Apple’s upcoming HomePod smart speaker will “reinvent the way we enjoy music in the home,” says Apple exec Phil Schiller, who offered a sneak peek at the product today.
Calling it a “breakthrough home speaker,” he outlined how the 7-inch wireless speaker will work seamlessly with Apple Music — and totally rock the house, while also giving you a way to control your house.
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The $349 speaker, coming this fall, will pump out pristine audio thanks to a seven-tweeter array and a 4-inch woofer. HomePod’s “spatial awareness” capability will let the smart speaker “read” its environment, then sculpt the audio to deliver the best possible sound (a feature found in many high-end audio devices). You can also gang up two HomePods for even better sound, assuming your credit card isn’t maxed out.
HomePod smart speaker works with HomeKit
While Apple stressed the smart speaker’s audio capabilities during the big reveal at today’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, HomePod will also work as a sorely needed home-automation hub for HomeKit devices.
With Siri built in, you’ll be able to ask HomePod to play a certain song or serve up recommendations you might like. Perhaps more importantly, the HomePod will also serve as a smart assistant, able to read messages and reminders, play podcasts, control HomeKit devices and perform other useful functions.
The smart speaker will become the always-listening home-automation hub that’s been missing from Apple’s product lineup.
HomePod versus Amazon Echo and Google Home
When the HomePod hits the market later this year, it will be years behind the competition. The Amazon Echo launched in 2014 and has already spun off other Alexa-powered devices, including the tiny Echo Dot and the touchscreen-packing Echo Show. Google Home launched last year. Sales numbers for the two devices remain secret, although Amazon reportedly has sold more than 11 million Echo speakers so far.
Both Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers boast features that could prove tough for Apple to top, at least at first if Siri’s serious weaknesses don’t get ironed out.
The Alexa Skills Kit lets developers develop voice apps called “skills” that make Amazon’s smart speakers useful and fun. With more than 10,000 skills already coded, Alexa can do everything from turning on smart lights to teaching you how to make 12,000 cocktails.
Google Home harnesses the awesome power of the world’s smartest search engine, serving up data via Google Assistant.
Is Siri up to the task?
Siri’s current shortcomings might hobble the HomePod, but Apple is promising serious upgrades to its smart assistant in iOS 11.
It’s a vital time for Apple to get into the smart speaker space: Voice-activated AI interfaces are quickly gaining a foothold in our everyday lives, with research firm eMarketer predicting more than 35 million people in the U.S. will bark out a command to an AI assistant at least once a month this year — double the number from 2016.
The lack of a Siri smart speaker gave Amazon time to lock in a solid user base, but this could be yet another example of Apple waiting until the time is right to launch a superior product.
Will Apple fans balk at the HomePod’s $349 price tag? Maybe the audio quality — and the Apple ecosystem integration — will be so much better that they’ll ignore the pricing differential between HomePod and the $179 Amazon Echo.
Apple is also facing off against makers of multi-room wireless speaker systems made by the likes of Sonos and great-sounding portable Bluetooth speakers like Ultimate Ears’ UE Megaboom, which retails at $299. (Design-wise, the HomePod bears more than a passing resemblance to UE’s cute little Wonderboom speaker.)
HomePod colors and shipping date
The HomePod will come in white or space gray. It will ship in December to consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, Apple said, with other markets to follow in 2018.