HomePod

Does the HomePod have enough fea­tures to com­pete against Ama­zon Echo and Google Home? Os­car Ray­mundo re­ports

Macworld - - Contents -

A pple used its WWDC key­note to give us a sneak peek of an all-new prod­uct: The HomePod. Orig­i­nally ru­moured to be called Siri Speaker, the HomePod is a smart speaker with Wi-Fi ca­pa­bil­i­ties in­tended to com­pete against Ama­zon Echo de­vices and Google Home – although it will be sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive. Dur­ing the key­note, Ap­ple’s se­nior VP of mar­ket­ing Phil Schiller boasted about the HomePod’s au­dio qual­ity, its built-in room sen­sors, and the in­te­gra­tion with Ap­ple Mu­sic.

With its al­ways-on voice as­sis­tant and abil­ity to con­trol con­nected de­vices, the HomePod is very sim­i­lar to Echo de­vices and Google Home, but with a few no­table dif­fer­ences. (We were able to get a closer look af­ter the key­note, and you can check out our first eyes-on im­pres­sions here.) Here are the must-know HomePod fea­tures, specs, and sales info show­cased dur­ing WWDC.

Re­lease date

The HomePod will be avail­able for sale start­ing in De­cem­ber, ini­tially in the UK, the US and Aus­tralia. So it’s will only sup­port English-lan­guage voice com­mands dur­ing the ini­tial roll­out. It will then be avail­able in other coun­tries start­ing in 2018.

Price

The HomePod costs $349 in the US and we es­ti­mate it will be £349 in the UK. It will be avail­able in two colours: white and space grey. By com­par­i­son, Ama­zon Echo is £149 from tinyurl.com/y96­d­uarw, while Google Home re­tails for £129 from fave.co/2skmLpc.

In­tel­li­gence

The HomePod comes with an A8 fu­sion chip, the same one that pow­ers the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. That def­i­nitely puts it up at the top when it comes to ‘smart’ speak­ers. Like the AirPods (which sport an A1 chip), set­ting up the HomePod is just as easy and in­tu­itive. All you have to do is hold your iPhone next to the HomePod and it’ll be ready to start play­ing mu­sic in sec­onds.

How to ac­ti­vate it

The HomePod has six mi­cro­phones so that it can be ac­ti­vated ver­bally us­ing the “Hey Siri” voice com­mand. We’re not sure what hap­pens if you have “Hey Siri” ac­ti­vated on your nearby iPhone as well. Hope­fully, Ap­ple im­ple­ments a way for you to cus­tomize which de­vice re­sponds and ful­fils the voice com­mands, or for the iPhone and the HomePod to com­mu­ni­cate with each other and fig­ure it out.

Siri

You can ask Siri to send a text mes­sage to your friend, start play­ing the lat­est episode of your favourite pod­cast, and get the lat­est up­dates in news, sports, traf­fic, and weather. You can also use voice com­mands to set alarms, timers, and re­minders. In ad­di­tion, Siri on the HomePod can help you an­swer some of your most burn­ing ques­tions such as, “What’s the best In­dian restau­rant nearby?” or “Did Manch­ester United win last night?”

Con­trols

The HomePod does not have a touch­screen like the more-re­cent Ama­zon Show, but it can still re­sponds to touch con­trols. You can tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or ad­just the vol­ume. This panel also an­i­mates with an LED wave­form to in­di­cate when­ever Siri is lis­ten­ing.

HomeKit de­vices

You can ask Siri to turn on the lights, close the shades, or ac­ti­vate a scene that you’ve pre­set in the Home app. HomePod can even con­trol th­ese de­vices when you’re not home via the Home app, giv­ing you the power to re­motely con­trol your de­vices from any­where. So far, HomeKit com­pat­i­ble with con­nected de­vices from Ecobee, Honey­well, Au­gust, Kwik­set, Philips Hue, Lutron, and more.

Au­dio

Ap­ple wanted to cre­ate a speaker that de­liv­ered sta­teof-the-art sound that ‘rocks the house’. The HomePod

in­cludes an Ap­ple-de­signed four-inch woofer for a deeper bass and seven beam-form­ing tweet­ers for high fre­quency acous­tics. All of this was de­signed to pre­serve the rich­ness and in­tent of the orig­i­nal record­ings. Of course, we won’t be able to vouch for this un­til we get to lis­ten to it later this year.

Multi-room au­dio

Thanks to the new AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi speak­ers are now part of the HomeKit fam­ily so you can get multi-room au­dio con­trols from a sin­gle iPhone. This gives you the op­tion to use the Home app to con­trol mul­ti­ple HomePods in dif­fer­ent rooms and sync au­dio play­back. Fur­ther­more, AirPlay 2 is also com­pat­i­ble with Wi-Fi speak­ers from other man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Bow­ers & Wilkins and Ap­ple’s Beats.

Spo­tify

Un­for­tu­nately, the only mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice that the HomePod sup­ports is Ap­ple Mu­sic. In fact, Ap­ple claims the smart speaker was de­signed to be deeply tied to Ap­ple Mu­sic, which costs £9.99 per month. And we don’t fore­see Ap­ple bring­ing another other ser­vices to the fold any­time soon (or ever).

Ap­ple Mu­sic

If you’re an Ap­ple Mu­sic mem­ber, the HomePod can ac­cess Ap­ple Mu­sic’s full cat­a­logue, as well as tap into ma­chine learn­ing to learn about your mu­sic pref­er­ences and sug­gest songs and artists you might like. Ap­ple refers to the HomePod as the per­fect mu­si­col­o­gist. In ad­di­tion, you can cre­ate a shared Up Next queue

with other nearby iOS de­vices so that ev­ery­one in the house can par­tic­i­pate in pick­ing mu­sic.

New tech­nol­ogy

Not ev­ery room is the same, so the HomePod has learned about spa­tial aware­ness. Its built-in sen­sors can de­ter­mine the size and lay­out of its sur­round­ings to au­to­mat­i­cally de­liver the vol­ume and acous­tic out­put that best fills the room. Think of it as vir­tual sur­round sound. When two paired HomePods are in the room, they’ll be able to sense each other to de­liver ac­tual sur­round sound.

Pri­vacy

Pri­vacy is also be­ing touted as a vi­tal com­po­nent. Ac­cord­ing to Ap­ple, the smart speaker will only start col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion af­ter the ‘Hey Siri’ voice com­mand is ac­ti­vated. This means that you shouldn’t be afraid that the HomePod is se­cretly record­ing your con­ver­sa­tions in order to sell you stuff. All in­for­ma­tion is recorded lo­cally on the de­vice and sent to Ap­ple servers en­crypted us­ing an anony­mous Siri ID.

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