Barclays Says AirPods Continue to Grow, HomePod Sales Have Been Underwhelming

Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis and his associates recently spent a week in Asia meeting with companies within Apple's supply chain, and today they shared research on iPhones, AirPods, and the HomePod gathered from their trip.

In terms of AirPods, the analysts expect Apple will continue to increase production of the wireless earphones. Barclays forecasts that AirPods shipments will likely approach 30 million units in 2018, within the ballpark of KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's estimate of 26-28 million units.

AirPods remain backordered on Apple's online store, with orders placed today estimated for delivery within 12 to 13 days in the United States and several other countries. The wireless earphones have been in short supply since December after availability briefly improved during the fall months.

The lengthy shipping estimates for AirPods suggests Apple may still be having difficulties manufacturing the wireless earphones, can't keep up with strong demand, or is dealing with some combination of those two factors.

Apple doesn't disclose AirPod sales, but chief executive Tim Cook said the company's total revenue from wearables was up almost 70 percent year over year. Apple's broad "Other Products" category, including AirPods, Apple TV, and Apple Watch, set a new all-time record with $5.5 billion in revenue last quarter.

In contrast with the popularity of AirPods, Barclays says HomePod sales have been "underwhelming" so far. The research note says Apple planned an initial production run of 6-7 million units, but it's unclear how many have sold.

Apple will soon release a wireless charging case for AirPods to be used with its upcoming AirPower charging mat. Beyond that, Bloomberg reported that Apple may release new AirPods with "Hey Siri" functionality as early as this year, and a subsequent pair with water resistance as early as next year.

Barclays also believes Apple will release a new pair of AirPods in early 2019, but it's unclear if they are referring to the pair with "Hey Siri" functionality or the subsequent water-resistant ones.

And for the HomePod, a relatively sketchy rumor out of China suggests Apple may release a smaller version of the speaker later this year for between $150 and $200 in the United States. No further details were provided.

The research note corroborates Apple's widely rumored plans to launch a new iPhone X, a so-called iPhone X Plus, and a lower-priced 6.1-inch iPhone X-like device with some design compromises such as an LCD instead of OLED display, 3GB of RAM instead of 4GB, a single-lens rear camera, and no 3D Touch.

An excerpt from the research note, edited slightly for clarity:
Looking ahead, we expect iPhone X production to cease entirely before this year's launches and now believe the 6.1" LCD model could be half or even more of the mix in the second half of 2018. The LCD version will likely be tiered between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X2 with cut down features; we expect it will have only 3GB RAM, a single rear camera, and lack 3D Touch, but still have the new form factor with Face ID. In terms of lower Bill of Materials, we note the LCD screen module costs less than half the cost of an OLED one. Further, we expect the iPhone X2 and a Plus-sized version to also be launched, likely with 4GB of RAM, and Intel to gain modem share this cycle. However, rear 3D-sensing doesn't happen until 2019 or later.
The information about the new iPhones is entirely in line with research previously shared by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

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Smart Speaker Survey States iPhone Owners 22 Percent More Likely to Buy Speakers, Favor Amazon Over Google

In January, surveyed 1,057 Americans over the age of 18 regarding their ownership or interest in smart speakers, and today the researchers have published their final report with the results. While the data precedes Apple's entry into the market with HomePod in February, it does include a few points of data regarding iPhone/iOS users and their interest in smart speakers, prevalent long before rumblings about Apple's HomePod began.

Specifically, the Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report states that iPhone owners are 22 percent more likely to own a smart speaker compared to non-Apple smartphone owners. Of the smart speakers on the market besides HomePod, iPhone users are 30 percent less likely to own a Google Home and favor devices like Amazon Echo.

Graphs via

In fact, argued that Apple and Amazon are likely companions in "multi-manufacturer households," where HomePod is purchased as a "luxury item for music listening" and Echo is used for more "utilitarian tasks."
iOS users are attractive consumers and far more likely to own a smart speaker overall, but far less likely to own a Google device. However, the data also suggests that Google is at less risk of losing share to Apple HomePod than Amazon. Apple and Amazon may be the focus of multi-manufacturer households where HomePod is a luxury item for music listening in living spaces while Echo products get placed in the kitchen and bedrooms for utilitarian tasks.

In addition, iPhone owners are a good fit for Amazon because they are far more likely to have made a purchase by voice and more likely the 30,000 Alexa skills offered to Echo users. The favoritism shown by Apple owners to Alexa devices may also appeal to developers. Historically, iPhone app users have been far more valuable to developers on a revenue basis than Android users.
The report has many other interesting tidbits of information, stating that about 19.7 percent of adults in the United States use smart speakers, while 47.3 million have access to one of these devices. This means that they live in a home with a smart speaker, but may not be the primary owner -- a necessary distinction for the survey as smart speakers are "communal devices" used by entire households, unlike a smartphone with one user.

Many consumers own an average of 1.8 smart speakers, most place them in their living room (45.9 percent of owners) or kitchen (41.4 percent), and Amazon remains the dominant player in the market with a 3.5 times larger install base than Google. All of this growth surprised many analysts, particularly compared to growth rates of other product categories.
How does the march to nearly 50 million smart speaker consumers in 3 years compared to growth rates of other communications channels? Television took 13 years, the internet four years, and Facebook just two years. Smart speakers are devices but are growing almost as quickly as social media apps."
Among the most popular use cases, questions, music, and weather commands remain at the top. In total, the researchers said that this data provides the best indication that smart speakers are "being incorporated into everyday lives of consumers," with 63 percent using them daily and 77 percent at least weekly.

For those who don't own a smart speaker, 37.9 percent stated disinterest as their reason, 21.2 percent said they get enough similar features from their smartphone, 16 percent referenced privacy concerns, 11.8 percent said they plan to purchase soon, 8.8 percent claimed they were too expensive, and 4.2 referenced other reasons. For future owners, 9.8 percent expect to make a purchase in 2018, 26 percent of which said they will be purchasing Apple's HomePod.

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Chinese Report Says $150-$200 HomePod and $799-$899 MacBook Air to Launch This Year

Apple will launch lower-priced versions of four products this year, including an iPad, iPhone, MacBook Air, and HomePod, according to a translated report from Taiwan's Economic Daily News via Japanese blog Mac Otakara.

We've already heard rumors about more affordable iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Air models, but this is the first word of a supposedly lower-priced HomePod being on Apple's roadmap. The speaker is forecasted to launch in the second half of 2018 for between $150 and $200 in the United States.

At $349, the current HomePod is considerably more expensive than the Amazon Echo and Google Home for $99 and $129 or less respectively. But the HomePod also has significantly better sound quality than its smart assistant rivals, in line with Apple positioning it as a high-quality speaker first and foremost.

A lower-priced HomePod would certainly be more competitive with the Echo and Google Home, but it's unclear if that would come at the expense of audio quality. One possibility is that Apple will release a smaller HomePod mini that still delivers premium sound relative to other portable speakers in that category.

Here's the full breakdown of the Economic Daily News report, based on what we could gather from a translated version:
  • 9.7-inch iPad for $259: This lines up with a DigiTimes supply chain report from last December that said Apple is considering releasing a cheaper 9.7-inch iPad for $259 in the second quarter of 2018. The current 9.7-inch iPad was released in March 2017 for $349.

  • 6.1-inch iPhone for $649 to $749: This lines up with a prediction from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who expects Apple to launch a mid-range 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, but with some design compromises like an LCD rather than OLED display to achieve the lower price point.

  • MacBook Air for $799 to $899: This lines up with another prediction from Kuo, who said Apple will launch a more affordable MacBook Air in the second quarter of 2018. The estimated price range comes from WitsView researcher Yubin Qiu. The current MacBook Air starts at $999.

  • HomePod for $150 to $200: Today's report cites industry sources who expect a more affordable HomePod to launch in the second half of 2018. It's hard to decipher details from the loosely translated report, but Mac Otakara's coverage seems to suggest it will be a smaller speaker.
It's worth noting that these prices are estimates, as it's hard to envision Apple sharing pricing information with its supply chain partners.

Of the four products, the new iPad and MacBook Air are most likely to debut first. Apple is rumored to unveil new devices later this month, but it's unclear if the announcements will be made via press release or at a media event. If there is a keynote planned, invites would certainly have to go out soon.

The new 6.1-inch iPhone should debut in September alongside a new iPhone X and so-called iPhone X Plus, and the lower-priced HomePod could certainly be introduced at the same event. The current HomePod launched in early February.

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Apple Shares ‘Welcome Home’ HomePod Ad Directed by Spike Jonze and Starring FKA Twigs

Apple this evening uploaded a new "Welcome Home" HomePod video to its YouTube channel, which was directed by well-known filmmaker Spike Jonze.

The four minute spot stars singer and dancer FKA Twigs and is set to a new song from Anderson .Paak called "Til It's Over." In the video, FKA Twigs arrives home after a long day and asks HomePod to play something she'd like, which she starts to dance to in a magical realism-style scene.

This is Apple's first longer-form HomePod ad. The company previously shared a series of short 15-second HomePod videos featuring the word "HomePod" animated in various ways, each set to a different song. Apple plans to feature the four minute "Welcome Home" video online, while a shorter cut will be played on television.

Apple's HomePod has been available for purchase since early February, and it's received largely positive reviews when it comes to sound quality, but reactions to Siri have not been quite as favorable. The HomePod can be purchased from Apple's website for $349.

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KGI: Apple to Launch Cheaper MacBook Air in 2Q 2018

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has issued a new research report encouraging investors to keep their eyes on three products for 2018: the rumored 6.1-inch LCD iPhone, AirPods, and a "more affordable MacBook Air." The first two in that list have been widely discussed in recent weeks and months, but this is the first we've heard about an update to the MacBook Air.

We expect Apple (US) to roll out the new MacBook Air with a lower price tag in 2Q18. We forecast total shipments of MacBook models will grow 10-15% YoY in 2018 (vs. 0-5% YoY decline for the NB industry), up from 15.5-16mn units in 2017. While Quanta, Radiant, Catcher and SZS are likely to benefit from strong shipments momentum, SZS also stands to benefit from increased market share and a higher ASP.
Kuo doesn't offer any details on what to expect in an updated MacBook Air beyond a lower price tag, but the current models are certainly outdated as they haven't had any substantial updates in three years. Since that time, Apple has cut back on available models including a complete discontinuation of the 11-inch model. The only recent upgrade to the 13-inch model has been a bump to the base processor option last June, but it's still a Broadwell chip from the 2014–15 timeframe.

Aside from obvious internal upgrades like processors and graphics, another area that could see improvement is the display, as the MacBook Air currently offers a 1440 x 900 non-Retina display. We'll likely also see some USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 upgrades and perhaps an overall redesign given the age of the current design.

Kuo's claim of a second-quarter introduction points to the April–June timeframe, which could mean an announcement at WWDC in June, and we'll likely hear more rumors as the time gets closer.

In a separate report, Kuo predicts that AirPods and the rumored high-end over-ear headphones are the future of Apple's artificial intelligence and augmented reality ambitions. Kuo believes that compared to HomePod, Apple's headphones offer more opportunities for reaching users quickly, personalization, and complementing rumored augmented reality glasses. Kuo is extremely optimistic about AirPods demand going forward, but less enthusiastic about HomePod given "mediocre" demand so far.

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Samsung Says ‘Bixby 2.0’ Smart Speaker Will Feature Multi-User Voice Recognition

Samsung has announced at the Mobile World Congress that version 2.0 of its Bixby voice assistant will launch with the Galaxy Note 9 and come with support for recognizing individual voices (via ZDNet).

Samsung mobile chief D J Koh said that Bixby 2.0 is being tested by approximately 800 partners and is helping the company to develop a "wider scope of voice assistant features", one of which is the ability to recognize individual voices on devices supporting multiple users.

Development of the feature makes sense given Samsung's plans to launch a television set with built-in Bixby next month, as well as a Bixby-enabled smart speaker set for release in the second half of 2018.

Amazon's Echo devices and Google's Home smart speakers already include voice matching settings which let multiple users access personalized services, however Apple's HomePod lacks such a feature.

For Siri commands that interact with user-specific information, only the Apple ID account holder who sets up the HomePod speaker is able to use the additional functionality, and Apple hasn't revealed any plans to bring multi-user voice recognition to its Siri virtual assistant anytime soon.

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Day One HomePod Pre-Orders in U.S. Beat Out Most Other Smart Speaker Pre-Orders

First day pre-orders for the HomePod, which became available late last month, were higher than day one pre-orders for several other smart speakers including the Sonos One and the Google Home Max in the United States.

The data was shared by NPD Group and was gathered using NPD's Checkout service, which tracks consumer purchase behavior across multiple retailers.

According to the data, HomePod beat out all other smart speaker first day pre-orders with the exception of the Amazon Echo Dot.

Though HomePod pre-orders reportedly outsold other smart speaker pre-orders, NPD Group did not provide data on how many HomePod pre-orders Apple sold in comparison to smart speakers from other manufacturers, so while interesting, the data here doesn't offer up a look at just how well the HomePod did.

We haven't seen any real estimates of how well the HomePod did following its launch, but Apple's next earnings call should give us a bit of insight. Apple won't break out HomePod sales, but changes to the "Other" category in the company's earnings report may provide hints.

The Other category includes products like the Apple TV, Apple Watch, AirPods, iPod, Beats, and other Apple-branded and third-party accessories. Going forward, it will also include the HomePod.

While we don't know how many HomePods Apple has sold to date, the device did stay in stock and readily available for days after it became available for pre-order on January 26. In fact, HomePod was available for launch day delivery through February 7, just a couple of days before the HomePod's official February 9 launch.

Data on HomePod sales may not be available, but analyst Gene Munster with Loop Ventures recently predicted HomePod will capture 12 percent of global smart speaker unit share in 2018, with estimated unit sales of 7 million.

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Smart Speaker Showdown: HomePod vs. Google Home vs. Sonos One

Apple's new HomePod is late to the smart speaker market, which is already crowded with speakers from companies like Amazon, Google, and Sonos. The latter two companies, Google and Sonos, have released speakers with high-quality sound and robust voice assistants, giving the HomePod some serious competition.

We decided to pit Apple's $349 HomePod against both the $399 Google Home Max, which comes with Google Assistant, and the $199 Alexa-powered Sonos One to see how the HomePod measures up.

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To compare the three speakers, we focused on design, sound quality, and the overall performance of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.

When it comes to design -- and this is certainly subjective -- we preferred the look of the HomePod with its fabric-wrapped body and small but solid form factor. The Sonos One looks a little more dated with its squarer body and standard speaker mesh, while the Google Home Max has a much larger footprint that's going to take up more space.

Apple's HomePod

All three offer touch-based controls at the top of the device, but the Google Home Max has one design edge - a USB-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting external music sources. The Sonos One has a single Ethernet port, while the HomePod has no ports.

Though we liked the HomePod's design, Siri, as you might expect, did not perform as well as Alexa on Sonos One or Google Assistant on Google Home Max.

Google Home Max

On questions like "Is Pluto a planet?" or "What's the fastest car?" both Alexa and Google Assistant were able to provide satisfactory answers, while Siri said those weren't questions that could be answered on HomePod.

Siri was not able to sing happy birthday, create a calendar event, or even provide the release date of the HomePod itself, directing users to for more information, while the other smart assistants were able to do these things.

Apple execs have said in the past that Siri was not engineered to be Trivial Pursuit, but it would be nice if Siri had a more competitive feature set.

Though only briefly touched on in the video, Siri does, in fact, do well with HomeKit commands and controlling music playback on the HomePod through an accompanying Apple Music subscription.

Sonos One

Sound quality is a controversial topic because there's a heavy amount of personal preference involved when judging these three speakers. We thought the HomePod sounded the best, with the Google Home Max at a close second, followed by the Sonos One.

The Google Home Max gets the loudest, but sound becomes somewhat distorted at the highest volumes, while the Sonos One offers robust sound that's not quite as good at a lower price point. HomePod does have one major benefit: a fantastic microphone that picks up Siri commands even when you're across the room.

All three of these speakers offer great sound, and if you're attempting to pick one based on reviews, make sure to read several. We thought the HomePod sounded best, but other sources, like Consumer Reports and Yahoo's David Pogue found that the Google Home Max and the Sonos One sounded better than the HomePod.

So which speaker is better? The answer to that question depends on the other products you own. If you're an Apple Music subscriber with a HomeKit setup, the HomePod is going to work great. It only works natively with Apple Music, iTunes Match, and iTunes purchases, so if you have a Spotify subscription, for example, support isn't as robust.

For that reason, if you're not locked into Apple's ecosystem already, or if you have Apple devices but subscribe to Spotify, HomePod probably isn't the best choice for you.

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Industrial Design Experts Say HomePod’s White Ring Issue ‘Shouldn’t Be Too Hard to Fix’ for Apple

Last week, Apple confirmed that the HomePod can potentially leave white rings on the surface of wooden furniture with oil or wax finishes. In an effort to help users prevent seeing these rings appear on their own furniture, Apple shared a support document on "Where to place HomePod," detailing how the interaction between the HomePod's vibration-dampening silicone base and a wooden surface has the chance to result in a white ring.

Business Insider recently spoke with a few industrial design experts who believe that the problem "shouldn't be too hard to fix" for Apple." Gregor Berkowitz, a product development consultant for numerous consumer electronics brands, expects Apple to "re-tool" its HomePod manufacturing process to address the issue with the silicone base, which could take between two to six weeks. Although the fix could take several weeks, the experts said it's "likely not very costly" for Apple.

Image via Wirecutter

Senior industrial designer at Y Studios, Cesar Viramontes, referred to the white rings issue as something customers will "probably forget about" in the next few months.
Apple may need to "re-tool" the manufacturing process since silicone is manufactured using a different process than the other kinds of elastomer," said Berkowitz. If that's necessary, the process could take anywhere from two weeks to six weeks, he noted.

"It's an issue, but I think it's probably going to be one that'll be corrected in the next round of manufacturing," said Y Studios' Viramontes. "I think it will be a minor issue, and people will probably forget about it in the next couple of months when it goes away."
While the experts see a quick fix for the issue coming from Apple, all were surprised it happened in the first place. Product design expert Ignazio Moresco explained that more is expected from Apple's well-known attention to detail, and the company "should have caught the issue if they followed a rigorous QA process." The white marks aren't an Apple-specific problem, but have appeared with other speakers -- like Sonos One -- that have similar silicone bases.

Berkowitz believes the white rings could be a result of Apple's "inexperience" with making stationary speakers, in contrast to the company's familiarity with making mobile products like the iPhone and MacBook.
"This is sitting on a bookshelf. Is it going to work? Or are there going to be problems? A traditional consumer product company or a speaker company or a traditional Hi-Fi company is going to worry about that and think about those problems and have experience with it," Berkowitz said. "This shouldn't be new for Apple but it is."

"They didn't test the product enough and in the right variety of circumstances, especially considering that a wood surface is a very likely support for the product," said Ignazio Moresco, a product design expert who has worked at frog design, Microsoft and Ericsson.
For those who have discovered rings on their furniture, Apple said that these marks "will often go away after several days" once HomePod is removed from the wooden surface. Users can hasten this process by wiping the surface gently with a damp or dry cloth. Still, the company explained that if anyone is concerned about these marks, it recommends "placing your HomePod on a different surface."

Accessory makers are already creating products to act as a fix for the situation, including new leather coasters for HomePod from Pad & Quill. The $19.95 coasters are advertised as letting users place their HomePod on the wooden surfaces that have the potential to be marked by HomePod, without having to worry about the appearance of such marks.

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Apple Shares New Video on Getting the Most From HomePod

Apple this afternoon shared a new HomePod tutorial video on its Apple Support YouTube channel, which is designed to help new HomePod users get the most out of their new speakers.

The three minute video covers various Siri commands for accessing music, podcasts, news, and personal requests, using the iPhone as a HomePod remote, using the HomePod as a speakerphone, controlling HomeKit devices, and more.

As a warning, this video does include "Hey Siri" commands that have the potential to activate your own HomePod when you watch it, so you might want to watch with headphones.

In the description of the video, Apple links to multiple HomePod support documents, which are useful for HomePod owners who are still learning the ins and outs of the HomePod. These documents cover topics like using the Home app, using VoiceOver, listening to Podcasts, AirPlaying audio, and more.

This is the fourth HomePod tutorial video Apple has shared to introduce users to the new device. Last week, when the HomePod was released, Apple shared three other short videos on using Siri to Play Music, using the HomePod's touch controls, and adjusting the HomePod's settings.

All of the videos have been uploaded to Apple's YouTube support channel, which was introduced back in November. This YouTube channel is where Apple shares tutorial videos that are designed to provide users with tips on using their iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other Apple devices.

At MacRumors, we've also shared several how tos and guides for accessing and using all of the HomePod's different features, which can be found in the how to section of our HomePod roundup.

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