Apple pushes HomePod release to early 2018

So much for the holiday rush. Apple announced this morning that its premium HomePod smart speaker won’t be making the company’s initial December ship date. According to a brief statement issued by the company, the production process needs “a little more time” to bake.

A spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”

Of course, it’s always smart to spend a little extra time getting things right, rather than rushing into production — a lesson numerous tech co’s have learned in recent years. But this delay has got to be a a bummer for a product Apple was banking on for the holidays. The $350 speaker is the first home device to feature Siri baked in, a high-end competitor to Echo and Assistant offerings from Amazon and Google.

We had a chance to experience the smart speaker first hand when Apple unveiled it at WWDC back in June. It wasn’t a full hands-on opportunity, but the HomePod definitely sounds great as advertised, featuring 360-degree sound, and full, room-filling audio. Unlike earlier takes on the category, the HomePod emphasizes the speaker part of the smart speaker category first.

Of course, since that initial announcement, the competition has introduced similar offerings. Amazon announced and started shipping a new version of the standard Echo, improving upon the earlier product’s audio with Dolby sound, coupled with a 2.5-inch subwoofer and 0.6-inch tweeter. Google, meanwhile, introduced an even more direct competitor in the Home Max, a $399 smart speaker that appears to still be in line for a release next month.

There are also a number of third party offerings from the likes of Sony and JBL — Harman Kardon even made sure poor old Microsoft Cortana was represented this holiday season with the Invoke. Perhaps the suddenly crowded playing field was enough to convince Apple to spend a little more time in the kitchen with HomePod.

The move echoes a similar decision by the company last year to delay the launch of its wireless AirPod earbuds last year (something Google might have considered). Initially planned for an October release, the headphones finally arrived in December — in that case, just squeaking in before Christmas.

Apple hasn’t specified whether hardware or software is the root of the problem, though it’s not entirely a surprise given that this is a first-gen product for the company. It’s also the device that will set the stage for Siri’s life outside of the phone/desktop — at $350 a pop, it’s important to get things right the first time.