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Apple's HomePod just might succeed for one simple reason

Commentary: It's expensive. It's late. But Apple thought of one thing Google and Amazon didn't apparently consider too much.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Tasteful? I think so.

James Martin/CNET

The rational comparisons have begun.

No one yet knows what the true sound quality will be.

Then there's the price. At $350, it hovers around twice the price of an Amazon Echo. And who knows how smart Siri's going to be when she lives inside this box?

Yet the minute I saw Apple's new musical home butler, HomePod, presented at Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference, I actually felt something. Other than boredom, that is.

I felt that involuntary spasm that occurs somewhere behind my left eye that says, "Wait a minute. I might actually buy one of those."

Why? Because Cupertino remembered -- as it should -- that it's selling a piece of furniture. 

If this thing is supposed to sit around your home all day, if you're going to have one in your kitchen or your bedroom, it had better look at least marginally inspirational, with a design sense that rises above the purely functional. And, to my surprised eyes, it does.

It feels like a long time since Apple presented something with a distinctive look. It feels a very long time since an Apple gadget looked so very sleek and simple.

Compare it with its main competitors, both of which were launched on a rational, rather than a musical (or design), platform. 

Google Home looks like an oversized air freshener. On certain days, it reminds me of a large salt cruet, too. As for Amazon Echo, it's surely the result of an ill-starred relationship between an air-purifier and a lipstick. Do I really want one of those next to my sofa or on my mantelpiece? 

Taste is, of course, a subjective matter. But the secret of Apple's ethos has always been that very first impression, the message that your eyes send to your feelings, which then send orders to your brain. 

And I have a feeling that the more people look at the HomePod, the more they're going to be happy it's in the house, even if they only use it to play music. 

For the longest time, Apple has wrapped itself in the flag of design. When it came to the iPhone, it looked quite different from its rivals when it came out. It didn't have all the features, of course, but people loved it far more because, well, look at it. 

It took a little while for its rivals to decide that, yes, well, Apple might have something with that people-friendly, tasteful, simple (and, yes, expensive) design thing. Soon, phones began to look remarkably similar. They began to look a lot more like iPhones.

These home devices are in relatively fresh design territory. If the ultimate HomePod that's released looks like the one Apple presented Monday, I suspect it will be chosen by many for its looks, as much as any single rational feature. You can rail against the idea, but then you'd be railing against a substantial swathe of humanity. 

Once you choose with looks very much in mind, the price tag can melt away into the distant parts of your mind. The iPhone proved that. Indeed, Apple's primary interest is always at the top end of a market.

Of course, if the sound quality is awful or if Siri malfunctions in an inebriated fashion, the HomePod will have severe problems.

For now, though, it has style. And style goes a long way in furniture.  

The HomePod is late. But it's fashionably late.