siri, smart speaker, hiring, apple, homepod, afrooz family, voice assistant, echo, gear, news

Engadget

Amid struggles to make headway in the smart speaker market, Apple has hired a new HomePod software head, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. The company has reportedly brought onboard Afrooz Family, who co-founded the high-end audio startup Syng with former Apple designer Christopher Stringer.

Apple’s $349 HomePod arrived in 2018 to very mixed reviews, and was discontinued early this year. The company has noticeably failed to compete with smart speaker rivals, particularly Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices and Google’s Assistant speaker family.

Family worked for Apple between 2012 and 2016 and was on the original HomePod team before starting Syng. That company aimed to develop a “revolutionary” speaker to produce immersive audio, but eventually developed a rather niche, $1,800 speaker. The previous HomePod software head, Jason Harrison, left Apple for Airbnb last year.

Apple’s latest speaker product is the $99 HomePod mini, which we described in our Engadget review as an “acceptable Echo alternative.” That device has reportedly helped sales a bit, but hasn’t put much of a dent in a market dominated by Amazon and Google, according to Bloomberg.

The biggest problem with Apple’s smart speakers may be Siri and HomeKit, which aren’t as widely supported as Alexa and Google Assistant. The original HomePod was also pretty expensive at launch. To make inroads, Apple may need to change its approach and continue to improve integration — as it recently did with a HomePod mini update that made it work with Apple TV. Apple’s primary goal is to merge its HomePod and Apple TV hardware, according to Gurman.

Apple is holding its Unleashed event on Monday, where it’s expected to launch new MacBooks and possibly AirPods, but there’s no rumors of a new HomePod product coming any time soon.

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