February 25, 2018

Main » Apple HomePod Launches With Big Sound-and Even Bigger Questions

Apple HomePod Launches With Big Sound-and Even Bigger Questions

11 February 2018

One of the unanswered questions leading up to HomePod's launch has been how Apple's retail stores will display the speaker. The overall experience has been called well-suited to some Apple Music users, but far less than ideal for those without Apple Music.

Apple has four new HomePod commercials called: Equalizer, Distortion, Bass, and Beat. That's because unlike Sonos products, the Homepod only natively integrates with Apple Music, and no third-party music service.

But Siri on HomePod can not now hail you a ride through Lyft or Uber, launch a trivia game or arrange for an audiobook to be played. Unlike the HomePod, the Google Home Max works with Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, iHeart Radio and other services.

Apple's Audio Lab, where the HomePod was developed.

To put it to test, I sampled an eclectic mix of music: a lineup of artists that included Sinatra, Springsteen, Santana and Sia.

Siri data is retained - to help tailor music recommendations and other actions - but only on your device, not on Apple's central servers.

There's a single large touch sensitive button on the top of the device that allows you to play, pause, skip a song, adjust the volume, or talk to Siri.

HomePod will be powered by Siri.

HomePod is not a directional speaker. Siri also pulls up whatever other information on businesses and such, including opening hours and how many stars it has on Yelp.

You can control HomePod from your iPhone, though iOS doesn't make it especially easy.

Amazon pitches the Echo as a smart home assistant that happens to play music. HomePod is unique in that it doesn't have a singular place where it sounds the best. The speaker is 7.4 inches high and weighs 11.7 pounds. It costs just $199.

Select Apple Authorised Resellers, including Best Buy in the US; Argos, Dixons Carphone (Currys PC World), John Lewis, Shop Direct (Very and Littlewoods), EE and Apple Premium Resellers in the United Kingdom; and The Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Telstra in Australia, have also started selling the HomePod locally. The idea is to turn them into a neat stereo pair.

While an Apple ID is required to activate HomePod, every request made of Siri is not only encrypted, but also anonymised, before being sent to Apple's servers. An Apple spokesperson promised us that the functions will be "coming this year in a free software update". Users can play tunes from Spotify, yes, but it's not integrated properly on there.

The Sonos One wireless speaker, priced at $199, will be available October 24.

However, Alexa delivers a more flexible package than either the Google Assistant or Apple HomePod. Google Home only supports the Google calendar, while the Invoke supports both Google and Microsoft calendars. Instead, they feature music aimed at young people who might find HomePod's $349 price tag prohibitively out of reach.

Apple's Siri has fallen a little behind the pack in this department, although the consumer electronics giant is largely pushing its speaker system as a music playback device.

While the store was busy and noisy at Michigan Avenue, I was impressed by how well HomePod's audio came across. This is a nifty feature which arguably gives the device an edge over the other two speakers here.

A big benefit for the Google Assistant comes with its ability to address the kinds of search queries Google is famous for. Google is already known for being able to answer nearly any question and help you get from A to B. Microsoft products can be found in nearly every workplace. Siri can't do that.

A smarter Siri: A smart speaker is only as smart as its digital assistant. "HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google's Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison", said The New York Times's Brian X. Chen. It also senses when it is being moved to another location in the house. It should also be able to hand calls and messages off to other Apple products as seamlessly as iOS and macOS devices can.

Bluetooth streaming: You can't just stream music from any Bluetooth source to the HomePod, even though it has Bluetooth 5.0 hardware inside. But sometimes perhaps too good. With many speakers and sound systems, there is a zone of perfection. So why is it still so complicated?

Apple HomePod Launches With Big Sound-and Even Bigger Questions