Let’s do a quick thought experiment.
You’re Apple. You want to launch a smart speaker product, but you haven’t gotten one into the market yet. Years have passed, and some of the competitors (Amazon and Google) are making some headway, though their products are far from mainstream. Those products are both backed by what has become pretty refined voice recognition systems, however, ones that surpass your own Siri in some respects, at least. And the people who do have these devices are pretty tied to the functionality they bring to the table.
What do you do?
Do you launch an also-ran box at a similar price point, with crap sound and inferior voice recognition? Knowing that you don’t have the data (thanks to your focus on user privacy) to be superior on services, or the access to easy ordering of replacement paper towls through Amazon’s global retail operation?
Or do you try and find another angle on which to compete?
I have no idea if Apple’s strategy of doubling-down on speaker quality will succeed, but I know trying to beat Amazon or Google at the voice stuff alone will fail. You have to play to your strengths.
Whatever got us here, this is Apple’s only play. Enter into the market riding on a reputation for quality of music (thanks to the iPod, Apple Music, etc) and bring Siri functionality along over the next couple of years as the user base grows. Given that the vast majority of people have never owned a smart speaker, I don’t think it’s a crazy proposition to sell a great-sounding speaker (a benefit everyone understands) from the company that brings you all of your music. Oh, and you can do some cool home automation stuff with it, too.
Who cares if the people who have Echos and Google Home devices want to keep them? There are far more people out there who currently have nothing in this category.
In order for Apple to win, Amazon and Google don’t have to lose, in other words.