This is how smart home devices like the Apple HomePod work

This is how smart home devices like the Apple HomePod work

Carla Harmon
June 10, 2017

Better hope you're using Apple's calendar application.

It's right there in the name. HomePod will take on Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have momentum in the arena of voice-controlled speakers capable of controlling smart appliances, fetching content from the internet and more. In the fourth quarter of 2016, consumers bought something like 4 million smart speakers; they bought more than 400 million smartphones. It's a premium device - both with regard to build quality and performance, as well as price at $350. And that's being enhanced with new features, like both speakers getting the ability to make calls. They're an easy way to turn lights on and off, set alarms, or adjust the climate. However, you have to push a button to start Alexa voice conversations.

Note also that even Siri's function on HomePod is widely focused on music-related tasks, such as remembering what songs the user prefers by saying, "Hey Siri, I like this song". The Echo is handy for ordering things from Amazon Prime, but it struggles with answering basic knowledge questions.

With so many low-cost Bluetooth speakers already on the market, I think Apple might have a hard time carving out a niche. But HomePod boasts superior sound quality for music playback.

The HomePod is a very Apple approach to the home hub.

And it doesn't seem like that deemphasis is entirely because Siri has fallen behind its competitors. Meanwhile, an A8 chip runs Siri and the HomePod. Instead, it didn't say a word about any of that with relation to the HomePod. It'll act as a wireless speaker, so you'll be able to blast whatever music you want from your phone to HomePod using Apple's AirPlay technology. If Apple gives you a reason to upgrade every year - the way it did with Apple Watch last year - it will lose the faith of early adopters.

That's a reasonable position given how niche the smart home market remains.

AirPlay hasn't been shown much love in recent years. However, Apple has since been surpassed by Amazon and Google. So the diverging strategies make sense. Google followed in 2016 with Google Home, and Microsoft is now working with Harman Kardon on the Invoke smart speaker, which uses voice-assistant Cortana.

Google Home, the smart speaker with Google Assistant built in, becomes officially available and supported in Canada on June 26, for $179. Yeah, sure, this is all going to end well.

HomePod is Apple's bet in the burgeoning market for smart home systems.

With anonymized IDs, Apple's speakers have a much more compelling argument for not handing over data: They can't find it. While Google and Amazon spend a lot of time talking about the intelligence of their respective assistants and the convenience they offer, there's little mention of security or privacy.

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