The Apple HomePod: A Roundup
How does Apples Homepod stack up in the Smart speaker market?
In tech, you don’t tend to get much credit for being fashionably late. Generally, it’s the company who nails down new technology first who reap the benefits of its success, even if they don’t master it. In the smart speaker market, latecomers face a daunting task of taking on two giants who have a stranglehold over the market, Amazon Echo and Google Home. But it’s a challenge that is enticing because the demand for smart speakers is booming and recent research suggests that around 39 million Americans now own one.
HomePod is Apple’s long-awaited first entry into the market and has reportedly been in the works since 2012, stuck in a development-hell of cancellations and redesigns. It may be entering into an already-crowded market but if there’s one company that can take on Amazon and Google, it’s Apple. Now that it’s been out for a week and the reviews are in, it’s a good time to look at what the critics have made of the new product.
What’s Good about the ‘Pod?
The important thing to remember about HomePod is that Apple didn’t initially conceive it as a direct competitor to Amazon Echo. Instead, HomePod was designed with a focus on sound quality. In that sense, almost everyone agrees that it’s a major success; one audiophile thought it claim close to sounding better than an $1000 speaker.
The reason for this is that Apple invested a lot of time and energy into testing; reports say that they tested HomePod in hundreds of different employees’ rooms to get the sound right. The tweaking doesn’t end with the finished product either, as HomePod uses its six microphones to measure the acoustic characteristics in a room and adjusts its audio output in real time. Add to that a four-inch woofer for the bass and seven tweeters for producing high frequencies and it’s easy to see why critics have been impressed by the product’s sound quality.
The other big win for HomePod is its design. With its simplistic style and lack of Apple branding, it is an incredibly sleek home speaker that doesn’t draw attention to itself and should fit neatly into any household. Design has consistently been a strong point for Apple and HomePod is another success.
Apple once had the world-leading voice assistant but it’s clear that Siri has fallen way behind the pack in recent years. For most critics, this is HomePod’s biggest problem. In short, it’s a bit disappointing when your smart speaker isn’t all that smart.
Siri is more responsive than some other voice assistants, thanks to those six microphones, but it is also more limited with its capabilities, doing many of the same things on HomePod that it does on iPhones. It can put together a playlist of your favourite artists—although it might take a few attempts to understand obscure artists— and it can send texts, control products in Apple’s HomeKit range, and set reminders.
Unfortunately, after these features, there’s not a lot else to report. HomePod is locked down to Apple’s devices and services so you need an iOS device to set it up and if you want to listen to music, you’ll need to run it through Apple Music or iTunes. You can use AirPlay or apps from an iOS device, which includes Spotify, but that won’t be much use for anyone with an Android phone.
Apple has argued that HomePod is not the same as Amazon Echo or Google Home but no amount of protesting will convince the public to not compare them. In terms of sound quality, the consensus is clear: HomePod is one of the best, if not the best, smart speakers on the market. But its limited features and average intelligence will be a turn-off for a lot of people, especially when you consider its £319 price tag.
HomePod is not a ground-breaking Apple release, nor does it claim to be one. It’s a product for Apple fanatics and is likely to best serve someone who has loyalty to the brand, as well as a fair amount of disposable income. But for £319, it just doesn’t make sense for a normal person to buy it.
If you’re curious about owning a smart speaker, the sensible move would be to try out Amazon Echo Dot at a much lower price and hold off until HomePod has more to offer. According to Wired, that might not be very long, as Apple is already committed to updating the speaker later this year. HomePod may become the definitive smart speaker in the future but right now most critics are saying it’s merely a good one, which isn’t really enough to justify that £319 price tag.