Apple, Inc. audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon.com, Inc. with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa.
The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.
More than two years passed. In that time Amazon’s Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa’s ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off.
Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation. The project was canceled and revived several times, they said, and the device went through multiple permutations (at one point it stood 3 feet tall) as executives struggled to figure out how it would fit into the home and Apple’s ecosystem of products and services.
In the end, the company plowed ahead, figuring that creating a speaker would give customers another reason to stay loyal.