Apple’s Work on New Upcoming Products Progressing Normally as Employees Adjust to Telecommuting

Apple's development of upcoming products is progressing as usual despite the fact that Apple employees around the world are working from home, according to a new report today out from Bloomberg.


Apple is still working on new versions of the HomePod, Apple TV, MacBook Pro, budget iPads, Apple Watch, iPhone, and iMac, all of which could be released "as early as later this year" and have been previously rumored for release in 2020. Apple's software updates are also on track and are expected to be debuted in June at a digital version of WWDC.

Along with this information about Apple's product development plans, Bloomberg highlights many of the same telecommuting challenges shared earlier this morning in a report from The Information. Though work is progressing on new products, there have been some minor hardware development setbacks.

Some employees who do work that requires hands-on development are still being allowed into Apple's Silicon Valley offices, but in other parts of the world like Italy, Germany, and Asia, stricter work restrictions have prevented that from happening. Apple has put a heavy emphasis on confidentiality while employees are working from home, letting them know that it's "critical to keep confidential work confidential."

Apple has been allowing engineers to take home early versions of future devices since March, which is normally not allowed, and there is heavy oversight.
Taking home a future product requires the green light from the vice president of an employee's organization. That list of staff with future devices at their homes also is sometimes reviewed by Apple's senior vice presidents, the management team run by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook.
Apple has also "clamped down" on which employees are able to take home future versions of new software, including iOS 14, which has already leaked. Employees working on ‌iOS 14‌ and other software updates must also receive approval from Apple's executive team.

Employees at Apple Park, Infinite Loop, and other Bay Area offices could be working at home through at least May 1, as the Bay Area is expected to extend its shelter in place mandate. When other offices around the world reopen will depend on local guidelines.
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Apple Releases New 13.4 Software for HomePod

Alongside iOS and iPadOS 13.4, Apple has released new 13.4 software for the HomePod, with minor under-the-hood changes and no notable new features.


According to Apple's release notes, ‌HomePod‌ Software Version 13.4 includes "general improvements for stability and quality" with no other details.

The new ‌‌‌‌HomePod‌‌‌‌ software will be installed automatically on the ‌‌‌‌HomePod‌‌‌‌, but you can also manually update and check your software version by following the instructions in our HomePod software how to.
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Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Deals: HomePod Returns to Lowest-Ever Price of $199.99 at Best Buy ($100 Off)

Best Buy has returned the HomePod to its Black Friday price of $199.99 this morning. You can get the HomePod at this price in both White and Space Gray, saving you $100 off the regular $299 price tag.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Best Buy. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

This is the lowest price ever tracked for a brand new HomePod. We've tracked solid deals at retailers like OWC over the past few months, but as of yet we haven't seen the HomePod return to holiday discounts in 2020, until today.

Head to our full Deals Roundup to shop for even more discounts on Apple products and related accessories.

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Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Spotify May Be Allowed to Stream Directly on HomePod and Set as Default Music App in iOS 14

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman today reported that Apple is working to allow third-party music services like Spotify and Pandora to be streamed directly on the HomePod with Siri in a future software update, as is possible with Apple Music. Spotify currently can only be streamed on the HomePod via AirPlay.


The report adds that Apple is also considering allowing third-party music services to be set as default in iOS 14, which would let users ask Siri to stream music from the likes of Spotify without specifying "with Spotify" at the end of the command. Siri currently defaults to Apple Music for these requests.

In early 2019, Spotify announced that it had filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the European Commission over unfair ‌App Store‌ practices. At the time, Spotify took issue with Siri's lack of Spotify support on both iOS devices — which has since changed to a limited extent — and the HomePod.

An excerpt from its "Time to Play Fair" website — the wording has since been tweaked:
Apple ignores users' preferred choice of music service and instead steers them to use Apple Music exclusively. So can you ask Siri to play your favorite playlist from Spotify? No, not even if you actively want Spotify to be your default streaming service. Or can you listen to Spotify through your Apple HomePod? Sorry, no luck with that either. And by the way, Spotify is available on pretty much every other speaker device out there.
Apple has faced increasing scrutiny as of late over the way it runs its ‌App Store‌, beyond Spotify's complaint. Allowing third-party apps to be set as default would certainly help alleviate some of those concerns.

More Coverage: Bloomberg: Apple May Let iOS Users Set Third-Party Web Browser and Mail Apps as Defaults Over Stock Apps

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Bloomberg: Apple May Let iOS Users Set Third-Party Web Browser and Mail Apps as Defaults Over Stock Apps

Apple is considering whether to let iPhone and iPad users set third-party mail and browser apps as defaults instead of the mobile operating system's preference for its own Safari and Mail stock apps. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman:

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter.
The potential move comes after criticism that the tech giant gives its in-house apps an unfair advantage and undue prominence on the App Store. As it stands, Apple doesn't allow users to replace pre-installed apps like Safari and Mail with third-party services, opening it up to scrutiny from lawmakers investigating possible antitrust violations.

The report also claims that Apple is considering opening its HomePod speaker to third-party music services like Spotify.
The Cupertino, California-based company also is considering loosening restrictions on third-party music apps, including its top streaming rival Spotify Technology SA, on HomePods, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal company deliberations.
Currently, Spotify and other third-party music services can be streamed from ‌iPhone‌ or ‌iPad‌ to ‌HomePod‌ using Apple's AirPlay technology, but it's an ungainly alternative solution than just allowing users to stream third-party music services from the speaker directly.

As Gurman notes, opening the ‌HomePod‌ to additional music services could benefit the product's sales. The speaker has lagged behind rivals like the Amazon Echo in functionality since being introduced in 2018 and owns less than 5 percent of the smart-speaker market, according to an estimate last week from Strategy Analytics.

Whether the discussions include opening the ‌HomePod‌'s integrated Bluetooth technology to Bluetooth streaming devices is unknown. Currently, Bluetooth is used during the ‌HomePod‌'s setup process, but is otherwise rendered dormant in the speaker, which means only Apple devices can stream audio to ‌HomePod‌ using the ‌AirPlay‌ protocol.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Apple’s HomePod Places Sixth in Global Smart Speaker Market in Q4 2019

Apple shipped an estimated 2.6 million HomePods during the fourth quarter of 2019, earning it 4.7 percent of the smart speaker market, according to new estimates shared today by Strategy Analytics.

Apple was the number six worldwide smart speaker market vendor, shipping fewer speakers than Amazon, Google, Baidu, Alibaba, and Xiaomi.


Amazon was the number one smart speaker vendor in the world during Q4 2019, shipping an estimated 15.8 million speakers for 28.3 percent market share. Google came in second with 13.9 million speakers shipped and 24.9 percent market share, followed by Chinese brands Baidu, Alibaba, and Xiaomi.

Apple shipped one million more HomePods in Q4 2019 than it did in Q4 2018 when it shipped 1.6 million, marking a 65 percent increase in growth. That didn't translate to a major increase in market share though as Apple ships so many fewer speakers than other brands.

The overall smart speaker market was up 44.7 percent with 55.7 million total shipments, up from the 38.5 million shipped in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Strategy Analytics says that it expects 2020 to be another record year for smart speaker sales despite the disruption to supply and demand caused by the coronavirus.

There's no word on whether Apple will be able to increase speaker shipments in 2020, as Strategy Analytics says consumers are drawn to low prices.
"Consumer appetite for smart speakers remained undimmed during the all-important Q4 period as newly launched devices with improved feature sets and audio performance helped drive record quarterly shipments. Consumers across the world were once again enticed by scarcely believable deals from leading brands such as Google, Amazon, Baidu and Alibaba, while Google in particular stepped up its giveaway promotional activity in partnership with brands such as YouTube and Spotify."
Apple's HomePod is priced at $299 in the United States and is available in a limited number of countries. Apple is rumored to be working on a lower-cost version of the ‌HomePod‌ that will be released at some point in 2020, so that could potentially boost sales depending on whether its price point can match some of the much cheaper speakers offered by other vendors.

Another smart speaker sales report recently suggested that Amazon will hold on to its position as the number one smart speaker vendor through at least 2021.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Amazon Continues to Dominate U.S. Smart Speaker Market

Amazon's Echo speakers continue to be the most popular smart speakers in the United States, and will remain in the dominant spot through at least 2021, according to new smart speaker user estimates shared today by eMarketer (via TechCrunch).

An estimated 69.7 percent of U.S. smart speaker users will use an Amazon Echo product in 2020, a number that's down slightly from the estimated 72.9 percent of smart speaker owners who used an Echo in 2019. In 2021, Amazon is estimated to see another small drop in usage, with eMarketer suggesting 68.2 percent of smart speaker owners will use an Echo.


Google is expected to make some headway against Amazon, but eMarketer does not believe that the "Other" category, which includes Apple's HomePod, the Sonos One, and other smart speakers, will gain significant ground over the next two years.

An estimated 31.7 percent of smart speaker owners will use a Google device in 2020, while 18.4 percent will use speakers in the Other category. In 2021, that number is expected to grow to 32 percent for Google and 18.8 percent for the Other category.
Since Amazon first introduced the Echo, it has built a convincing lead in the U.S. and continues to beat back challenges from top competitors," said Victoria Petrock, a principal analyst at eMarketer. "We had previously expected Google and Apple to make more inroads in this market, but Amazon has remained aggressive. By offering affordable devices and building out the number of Alexa skills, the company has maintained Echo's appeal," she added.
eMarketer expects the number of U.S. smart speaker owners to grow over the next several years, but ownership numbers will rise slowly. 28.9 percent of internet users also have a smart speaker, a number that will grow to 30.5 percent next year.

Though Apple's ‌HomePod‌ recently turned two, Apple has had some difficulty securing a foothold in the smart speaker market. Apple's ‌HomePod‌ was priced at $349 when it launched in February 2018, but Apple dropped the price to $299 in April 2019. Even at $299, the ‌HomePod‌ is significantly more expensive than Amazon's Echo lineup, which includes smart speakers at multiple price points. Amazon's lowest priced device, the Echo Dot, sells for $30 and sometimes dips even lower.


Apple was hoping that the superior sound of the ‌HomePod‌ would draw customers to pay extra for sound quality, but the more affordable prices of the Amazon Echo and Google Home have been more appealing to most consumers. Amazon doesn't have quite the same advantage in non-U.S. markets because it supports fewer non-English languages than other speakers like the Google Home, so that is an area where Apple could make inroads into the smart speaker market.

‌HomePod‌ rollout has been slow, though, with the device limited to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan

Apple is rumored to be working on a new, more affordable version of the ‌HomePod‌ with reduced tweeters, which could be released at some point in 2020. A lower price point will help the ‌HomePod‌ better compete with the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, but it will likely be difficult for Apple to catch up given the lead Amazon and Google have in the smart speaker market.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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HomePod Turns Two, Lower-Priced Model Might Launch Later This Year

Today marks two years since Apple released the HomePod, with deliveries to customers and in-store availability having begun February 9, 2018 in the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom.

At launch, the HomePod cost $349, but Apple reduced its price to $299 in April 2019. Apple has never disclosed HomePod sales, instead grouping the speaker under its "Wearables, Home, and Accessories" category, which set a quarterly record of $10 billion in revenue over the final three months of 2019.


However, much of the growth of Apple's wearables business has been attributed to the Apple Watch and AirPods. Many estimates place the HomePod's worldwide market share at around just five percent.

Pricing is the HomePod's biggest obstacle. The speaker's two largest competitors in the Amazon Echo and Google Home have low-priced models that frequently retail for $49 or below, whereas only one HomePod model is available for $299. That may change in the near future, however, as Bloomberg last year reported that a lower-priced HomePod with fewer tweeters may launch as early as this year:
Apple is also working on a cheaper HomePod for as early as next year. The current $300 model hasn’t sold very well. The new model is likely to have two tweeters (a type of loudspeaker), down from seven in the current HomePod.
Apple has marketed the HomePod as a premium speaker that also has Siri, as opposed to a personal assistant that also plays music. Early reviews agreed that the sound quality is excellent, but found Siri to be lackluster.


Over the last few years, Apple has been steadily making the HomePod more useful by adding features such as Handoff support, multi-user voice detection, ambient sounds, and multi-room audio. Beyond a potential lower-cost model, however, it remains to be seen when Apple will release a second-generation HomePod. With the current model set to launch in India soon, we may still be some time away.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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HomePod Coming Soon to India

Apple plans to make its HomePod speaker available in India in the near future, according to an updated ‌HomePod‌ section on the Apple India website.

The news of the ‌HomePod‌'s upcoming launch follows the release of the 13.3.1 software for HomePod, which included support for Indian English Siri voices.


The ‌HomePod‌ will be priced at ₹19,900 in India, which is equivalent to $279 in United States dollars. That's a bit cheaper than the base price of the ‌HomePod‌ in the U.S., where the speaker sells for $299.

Apple has not provided a specific date for the launch of the ‌HomePod‌ in India, and says to "check back later for availability." Apple is said to be planning to open an online store in India later this year, but for now, HomePods in the country will need to be purchased through a third-party retailer following launch.

‌HomePod‌ is already available in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Apple Releases New 13.3.1 Software for HomePod

Alongside iOS and iPadOS 13.3.1, Apple has released new 13.3.1 software for the HomePod, introducing some minor bug fixes and performance improvements.

Today's update brings support for Indian English Siri voices and Apple says it also includes "general improvements for stability and quality."


The new ‌‌‌‌HomePod‌‌‌‌ software will be installed automatically on the ‌‌‌‌HomePod‌‌‌‌, but you can also manually update and check your software version by following the instructions in our HomePod software how to.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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