Maybe Apple Rushed the HomePod to Market Too Fast

Apple HomePod speakers are leaving marks on some surfaces.
Apple HomePod speakers are leaving marks on some surfaces.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock and Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images.

Now that the dust has settled on the HomePod’s newness, some owners of Apple’s smart speaker have made a startling revelation: The device may leave a white ring on certain surfaces where it’s been left for long periods—and it could be permanent in some cases.

“[A]fter we placed a HomePod on an oiled butcher-block countertop and later on a wooden side table … it left a defined white ring in the surface,” HomePod reviewer Jon Chase wrote in the Wirecutter. Other reviewers also experienced this issue. Pocket-Lint found that the mark first appeared after as little as 20 minutes of the device sitting on a solid oak kitchen countertop treated with Danish oil. While the white ring faded over subsequent days, it was still there by the time the review published. Apparently, the issue stems from the HomePod’s silicone base, which helps position the device securely on a surface and reduce vibrations that can impact sound quality, but isn’t chemically compatible with all materials.

An Apple representative has confirmed that these white marks can happen, telling Pocket-Lint that it’s “not unusual” for something with a silicone base to interact with some oil- or wax-based wood finishes. Apple said that these marks “can improve over several days after the speaker is removed from the wood surface.” However, if the white marks don’t eventually disappear on their own, Apple advised that you “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.”

Those familiar with woodworking may be well-aware that silicone doesn’t play nice with all wood finishes. Rubber can cause similar issues, sometimes leaving a black stain on wood surfaces. Not everyone has that knowledge, though, and even if you did, you might not make that connection to the HomePod until it’s too late. On Apple’s website, the product description and tech specifications for the HomePod don’t mention the word silicone. If you didn’t realize that the HomePod used it—or you weren’t aware that it could interact with certain wood finishes—there’s no reason why you would ever think to exercise caution in where you positioned the speaker.

Apple seems to know it fouled up. On Wednesday, it updated the HomePod support page to include more detail about “Where to place HomePod,” but it should add the information about silicone to the product description and packaging materials, too.

It would seem that Apple rushed HomePod to market too fast—despite delays that pushed its launch date from December to February. This is an issue that should have been caught during quality assurance testing, particularly considering white marks can show up in as little as 20 minutes. Perhaps Apple focused its quality assurance testing efforts on things like software and audio performance, rather than lengthy real-world tests in different home scenarios. Or maybe no Apple product testers own stained wood furniture—only the same maple display tables as you’d find in Apple Stores. (Joking aside, if Apple’s product testing was limited to the confines of Apple headquarters, this could feasibly be the reason for the oversight.)

The other possible scenario is that Apple was aware of this problem, chose to ignore it, and shipped the product anyway. This seems far less likely. If Apple were aware of the issue, it likely would have mentioned this to reviewers to avoid this very situation. It also wouldn’t have waited to update the HomePod support page with this information until Wednesday. The last possibility as to how this happened is that Apple assumed that HomePod buyers didn’t need a warning about the possible interactions of silicon and wood finishes. If this is the case, Apple should know better: We know what happens when people assume things.

This isn’t the first time Apple may have pushed a product out slightly prematurely—although many previous examples are software-based. In 2012, for instance, Apple shipped a new Maps app riddled with errors. Tim Cook eventually issued an apology for the product, and then–iOS chief Scott Forstall was fired over the debacle. More recently, reports have suggested that Apple plans to scale back its iOS release schedule in order to shore up quality and improve overall performance. On the hardware side, in 2010 Apple shipped the iPhone 4 with a serious antenna design flaw that eventually came to be known as “Antennagate.”

While it seems that only a small percentage of HomePod users have been affected, Apple’s reaction thus far seems akin to its nonapology for Antennagate. That’s not acceptable—and neither is this particular product issue.