The Ap­ple HomePod

Ap­ple’s HomePod speaker wants to put Siri in our liv­ing rooms, but how does it stack up against its ri­vals?

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS - BY CLIFF JOSEPH

Ap­ple’s up­com­ing HomePod speaker wants to get Siri into our liv­ing rooms too – but how well does it stack up against its ri­vals?

Ap­ple doesn’ t want to ad­mit it, but HomeKit has fallen way be­hind Ama­zon and Goo gle

Vice pres­i­dent of World­wide Mar­ket­ing at Ap­ple, Phil Schiller’s ex­pla­na­tion for the in­tro­duc­tion of the HomePod speaker was sim­ple: “We love mu­sic,” he said. He then went into lov­ing de­tail about the HomePod’s great sound, its “seven beam­form­ing tweet­ers,” and “real-time acous­tic mod­el­ing.”

Then, right at the end of its in­tro­duc­tion at this year’s World­wide De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence (WWDC), he ca­su­ally men­tioned that the HomePod also works with Ap­ple’s HomeKit plat­form and the Home app in iOS 10. This is the real key: Build­ing HomeKit into the HomePod means that Ap­ple fi­nally has a voice-con­trolled smart as­sis­tant that can com­pete with Ama­zon Echo and Google Home.

Ap­ple doesn’t want to ad­mit it, but HomeKit has fallen way be­hind Ama­zon and Google in the smart home mar­ket. So the HomePod is ac­tu­ally a care­fully dis­guised change of strat­egy from Ap­ple, and it means that the bat­tle for con­trol of our liv­ing rooms has just be­gun for real.

But what, if any, ad­van­tages does the HomePod have over Ama­zon and Google’s more es­tab­lished smart as­sis­tants? Let’s see.

At a fundamental level, Siri, Goo gle Home, and Ama­zon Echo’s Alexa all work in very sim­i­lar ways

Ap­ple has had an eye on home au­to­ma­tion for a long time. Siri was able to con­trol lights, ther­mostats, and other home de­vices long be­fore Ama­zon Echo and Google Home got in on the act. Yet it’s Ama­zon and Google that have grabbed all the head­lines re­cently – un­til, that is, Ap­ple an­nounced its new HomePod speaker sys­tem at WWDC in June. So how was it that Ap­ple found it­self un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally on the back foot in this im­por­tant new mar­ket?

At a fundamental level, Siri, Google Home, and Ama­zon Echo’s Alexa all work in very sim­i­lar ways. You speak to them – per­haps ask­ing about the weather, giv­ing an in­struc­tion to play some mu­sic on Spo­tify, or telling them to turn off your liv­ing room lights – and your voice com­mands are shunted across the in­ter­net to a server at Ap­ple, Ama­zon, or Google. The server trans­lates your voice com­mands, and then prompts your de­vice to re­spond with the re­quired in­for­ma­tion or ac­tions.

There are some dif­fer­ences in em­pha­sis. Google Home can draw on the vast power of the com­pany’s search en­gine to root out even the most ob­scure snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion, while the Echo can plug into Ama­zon’s global sales net­work and send a drone to air­lift a pizza to your front door. Siri works well with other iOS apps on your iPhone,

A Siri an­i­ma­tion plays on the HomePod’s top side in re­sponse to in­ter­ac­tions.

Google Home has a lot of prom­ise as it looks to ex­tend its “skills” in the fu­ture.

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