Apple introduced the HomePod at WWDC 2017.
Update 3/13: Added a new paragraph explaining the accessibility benefits of Apple ecosystem-centric features Handoff and Intercom.
After nearly four years, Apple on Friday discontinued the full-sized, original HomePod. First reported by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino, the company said in a statement it instead will shift gears to “[focus] our efforts on HomePod mini.” The device, introduced in 2017, was positioned primarily as a great-sounding speaker that just so happened to be smart. In addition to its high initial price of $349—later discounted to $299—the HomePod’s priorities were reverse from that of its ilk. To wit, Amazon and Google are less concerned with audio fidelity as they are intelligence—the latter of which Siri is widely regarded to lag behind Alexa and the Google Assistant.
Apple said HomePod is still available for purchase “while supplies last” and will receive support through AppleCare and software updates.
An overlooked yet crucial benefit to HomePod (which lives on in the Mini) is, as ever, accessibility. A legitimate argument could be made that both HomePod sizes are the most accessible smart speakers on the market. As with everything that comes out of Apple Park, HomePod is accessible to disabled people. Between VoiceOver, Touch Accommodations, and more, HomePod has more to offer someone, say, who is Blind or low vision, than an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. While speech impairments are problematic for any smart speaker, it’s not unreasonable to conclude HomePod is a better, more complete product than its competition when factoring the breadth and depth of its assistive technologies. Being objectively “smart” is only one metric that most tech journalists and observers myopically obsess over; but accessibility matters too, and Apple has made a compelling device in this regard. For many people with certain disabilities, HomePod may be the best choice because of accessibility, in addition to its sound quality and tight integration with the Apple ecosystem.
It’s worth noting that HomePod’s place in the Apple universe has accessibility benefits too. Aside from the aforementioned discrete accessibility features, both HomePod models enjoy de-facto accessibility features in Handoff and Intercom. Handoff, in which a user places their iPhone near HomePod to automatically transfer music or a podcast to the speaker, is a practical (and magical) method of switching output sources without laboriously tapping through the AirPlay menu. Likewise, Intercom can transcribe messages into text form—a particularly useful feature for homes with Deaf and/or heard-of-hearing people. Taken together, both Handoff and Intercom can do a lot of heavy lifting for many in terms of accessibility and inclusiveness—and illustrates accessibility, conceptually, extends far beyond discrete, esoteric use cases.
It’s fair to conclude HomePod perhaps was a misfire overall, at least as ostensibly competing with Amazon and Google. But its accessibility story is important and deserving of recognition, one that thankfully will live on with HomePod Mini.
Friday’s news of HomePod’s discontinuation comes a week after Apple announced another product from 2017, the one-and-done iMac Pro, is also being retired.
Steven is a freelance tech journalist based in San Francisco, CA. He covers all things accessibility. What makes his coverage unique is the fact he is disabled—this