Apple's current strategy in the home tech market is a bit creepy. It launched HomePod and Apple TV 4K in 2017, and HomeKit support seems to have become much more prevalent lately, but it has also killed the AirPort series of products and has backed up as competitors like Google and Amazon snap up companies like Nest and Eero.
This week we learned that the company has hired a new head of home products, asking me to ask: What does Apple Sam Jadallah expect to do? Is his job making deals with HomeKit partners and making HomePod more successful? Or is it such a thing that happens when a company changes gear because it realized that the old strategy didn't work?
There is no end to Apple's ability to build multiple devices for the home. It just has to decide if it will compete in that market or write everything off. I am increasingly believing that Apple needs to do more, no less, to build home products.
Beyond HomeKit, Apple really has two home users: Apple TV and HomePod. Without getting into the messy details, I just say that Apple needs to make them both cheaper. But there is another home entertainment product category that Apple could enter and do pretty well, and all it takes is a merger of the two existing products: a sound bar.
] The audio bar is a relatively recent addition to the home computer. It is a horizontal box that contains multiple speakers that are usually mounted on or under a video monitor, providing good sound (and surround sound effects) to modern HDTVs that are generally great in pictures and miserable in terms of sound. Sonos sells one for $ 399, and another for $ 699.
These prices are relevant because in the home entertainment market, Apple has struggled to be competitive – even Sonos (a company that has never been accused of being low – price leader) offers a connected speaker that is comparable to HomePod for a much lower price. The Soundbar world, however, seems to be a place where Apple could praise a product that is higher than HomePod and actually make a hole.
Here's my suggestion: Apple should build a connected smart speaker designed to be paired with flat screen TVs. It would basically be a HomePod, with an important difference – when the TV was on, it would also be an Apple TV, accept TV input, and act as a video source that can play video from all Apple TV's services compatible with, including Apple's upcoming TV service.
This is not a groundbreaking product, but it feels to me that it fills a particular niche, can sell well to the price Apple will charge it, and using technology Apple has been delivering for a while now. I want to buy one.
Home Network and More
I have to think that Apple must look at the current situation in the home market with discomfort. Both Amazon and Google now offer fancy network connectivity systems that fill your home with Wi-Fi essentials when connecting smart-home devices. (Enlightenment: Eero has sponsored some of my podcasts in the past.) Apple killed the AirPort line and has nothing. Even more, Apple is a company that focuses on customer privacy – yet many of the customers will connect to the Internet through a router owned by a competitor (and then routed by their ISP), a situation that could potentially postpone customer data no matter what  Eero Home WiFi System
There must be someone in Apple pointing to Amazon's purchase of Eero as proof that Apple needs to build its own networking network that comes with a privacy guarantee, perhaps even with optional access to an Apple powered Virtual Private Network subscription. Stopping development was a missed opportunity, but letting tech competitors and telecommunications companies control the networks in the customer's home is a major strategic issue for both privacy and home theater.
Of course, Apple doesn't have to slip its own products in every imaginable home technology area. But you may want to pick their spots and maybe even spend their large amount of money to invest in or buy some companies that make smart-home products that reflect Apple's standards (and can be purchased by a competitor). Ecobee makes a pretty good smart thermostat, for example. Smart switches are as boring as they come, but they are a necessary part of home control, and certainly Apple could make one that was attractive and easy to set up and would sell well in the Apple Store.
Maybe Sam Jadallah's job Really is going to look like Apple is taking another crack on Apple TV and HomePod. But I hope it's more than that. I understand Apple's reluctance to think with smaller product categories instead of focusing on the biggest, but we live in a world where Apple's competitors quickly snap up all successful or promising home-based companies out there. The result will be products that focus on interacting well with the owner's services, products and strategic measures, all of which can collide with Apple's view of how customers want to use home technology.
I'm not saying Apple would want to play in this game. I say that, given what is happening in the field right now, Apple cannot afford to not to play.