Apple HomePod Hits the Shelves — Finally

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Following a delay that caused the company to miss the holiday buying season, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) announced this morning that its HomePod voice-controlled speaker will be available to order in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia beginning Friday and will begin shipping to customers on February 9. The company also said that the device will be available in France and Germany later this spring.

The HomePod speaker is Apple’s answer to Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) hugely popular Echo line of voice-controlled speakers and Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google Home device.

The big question is whether the HomePod is enough better than its two main competitors to justify its $349 price. Amazon’s Echo has a list price of $99 and the Echo Plus sells for $149. The smaller Echo Dot currently sells for $49.99 but was available for $29.99 for holiday shoppers.

Smart speakers have reached a “critical adoption threshold” according to comScore. Analysts at eMarketer project the number of U.S. smart speaker users to reach 35.6 million in 2017 (13% of internet users) and 52.8 million in 2019 (18.8% of internet users).

Apple’s goal for the HomePod — and the reason the company gave for the delay — was tight integration with the rest of Apple’s iOS ecosystem. That may push some Apple true believers to pay the extra money, but Spotify subscribers, for example, won’t be able to use the HomePod’s voice controls — those are reserved for use only with Apple Music.

Apple stock traded up fractionally just after the opening bell at $177.66, in a 52-week range of $119.50 to $177.78. The stock’s 12-month consensus price target is $189.34.