Apple hires a new HomePod software lead amid speaker market struggles

Apple hires a new HomePod software lead amid speaker market struggles

He’s no stranger: Family worked at Apple on audio technology between 2012 and 2018, before leaving the company to co-found smart speaker startup Syng with fellow ex-Appler Christopher Stringer. Syng launched its first device, the Cell Alpha, in May, but Family had already left the company in February according to his LinkedIn profile. “Starting a new project in Venice, reach out if you enjoy making cool things,” is his ‘About’ section – presumably that’s Venice, LA.

There may be some news on Apple’s HomePod smart speaker business at the company’s press event tonight. Ahead of that, Bloomberg has reported that the company has hired Afrooz Family to “lead software efforts… aiming to turn the product into a bigger hit”.

According to research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple is currently in fifth place in the global smart speaker market: shipping 3.8m HomePods in Q2 this year, behind Alibaba (5m), Baidu (6.2m), Google (6.9m) and Amazon (10.6m). However, aided by a shift in focus from its original, more expensive HomePod to the cheaper HomePod Mini, Apple’s shipments grew the most year-on-year: up by 178% and more than doubling its market share.

Apple has brought back a former engineer of its HomePod division to head the HomePod software development team, renewing efforts to make the smart speaker line a must-have.

Bloomberg reported that Afrooz Family will lead the charge to make a more competitive HomePod to take on the likes of Google and Amazon.

In September, Apple released the latest version of its HomePod software version. The upgraded software brought some much-needed features such as the ability to use up to two HomePod Mini speakers as default with the Apple TV 4K. However, its smart speaker line still faces an uphill task in its competition with Amazon and Google. Both Google and Amazon have equipped their speakers with smart assistants.

Family, a former senior audio engineer at Apple, left the Cupertino-based tech giant in 2016 and co-founded the audio company Syng. Former Apple designer Christopher Stringer was the other co-founder. Family’s prowess as an audio engineer and software developer came to the fore after The Financial Times called him Syng’s “secret weapon in a report.

Syng Cell Alpha connected speaker, offering spatial audio in a design reminiscent of the Death Star battleship from the Star Wars franchise, is its biggest claim to fame. However, the Syng experience also comes with a steep price tag of $1,799.

Apple released its first HomePod in 2018, much to the delight of music lovers. The device was lauded by critics and consumers alike for its sound quality, but faced criticism because of its steep price tag. Apple discontinued the product in March. It released the smaller and cheaper HomePod Mini variant last year. Apple claims the HomePod Mini “delivers room-filling sound” without taking up much space. Now, with Family’s return, it seems that the company wants its “breakthrough speaker with high-fidelity audio” to echo across all households.

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