Apple’s HomePod enters smart speaker fray
Apple’s new HomePod wireless speaker may offer stunning audio quality and the ability to interact with Siri, but it comes up short on the commerce front relative to the capabilities of Amazon and Google devices.
The Apple HomePod was announced last summer and was slated to launch ahead of the holidays. Instead, the release was delayed and Apple said it would accept pre-orders for the $349 device on Jan. 26 with product availability in select retailers beginning on Feb. 9.
The HomePod is a fat little speaker that stands about seven inches tall and Apple claims delivers a magical new music experience thanks to advanced audio technologies such as beam-forming tweeters, a high-excursion woofer and automatic spatial awareness. The HomePod can be used to communicate with Siri to performs basic tasks such as send a message, set a timer, play a podcast, check the news, sports, traffic and weather, and even control a wide range of HomeKit smart home accessories.
“We’re so excited for people to get HomePod into their homes, apartments and businesses to hear it for themselves. We think they will be blown away by the audio quality,” according to Philip Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. “The team has worked to give Siri a deeper knowledge of music so that you can ask to play virtually anything from your personal favorites to the latest chart-topping releases, simply by saying ‘Hey Siri.’”
HomePod when integrated with HomeKit enabled devices can also be used to turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, unlock doors or raise window shades.
What the HomePod and Siri combination doesn’t allow users to do is purchase products the way Amazon users can connect with Alexa via a range of devices or users of the Google Home device can connect with the Google Assistant. However, Amazon’s Echo devices and the Google Home device play music, although they may not possess the impressive acoustics of the Apple HomePod. They also cost much less. Google had a huge push on during the holidays with its Home device and many retailers offered it at a promotional price of $79. Amazon’s basic Echo device sells for $99 while smaller devices called Echo Dots are priced at $49.
The race is on to achieve household penetration with intelligent devices that can perform a variety of functions. Amazon has a clear lead and Google is making an aggressive push while Apple is taking a different approach with a device that, for the time being anyway, has limited commerce capabilities.