Music to my…Home

October 19, 2021 / Carolina Milanesi

This week at a second Apple Event in just over a month, Apple launched the 3rd generation AirPods, HomePod Mini in new colors, two new chipsets, M1 Pro and M1 Max and two new MacBook Pro. You can find my colleague Ben’s take on the M1 Pro and M1 Max here.

Apple also launched a new Music subscription called Apple Music Voice Plan for $4.99 a month. I must admit it took me a second to understand the significance of this new plan. The price is certainly aggressive, but how many people who want Apple Music and possibly find the price point for the individual ($9.99) or the family ($14.99) too high just want to use Siri? The more I thought about it, the more I came to conclude that the plan has all to do with increasing the use of Apple Music in the home and the car and with it our reliance on Siri. After all, it would not always be practical and convenient to use voice to ask Siri to play what we want when out and about.

Are consumers asking for Voice Plan? Not really, but from Apple’s perspective, the new plan makes a lot of sense.

The timing is perfect with the expansion of HomePod Mini’s availability to more countries in Europe and the additional colors that make it compete in yet another way with Amazon’s Echo dot. Europe is the strongest market for Spotify. The support for AirPlay allows users to happily have their cake and eat it too by playing their music on Apple devices without paying for the individual plan Apple Music subscription. Native integration, however, removes a lot of friction for the user and unlocks a better sound. At 4.99 Euros a month, it would be more attractive than Spotify Premium 9.99 entry price. Talk about eliminating friction. Users can subscribe to the Apple Music Voice Plan by simply asking Siri, “Hey Siri, start my Apple Music Voice trial.” They can also sign up through the Apple Music app.

Apple has a similar problem in the homes in the US, but the competition here is Amazon and Echo devices. The new plan helps Apple compete with the new Amazon Music Echo plan, which in a similar fashion, lets users ask Alexa to play songs for a $3.99 monthly subscription. But unlike Apple’s plan, Amazon limits its service to only one Echo device or Fire TV.

OK, you say, but what about Siri? While Siri continues to trail behind Alexa and Google Assistant in overall performance, it does pretty well with music. Apple said to have added hundreds of new mood and activity playlists that users can easily access by asking “Siri play something relaxing” or “Siri play some party music.” In addition, having users rely on Siri on a regular basis for actions that can be correctly executed will drive satisfaction which will encourage more usage.

AirPods 3rd Generation

The new Apple Music Voice Plan works with AirPods as well, and at the event, Apple introduced the 3rdgeneration AirPods. At $179, the updated version of the most popular model packs a new design, longer battery and two features that will make the most significant difference to consumers: wireless charging and Spatial Audio.

Spatial Audio, in a few words, is Apple’s version of surround sound plus head tracking. The feature creates a very immersive experience when watching movies, listening to music or playing games. While many obsess over active-noise-canceling (ANC), I believe Spatial Audio creates more stickiness to AirPods as well as drives higher satisfaction with the content consumed using the feature.

Apple is always very thoughtful about which feature trickles down into lower price points, and it is always those that give the best return to users and the brand that gets selected. ANC is extremely useful to many, but it creates no magic when it comes to user experience. Apple also invests in features that will drive a return in the future. Rumors are pretty consistent now on Apple launching a set of AR glasses in 2022. Needless to say, Spatial Audio would be a great complement to that experience.

Apple Silicon and the new MacBook Pro models stole the show. While the products mostly attract pro users, the promise of Apple’s ability to deliver a deeply integrated experience built on software, hardware and services is there for the whole installed base of users to appreciate.


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