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Apple's HomePod went through years of starts and stops

The smart speaker was a side project that got canceled and revived several times, a new report says, which may help explain its slow start.

Apple HomePod speaker at WWDC 2017

The new HomePod is delayed until early 2018.

James Martin/CNET

Apple doesn't appear to be all that interested in smart speakers. 

After it took nearly three years to reveal a speaker to compete against Amazon's Echo and Google Home, it said last week it will delay the release of its new product, called the HomePod, to next year.

A report from Bloomberg on Tuesday offers some context on what's been going on with the $349 HomePod in the past few years. The story, based on unnamed sources, said the HomePod was a side project of some Mac audio engineers, and its development started as early as 2012.

While the Apple team was caught off guard by the Echo's release in late 2014, they decided to keep working on their device, which is meant more as a high-end audio product than a home for a smart assistant, like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa.

The project, though, was canceled and revived several times, Bloomberg reported, which may help explain why Apple waited until 2017 to show off its own smart speaker.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The HomePod could help Apple break into the rapidly growing smart speaker world and give its customers more reason to stick with Apple products. Plus, the device could allow Apple to diversify its sales away from the iPhone, which has been a huge hit but now accounts for two-thirds of the company's sales.

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For now, Apple is only treating the HomePod as an accessory, like AirPods, and its apps will run through an iPhone, which may limit what it can do, Bloomberg said.

Apple did create a high-priced speaker before, called the iPod Hi-Fi for $349 in 2006, but it was discontinued soon after due to weak sales.

Now, Apple will have to compete against both cheaper smart speakers like the $50 Echo Dot, as well as more-expensive speakers from Sonos and Google.

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