HomePod Project Was Cancelled and Revived Several Times, Was Originally Three Feet Tall

The HomePod, the company’s first smart speaker, was announced earlier this year. And while Apple originally planned on launching the device before the end of 2017, it has ultimately been delayed into early 2018.

Now, a report from Bloomberg aims to shed some light on the HomePod project as a whole, taking a look back at how the smart speaker came to be. There are several interesting points, especially when it comes to early iterations of the device. For instance, the smart speaker was actually a side project dreamed up about five years ago from Mac audio engineers. Those engineers wanted to make a speaker that sounded better than what was out there from the likes of JBL and other speaker competitors.

“The HomePod was originally a side project cooked up about five years ago by a group of Mac audio engineers, who wanted to create a speaker that sounded better than the ones sold by the likes of Bose, JBL and Harman Kardon. Side projects aren’t uncommon at Apple, where employees are encouraged to follow their muse so long as their day jobs come first.

The engineers wanted a product that would past muster with audiophiles. Several members of the impromptu team hailed from big-name speaker makers.”

One prototype of the device was apparently three feet tall, with a multitude of speakers. The codename for the smart speaker, allegedly B238, didn’t come around until just a few years ago.

“Apple audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon.com Inc. with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.”

Apparently the fact that Amazon was working on their own smart speaker, and released it to the public while Apple was still working on it, was a surprise. And Apple wasted time in its development while Amazon capitalized:

“More than two years passed. In that time Amazon’s Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa’s ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off. Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation.”

And apparently Apple’s ambitions for the smart speaker are apparently pretty low:

“The HomePod won’t be able to do many of the things the Echo can. Amazon offers thousands of “skills” (voice-activated apps) that let users do a range of things (including buy stuff from Amazon). The Google Home, which debuted earlier this year, is similarly endowed. The HomePod will be mostly limited to playing tunes from Apple Music, controlling Apple-optimized smart home appliances and sending messages through an iPhone.

“This is a huge missed opportunity,” said one of the people, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter. Apple declined to comment.”

For its part, Apple basically promoted the HomePod as a better source of audio, championing its audio quality above all else. The fact that it is a smart speaker, with Siri built in and the ability to run apps from the iPhone, is not necessarily playing second fiddle, but it also just feels like a bonus compared to the audio quality.

Are you looking forward to the HomePod launch?

[via Bloomberg]