Siri's homegrown smart speaker enters an enormous and complicated market.
Justin JaffeManaging editor
Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
Since debuting in the US in February last year, the HomePod has incrementally expanded its geographic reach to the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain. On Friday, we'll add China to that list. The smart speaker will sell for 2,799 yuan (roughly $415, £320 or AU$580) in white and space gray.
The HomePod delivers high-quality audio and strong integration with Apple's Siri virtual assistant and the company's universe of products. But it lags far behind Google and Amazon, both of which have their own vast lineups of smart speakers -- in addition to a burgeoning ecosystem of third-party devices that support the company's respective virtual assistants, Google Assistant and Alexa.
Apple HomePod plays music, controls your smart home
In the near term, Apple will have at least one hard-won advantage over Amazon and Google in China -- Siri supports both Cantonese and Mandarin. Alexa and Google Assistant do not.
Beyond language, however, China is a dynamic and challenging region for foreign companies. Though Amazon dominated the virtual assistant market in that country as recently as 2017, Google has since overtaken it, according to reporting by Axios. But Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Xiaomi are making inroads, as well. And the Chinese government is known to prefer local manufacturers and has a track record of impeding non-Chinese operators with regulatory hurdles.
Like Amazon and Google, Apple will be challenged to navigate China's complicated political environment. At CES, the company hung a massive sign near the Las Vegas Convention Center to remind attendees about its privacy protections for consumers -- and implying that other companies lack its standards. It may have a trickier time occupying the moral high ground in China.