which brings in $10 in revenue per user each month. Without an Apple speaker, consumers seeking smart home devices may opt both for competing hardware and services like Amazon Prime and Google Play Music.
The product was introduced on stage by Apple executive Phil Schiller, who said it works closely with the company’s Music app and will come later this year. The Siri digital assistant has been updated to understand more spoken requests focused on music, he also explained.
The device has already entered production, Bloomberg reported last month. It has been tested by some Apple employees in their homes for upwards of a year, according to people familiar with the matter.
During this week’s conference, Apple also discussed significant software upgrades for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch and debuted new iPad and Mac computer models.