It’s been some time since I have written a post on Apple tech. I’m back with a brief rundown of what the 1-month-old Apple HomePod can and cannot do. From simple vocal requests, like the weather and reminders, to controlling HomeKit enabled smart home devices. Pitting it against the current competition from Amazon and Google, I will see how the smart-speaker compares. Currently, 9% of UK households have a smart speaker, with the prediction being 40% by the end of 2018. 2018 will be a big year for the market. It is the perfect time for the likes of Apple and Samsung to get involved.
What is Apple HomePod
HomePod is Apple’s entry into the smart-speaker market. This followed 4 years after Amazon released their successful Echo product range. The smart-speaker has a high-quality speaker combined with their virtual assistant Siri. This listens for vocal commands from users.
After being available for almost a month now after several delays. Hands-on views of the device are impressive with the small devices 7 tweeter speaker design giving an immersive 360-degree output. The A8 chip inside of the HomePod (used in the iPhone 6) uses the microphone array on the device to determine it’s location relative to any walls. This enables the unit to adjust the output of any music to match the environment.
What is Siri?
Siri is a virtual assistant released by Apple in 2011 at the same time as the iPhone 4S. Siri began with the basics you can ask almost every virtual assistant currently on the market. Responding to simple requests regarding the weather, creating reminders or calendar events. Since then, Siri has become more immersive with your devices, it can listen to a song and tell you what song is currently playing. You are able to dictate and create full-text messages or emails. You can ask to look up a celebrity, look up images, request sports information, playback most recent news, control your smart home, request cinema times, the list goes on.
Since then, Siri has fallen behind the newer competition such as Alexa and Google in terms of features. Hopefully, with the release of the HomePod, Apple see this as an opportunity to work with 3rd party developers.
What can and can’t it do?
Its basic abilities include requesting music, asking about the weather, creating reminders and other similar functions. It has a narrow range of functionality comparable to the Apple Watch. Its current focus seems to be on sound quality and smart home control. You are predominantly locked into the Apple ecosystem. Music played from the HomePod will be from Apple Music, there are no options for other sources. You cannot make phone calls from the device, you cannot shop online, order items from Amazon or order a takeaway.
3rd Party Integration
HomePod is very new which means 3rd party support is extremely limited at the moment. There are workarounds for some of these. For example, if you own an iPhone, you can stream music from Spotify on your phone to the HomePod. Or if you make a phone call you can airplay it across to the HomePod. But at this moment in time, despite delays, the HomePod seems like a very basic assistant with a high-quality sounding speaker attached. There is currently no support for stereo sound by linking two HomePod’s together. The same applies to multi-room support. Both of these features have been promised to be released later in the year.
There is currently no support for multi-voice recognition, which surprises me since all other iOS devices have this ability. Upon your initial set up of Siri on a device it tunes itself to your voice. Whilst not 100% perfect it is more than capable of ignoring partner or even colleagues voices. The problem here is that in a home environment you link a HomePod with your personal iCloud, which includes messages, calendars, and reminders. This means anybody within your home can ask HomePod to read or send messages. Hopefully, it is a simple software solution that will come in time.
How does it compare?
Compared with smart speakers offered by Google, Amazon, and Sonos, if you enjoy your music the consensus appears to suggest that HomePod, as a speaker, is worth its premium price. As a virtual assistant, it lacks many features available on other smart speakers.
Unless you have invested in Apple equipment, Apple Music or HomeKit accessories, this speaker may not suit everyone. It cannot even pair with any Android device as a Bluetooth speaker. You must have an iPhone to pair, again, similar to the pairing process for Apple Watch.
In summary, if you’re looking to purchase a smart speaker for home. Consider your options, what you have and what you need it to do for you.< Back to Blog