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