If you are an Apple fanatic, chances are you have been reeling over Apple’s lack of smart home speaker offerings. After all, Google and Amazon have had Google Home and Amazon Echo, respectively, for several years now. Well, Apple is not one to disappoint, so it has entered the fray with the Apple HomePod. While Apple may be late to the party, has the wait been worth it?
What is the Apple HomePod?
The Apple HomePod is Apple’s answer to Google Home and Amazon Echo. It is a small smart speaker capable of integrating with your iPhone as well as using its own built-in Siri for voice commands. It weighs in at a reasonably hefty five and a half pounds and is almost seven inches tall and nearly six inches wide. This makes it slightly larger than the Amazon Echo and Google Home. You can control it via an app on your iPhone or the available touch display on the top of the device itself.
What Features Does the Apple HomePod Offer?
The Apple HomePod offers several innovative features, including Siri built-in. While the Apple HomePod may be larger than the Google Home and Amazon Echo, it also provides superior sound quality, which is exactly what you would expect from Apple. The HomePod offers superior bass compared to other speakers of the same or similar size, and the default configuration provides excellent sound quality across a wide range of music genres. You could go from heavy metal to K-pop to country all without ever having to adjust the sound settings. Apple has genuinely lived up to its reputation for sound quality with the HomePod. Apple accomplished this by utilizing seven tweeters, each oriented towards the center of the base. The sound then travels out of the base in full 360-degree coverage. By doing so, Apple can all but eliminate early table reflections. This allows for clean, consistent sound quality, no matter where you are in relation to the speaker.
The design is a simple but elegant mesh-cloth wrapped cylinder. It is minimalist enough that you can easily hide it if you want, yet modern enough that you could put it on display as a focal point to show off. It comes in two colors, Space Gray and white. Both stay true to Apple’s desire for minimalism; however, the white may be prone to smudging with prolonged handling, so keep that in mind. You can clean the device with a damp cloth if you need to. Apple does not offer additional shells or coverings, but you can likely expect third-party vendors to come up with more than a few skin options to make it your own as the device matures.
Siri is built into the HomePod and has six microphones to ensure that Siri can hear you, whether you are right next to your HomePod or across the room. The HomePod not only has six independent microphones, but it also utilizes noise cancellation and advanced signal processing to make sure that it always hears you when you say “Hey Siri.” Once you say “Hey Siri,” and the HomePod has recognized the command it automatically encrypts what you say and sends the encrypted data to Apple’s servers anonymously. What you say to Siri is never linked to your Apple ID and cannot be traced back to you, so if privacy is a must for you, Apple has you covered.
The Apple HomePod utilizes the Apple-designed A8 processor. This is the same processor that Apple uses in the iPhone 6, iPod Touch 6th Generation, iPad Mini 4, and Apple TV 4th generation. It is a powerful processor that allows the HomePod to adjust speaker settings in real time to allow for maximum bass with minimal distortion. This powerful chip is also what allows the HomePod to recognize voice commands from across the room, even over loud music.
Setup is incredibly easy with the Apple HomePod. All you have to do is plug it in, and your iOS device will detect it. You can set it up with your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch; it doesn’t matter, as long as it is running iOS. Once your iOS device has detected it, just follow a few steps, and you are good to go. There is no need to configure the location of the speaker in the room. It uses spacial awareness to determine the best speaker configuration for where it is placed. This means that you can set it next to the wall, or in the center of the room and the sound quality will not suffer either way. Also, you can pair it with a second Apple HomePod to utilize authentic stereo sound, rather than virtual stereo. If you choose to use two HomePods in the same room, they will automatically configure themselves to offer the best stereo sound, without you having to configure each speaker manually. Just place the speaker and let it do the rest.
If you have more than one HomePod in different rooms in the house, they will automatically link together via AirPlay. You can assign names to each speaker, allowing you to control the music in each room from one speaker. No matter where you are in the house, you can control the music in the other rooms. You can also choose to play different songs in each room or tell all of the speakers to play the same song.
To switch from playing music on your iOS device to the HomePod, all you have to do is hold the iOS device next to the HomePod. It will detect the device and seamlessly transfer the current audio over to the HomePod. This works for music as well as phone calls and anything else you may be listening to at the time.
Thanks to having Siri built in, you can customize your music preference with voice controls. If you don’t like a song that is playing, just say “Hey Siri, I don’t like this song,” and Siri will put it on your dislike list. Similarly, you can tell Siri you don’t like an entire genre or that you do like a song. Siri will also let you search for songs based on lyrics, artist, top hits, and even search for podcasts.
What Are the Pros?
- Sleek Design: The Apple HomePod offers a sleek, modern design that would make any minimalist proud.
- Automatic spacial awareness: The HomePod can automatically determine where it is in the room and adjust sound output to provide the best sound quality possible, all on its own.
- Apple built Siri in: Just like your iPhone and iPad, the HomePod comes with Siri built in, so all you have to do is say “Hey Siri” and tell the HomePod what you want to hear.
- Siri commands are encrypted: Anything you say to Siri, the HomePod encrypts before being sent to Apple’s servers. This means that even if someone is monitoring traffic, your commands are safe from prying eyes.
- Commands are never associated with your Apple ID: To take your privacy a step further, your Siri commands are not only encrypted but also sent to Apple anonymously. This means that not even Apple knows what you tell Siri, so you can rest assured you have the best privacy offered by any smart speaker on the market.
- A8 processor offers real-time adjustments to the automatic speaker configuration and faster than real-time buffering. This is the same chip used in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
- Small profile: The small size allows you to hide the HomePod from prying eyes easily. Having a party and worried about the company? Hide you HomePod somewhere safe, and it will adjust to provide the best sound quality possible while staying safe.
- Seamless Audio Transition: The HomePod offers seamless transitioning from your iPhone or iPad to the HomePod. Simply hold your iOS device up to the HomePod, and it will take over audio. This works for music, podcasts, and phone calls
- Control from anywhere via AirPlay: You can control your HomePod from any room in your house via AirPlay. If you have a HomePod in the room and want to change the music on one in another room, all you have to do is tell Siri. If you don’t have a HomePod in the room with you, use your iOS device to send the command.
What Are the Cons?
- Price: The HomePod is an Apple device so you can expect premium performance, but also a premium price tag. The MSRP for the HomePod is $349, compared to the Google Home and Amazon Echo, which both retail for under $100.
- No custom skins: Apple does not provide any way to customize your HomePod and only offers it in two colors, Space Gray and white. Third party vendors may release custom skins as the device matures, but don’t expect anything from Apple.
- Built-in Siri only supports Apple Services: This one is a temporary con as Apple has announced that support for iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn is coming in the next several months, but currently, only Apple services are supported natively. Spotify and other services can be played over the HomePod via AirPlay from your iOS device.
- Limited Integration: Since the HomePod is a newcomer to the smart home market, its integration with various smart home devices is limited compared to the more mature competition from Google and Amazon. Expect more compatibility in the future as Apple further develops the HomePod software.
- No Android Support: Admittedly, this is less of a con than some people might think. Android users are more likely to opt for the cheaper Google Home or Amazon Echo, rather than an Apple Device, but the fact remains, the HomePod offers no support for Android whatsoever.
How Does it Compare to Google Home and Amazon Echo 2?
In terms of price, there is no comparison, Google and Amazon offer the Home and Echo 2, respectively, for less than a third of the cost. When it comes to the hardware, however, Apple certainly makes up for its higher price point. If you are considering the HomePod, then you have long since accepted that Apple is going to charge a premium solely for its name, but they also provide better quality and a more robust product. The Apple HomePod has a more powerful processor than either the Google Home or Amazon Echo 2, meaning it can provide better sound quality and faster speaker adjustments to give the best sound quality in a changing environment.
The Apple HomePod also offers better stereo performance when used in pairs than either the Google Home or Amazon Echo 2. The Google Home cannot be used in stereo. While you can link multiple Google Homes together and have them all sync together, they will simply play the same song in mono, not true stereo. The Amazon Echo can be paired with a second device to provide stereo sound, but the quality will not be as good as the Apple HomePod.
When it comes to smart home integration, the Google Home and Amazon Echo both beat the Apple HomePod, but it has yet to be seen just how far Apple plans to take its HomePod integration. You can expect more integration with devices in the coming months, but with so many smart home devices, it is unlikely that the HomePod will ever see the compatibility list of the Home and Echo. Apple does, however, ensure that the devices that it certifies to work with its HomePod are fully functional and secure. The Amazon Echo and Google Home do have the definitive edge when it comes to audio service integration. They both currently support Spotify, Pandora, and numerous other services, while the Apple HomePod only currently supports Apple services through voice commands.
Apple has done a fantastic job of providing a high-quality smart speaker with room to grow, but the current offerings are limited. For the price, what you are getting is a high-quality speaker with Apple’s name attached to it. It does not offer the same level of integration as its cheaper competitors, but expect more services and integration in the coming months as the device and software mature.