Apple Inc. will start selling its voice-activated speaker HomePod in stores Feb. 9, bringing an end to a delayed launch that cost the company sales during the critical holiday shopping season.
The tech giant announced the sales date Tuesday but didn't explain why the product missed its promised ship date last December. The HomePod can be preordered online beginning Jan. 26.
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The shipping delay gave market leaders Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. the chance to sell more Echo and Google Home devices during the holidays, while Apple continued to work on a product it said wasn't ready for sale.
Amazon, the first major tech company to enter the smart-speaker market in late 2014, opened a wide lead, selling more than 20 million Echos before accounting for the Christmas season. Its hockey puck-sized Echo Dot is estimated to account for more than half of sales, largely because of its lower price, which dropped to $30 during the holidays and now sells for $50.
The smart speaker market is expected to increase shipment volume by more than 50% this year to 56 million units, according to the market researcher Canalys. The U.S. will account for more than half of those sales, it said.
At $349, the HomePod costs more than double the currently listed prices of $100 for Amazon's latest Echo and $129 for a Google Home. Apple has tried to differentiate its speaker from those other devices by emphasizing sound quality, particularly when playing music, over its ability to perform tasks.
Voice-activated speakers have moved to the forefront in a battle over what some technology analysts predict will be the future of computing. Assistants such as Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft Corp.'s Cortana and Google Assistant are expected to be embedded in more than 4 billion consumer devices by the end of 2018, allowing people to perform simple computing tasks by voice such as searching for information or turning off lights, according to the research firm IHS Markit.
Apple's Siri has a commanding lead in availability over rivals by virtue of being featured on more than 1 billion iPhones and iPads. However, Amazon and Google are aiming to catch up by cutting deals to put their assistants into some Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles and Sony Corp. televisions. Amazon's assistant, for example, can perform thousands of commands compared with hundreds by Siri.
The HomePod was the latest in a series of products Apple delayed. The AirPods earbuds also missed their promised ship date last year and the Apple Watch, promised in early 2015, arrived late that April.
Apple said the HomePod initially will be available in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and will arrive in France and Germany this spring.
Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 23, 2018 10:17 ET (15:17 GMT)
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