Comment: Apple would sell a lot more HomePods if it followed Sonos’ lead here

Apple has so far made one move designed to help it sell more HomePods: a price drop from $350 to $300 back in the spring. Indications are that this didn’t really help.

Other efforts seem… limited. Click the Search button on Apple’s website and AirPods – and even iPod – come up as Quick Links; HomePod doesn’t. Even on the Music page, HomePod gets second billing after Apple Music.

Part of the challenge for Apple is that decent-quality audio is one of those product categories that has to be experienced before you appreciate the value. Sonos, which faces the same problem, appears to be testing a possible solution: one I suspect will prove successful…

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The Verge spotted that Sonos has launched a pilot speaker rental system called Sonos Flex. Three different packages are on offer:

  • €15 ($16) per month: two Sonos One smart speakers than can be paired together or used separately in different rooms. (€458 if purchased at Sonos.)
  • €25 ($27) per month: Sonos Beam soundbar and two Sonos One speakers for TV audio. (€907 if purchased at Sonos.)
  • €50 ($55) per month: Playbar, Subwoofer, and 2 Sonos One speakers for a more robust home theater setup. (€2,026 if purchased at Sonos.)

All the subscriptions are completely flexible, with no minimum rental period.

The speakers are available in either black or white, and will be automatically replaced with the latest models as they’re released. Subscribers can alter their subscriptions or cancel at any time. Orders take about four days to process and delivery is free, with an option for free professional installation offered for Amsterdam residents (Sonos’ European HQ is located in Hilversum, about 20 minutes away).

This is, for the moment, a very limited test. It’s only promoted on a special Dutch website, and is limited to the first 500 homes to sign up. But the piece indicates that it could be launched globally if it proves successful.

My guess is that ‘successful’ will be measured in two ways: not just rental take-up and longevity, but also boosted sales. Sonos won’t care whether people choose to rent speakers long-term, for the flexibility and immediate affordability, or use the rental to decide that it makes sense to buy.

I really think the same strategy could work for HomePod.

In my view, you can divide people into three categories when it comes to audio:

  • True audiophiles, who will spend tens of thousands for the best products
  • People who appreciate good audio when they hear it, and are willing to pay decent sums
  • People who can’t tell good audio from mediocre or poor products

HomePod will of course be dismissed as mediocre quality by audiophiles comparing it against kit costing $30k, $50k or $100k plus. It will also be dismissed as unnecessarily expensive by people who can’t hear the difference between that and an Amazon echo costing a third of the price.

But there are a lot of people in that middle category. And many of them don’t know it. Most people only discover they are in that group when they are first exposed to decent but still accessible audio products. Until they actually hear it, HomePod just seems like an overpriced smart speaker.

All that changes when they hear it. Quite a few friends who’ve visited have been surprised and impressed HomePod’s sound quality. And suddenly $300 seems very reasonable. If Apple offered HomePod as a rental, I’d be confident that would turn into either a lot of long-term rentals or a lot of sales. To make the logistics simpler, Apple could offer let you keep it for the refurb price (currently $259) if you decide to convert your rental to a sale – and maybe even credit your first month’s rental against that price.

The cheapest Sonos deal is for a pair of Sonos One speakers costing $458 and renting for $16/month. That’s almost one thirtieth of the purchase price. If Apple prices HomePod rental on the same basis, that would be an even $10/month.

That’s affordable enough that a lot of people would try it – and my betting is that most of them will, one way or the other, keep it. Apple will either get another monthly recurring income – a form of revenue it very much values – or it would sell more HomePods.

What’s your view? If you own one or more, did HomePod impress you as much as it did me? If you haven’t yet tried it, would a $10/month rental persuade you to try it out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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