HomePod: The secure smart speaker that's big on music


In Australia, Google's Home has been available for some time, while Amazon's Alexa devices - the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus - was only released this month, finally bringing Antipodeans in line with their USA brethren.

When using Apple Music though, the HomePod can display an impressive level of knowledge.

Amazon pitches the Echo as a smart home assistant that happens to play music. "It brings advanced audio technologies like beam-forming tweeters, a high-excursion woofer and automatic spatial awareness, together with the entire Apple Music catalog and the latest Siri intelligence, in a simple, attractive design that is so much fun to use".

Apple has four new HomePod commercials called: Equalizer, Distortion, Bass, and Beat.

When combined with household smart devices - like smart power switches, lights, air-conditioning and heating - users can also program Siri to automatically use a range of devices upon a single command. Siri also pulls up whatever other information on businesses and such, including opening hours and how many stars it has on Yelp.

However, one feature that the Google Home does deliver that is absent in both the Amazon and Apple devices is the ability to utilize the speaker as an intercom. But the potential for automation with a quick voice command could end up a huge timesaver. Instead, you have to either open Siri on the phone - or go to Apple Maps manually - and search for it again. Apple is betting big that they will. However, coupled with the more than a decent AI functionality that Apple has built into the HomePod, this means that the device becomes an intriguing purchase for consumers, even if it doesn't quite match up to the competition in some departments.

This can't be said of other smart speaker manufacturers, who collect data from every request sent back to headquarters and compile it into a comprehensive user record. The overall aesthetic is what my co-worker referred to as cat scratching post chic.

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The set-up process is less cumbersome than for the Echo or Google Home, which use a companion app and require some WiFi network selection.

Siri is limited predominantly to Apple services right now, which includes communications features, like messages and phone calls. Apple is positioning the HomePod firmly as a music device that can also help you out around the house.

For one, Siri is just not smart enough to compete with Amazon's Alexa or Google's Home assistant, creating frustrations for reviewers.

Note that the $199 Sonos One is able to use Alexa now, is adding Google Assistant support via a software update in the near future, and will have support for streaming music via Apple's upcoming AirPlay 2, as well.

Measuring 6.8 inches high by 5.6 inches wide, HomePod was originally promised as a small but powerful speaker, monaural rather than stereo yet capable of omnidirectional sound - and stereo if used in a $698 pair.

The compact HomePod comes in two colors: white and space gray.

The writer flew to San Francisco, California, as a guest of Apple. And Google's speaker incorporates a machine learning-fueled feature called Smart Sound, which Google says dynamically tunes the audio to its new environment within seconds, similar to Apple's spatial awareness feature.