Apple, Combining a TV Box and Smart Speakers Isn’t Going to Fix Your Smart Home Woes

Illustration for article titled Apple, Combining a TV Box and Smart Speakers Isn't Going to Fix Your Smart Home Woes

Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Listen, Apples great at a lot of things, but building smart home gadgets aint one of them. In fact, its dismal offerings in that space are a glaring weaknessespecially when you look at the strides Google and Amazon have made in recent years. Apple is well aware of that, and it looks like it might try to change its smart home fortunes by smooshing together the Apple TV and the HomePod. But that alone wont address the weak points in Apples ecosystem.

The Apple TVHomePod rumor comes via a Bloomberg report. In it, Apple prognosticator Mark Gurman cites anonymous Apple sources saying the combo gadget would also include a camera for video conferencing and other smart-home functions. In terms of features, it appears the gadget would do everything the Apple TV currently does, but with a better built-in speaker for listening to music and interacting with Siri. You can currently listen to music, provided you have Apple Music, on the Apple TV, but the sound quality is limited to your TVs native speakers. In other words, its terrible. (If it were smart, Apple would opt to make its streaming box smart speaker combo a soundbar, but its unclear based on the Bloomberg report.)

Bloomberg further contends that Apple is also tinkering with its own smart displays. Basically, its reportedly mulling slapping an iPad onto a HomePod or, possibly, a robotic arm that can follow you around like the latest Echo Show. This smart display would also include a camera for video calls.

Both rumored devices are purportedly in the early stages of development, which can mean a lot of things. They could never see the light of dayApple works on a bunch of secret gadgets that never make it to marketor the final products could end up being drastically different from whatever they currently are. The important takeaway is more that Apple seems to be addressing its lack of momentum in the smart home.

Right now, there isnt really a must-have set-top box and speaker combo device. Amazons got the closest thing with the Fire TV Cube, but we found it to be pretty craptacular when we reviewed it back in 2018. And on paper, succeeding in this area could give Apple a much-needed leg up in a smart home race where its competitors have a massive head start. While Google and Amazon have been churning out newer, more advanced smart speakers at a steady clip, Apples floundered. Its original HomePod flopped, in large part because it was expensive and Siri still sucks. Apple discontinued it last month. Meanwhile, the Apple TV hasnt had a refresh since 2017, though, its widely speculated that a new one is coming soon. But even if it were, its only captured a dismal 2% of the streaming device market. The newer HomePod mini is currently Apples flagship smart home device. Its affordable $99 price gave Apple a huge boost in this category when it launched, but overall, it still only has about 4.7% of the global smart speaker market.

The hardware isnt the problem with Apples smart home gadgetswith the exception of the polarizing Apple TV remote, these are all solid products. Pumping out new hardware wont fix whats fundamentally wrong with all of Apples smart home attemptsan inferior virtual assistant and poor third-party integrations.

HomeKit, Apples smart home protocol, has been adopted by more products but is still far less common than Google and Amazons. (Plus, if youve ever had a HomeKit device, god forbid you lose the QR code. If you do and need to move or reconfigure your smart home, its over.) Smart homes are hard enough to maintain if you want to mix and match products from different manufacturersand HomeKits stunted reach doesnt help that. Interoperability is a big must for the smart home, and it was only with the HomePod mini that Apple finally realized, hey, maybe people want third-party streaming services on this thing. Lastly, why use Siri, which only gets things right a third of the time, when Google Assistant and Alexa can do much more?

Apples fixation with its walled garden is its biggest crutch when it comes to the smart home. Unless its willing to chip away at it and fundamentally change its approach, it doesnt matter how many gizmos its working on.

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