HomePod: Features, release date and everything we know about Apple's smart speaker

by Leslie Wood January 27, 2018, 19:17
HomePod: Features, release date and everything we know about Apple's smart speaker

Now that the HomePod is almost here, Apple is dribbling out details of what its first smart speaker will do. including, apparently, that it's a power miser.

Apple has always placed a premium on design, and the HomePod is no exception.

This leaves only one significant small player in the space, Sonos, which has to take on three tech goliaths who are worth $2.4 trillion collectively. Before Apple even had a chance to get their HomePods on the shelves, Sonos has made their move. Apple was aiming for a consistent sound all the way around - whether you're standing next to, in front of, or behind HomePod, it should sound the exact same. Unfortunately, there's no indicator on the HomePod to see at a glance if the mic is on or off. For instance, Apple said HomePod will ship without some of the features originally announced, and that they would be added later this year.

When it comes to playing music, the HomePod excels, but in the demo I attended, Apple's speaker didn't blow away the competition. "Sonos One sounds incredible on its own, but the ability to have a stereo pair or have music in two rooms vs. one at $349 U.S. feels like it's an easy choice for those who truly love music", said Joy Howard, chief marketing officer at Sonos.

Sonos seems more than willing to harp on these concerns.

Google Home and Amazon Echo are essentially aimed at exactly the same market, with extremely similar feature sets. When it was blasting Ariana Grande at 90 percent volume, lower notes came through clearly, with no distortion.

In fact, when that happens, it might not make such a huge difference as to whether you pick up a HomePod today or a pair of Sonos One.

It's not just the high price, or the Sonos Play:3 speaker I own that I'm quite happy with. Bass-heads will have to wait for the Beats version of the HomePod, I guess. "It brings advanced audio technologies like beam-forming tweeters, a high-excursion woofer and automatic spatial awareness, together with the entire Apple Music catalog and the latest Siri intelligence, in a simple, attractive design that is so much fun to use", said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

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One HomePod with Siri or two Sonos Ones with Alexa?

Based on the early reviews the HomePod nails the audio performance, Siri is competent and can hear you over loud music, but there are a lot of catches for a $350 speaker. Whenever you speak the wake-up command, "Hey, Siri", a circular light appears, morphing and twisting in all the colors of the rainbow. What we suspect, though, is that most people also have one or two uses for their smart speaker that are more on the fringe, and this is where Alexa's Skills mean it could help where Apple can't.

"Through SiriKit, HomePod supports third-party messaging apps, so users can ask Siri to send a message to a friend or colleague using apps like WhatsApp", the company explained in a statement. Instead, you'll have to use your phone.

Apple's latest major product is about to launch.

Its smart home control capabilities are strong, though.

If you already have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, then you may want to skip the HomePod. You're going to use more power if you crank it up, of course, but you probably won't cringe at your electricity bill if you stream music all day. It work with whatever HomeKit devices you have set up, including any automations you've created. Previously, only an iPad or Apple TV could fulfill this role. That is extremely expensive compared to the £89.99 Amazon Echo. Right now, Sonos is running a deal where you can get two Sonos Ones (normally $199 each) for the price of one HomePod, a $50 discount on normal Sonos pricing.

Alternatively, you can preorder the Apple HomePod at BestBuy.

Apple will lead you to believe that if they make it, they will come (and buy it). Android users must look elsewhere for a smart speaker.

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