Apple has finally made an entrance into the growing home AI assistant market, with their recent release of the long-awaited HomePod. First announced back in June of 2017 and scheduled for release by December of 2017. After some delays, only recently has it begun shipping to Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Apple has positioned the HomePod as a smart speaker, running on Siri as the AI. This puts the HomePod in the ring up against strong and more prominent competitors such as the Google Home speakers and the Amazon Echo series.
The HomePod looks extremely clean, pristine, minimalistic and modern, very Apple-ish if you may. At 172mm x 142mm, its cylindrical shape resembles that of a display ornament and is covered in a fabric mesh. The HomePod comes with a little circular screen on the top of the speaker which acts as the volume control and Siri indicator. The cable for the HomePod comes attached and is not removable. However, there is nothing to complain about, as the cable is a high quality braided cable, that blends seamlessly with the fabric mesh exterior of the HomePod
No matter how good the HomePod looks from the outside, it does not matter as much as what’s on the inside. However, it is safe to say that the internal hardware of the HomePod is the best among the competition. The new entrant easily has the competition beat, even Google’s new Google Home Max which is more than twice the size of the HomePod pales in comparison to the HomePod when it comes to internal hardware and audio engineering.
The HomePod is powered by Apple’s proprietary A8 chip which is used in the iPhone 6. It also contains the W1 chip, found in products like the AirPods, which allows for easy pairing of the HomePod to any iPhone running IOS 10 or later.
For sound output, the HomePod boasts an outward facing seven-tweeter array lined around the internal walls. Paired with the upward facing high-excursion woofer, the HomePod is theoretically capable of producing an omnidirectional experience for anyone in the room. With an amazing array of tweeters and one powerful woofer, along with the A8 chip, the HomePod is able to analyze music on the fly, working out the different layers in a song such as the bass, main sound, background noise and so on. The seven tweeters then output different sounds depending on the position of the HomePod in the room. The background noise is played by the tweeters facing a wall, the main sound will be pushed out directly into the room, while the woofer pushes the bass upwards as bass is non-directional. This creates an almost unreal 3D experience for anyone in the room.
For sound input, the HomePod has an impressive six-microphone array built around the mid-section of the internal wall. With 6 microphones cleverly spread out, it allows the HomePod to perceive and analyze how far it is away from things, such as walls. Being capable of positional analysis, the HomePod is able to accurately adjust the volume and sound being pumped out of each of the tweeters, in order to sound best from anywhere in the room. The 6 microphones also allow for the HomePod to hear you from any point in the room without the need for shouting, even when loud music is playing.
The HomePod comes with amazing hardware, however, the same sentiments cannot be extended to the software. Firstly, the HomePod basically does whatever Siri can do, set timers, reminders, ask questions, etc. You can ask Siri to play music, specific songs and playlists, however, it is exclusive to Apple Music subscribers. Subscribers of any other music streaming services, such as Spotify, can only play music through AirPlay using their phones and that’s about it. They are unable to use voice controls to play music through their HomePod.
Another huge flaw is that the HomePod does not have voice recognition. You would think that with an amazing array of microphones and a powerful A8 chip, which essentially means the HomePod has a full IOS computer inside it, the HomePod would be capable of voice recognition which is seen even in the Google Home Mini which is seven times cheaper than the HomePod. Voice recognition may not sound like much, but without such a feature, it means that anyone in the same room as the HomePod can activate it. The HomePod will not be able to distinguish between your voice and a strangers’ voice, allowing the guest to ask the HomePod to read your texts out loud or send texts through your phone using their voice. The ability for voice recognition may however be added in a future software update, but for now is not available.
Even as a staunch Apple cultist that has backed every one of Apple’s products. I find myself agreeing with the critics on the HomePods’ long list of shortcomings.
- The HomePod requires an iPhone, it is unable to connect to anything that is not an iPhone.
- The HomePod cannot be used as a Bluetooth speaker for Android devices or MacBooks.
- There is no audio jack for audio input, making the HomePod a speaker exclusive specifically to iPhone users.
- There is currently no way of changing Apple Music from being the default music player.
- The HomePod cannot set multiple timers or read out recipes (Which would be extremely useful in a kitchen setting)
- You cannot make calls from the HomePod, it has to be AirPlayed from the phone.
- The HomePod does not have a ‘Find my phone’ feature.
In my opinion, I feel that the only situation where the HomePod is a reasonable purchase is if the user is already part of the Apple ecosystem, with an Apple Music subscription. The HomePod is a good speaker with an unrefined software. The product has potential to be great and can be easily improved through future software updates. The hardware and audio engineering is nothing short of a beautiful work of art, but the software seems badly thought out and lazily implemented. If you are looking for a home AI assistant, the HomePod is not one I will recommend for now, as there are much better alternatives in the market.
Expected date of availability for the Apple HomePod in Singapore is still unknown and is estimated to cost about SGD460.
high (172 mm)
wide (142 mm)
iPhone 5s or later, iPad Pro, iPad (5th generation), iPad Air or later, iPad mini 2 or later, or iPod touch (6th generation) running iOS 11.2.5 or later
802.11 Wi-Fi Internet access
Apple Music subscription for full music functionality
Electrical and Environmental Requirements:
Built-in power supply
Line voltage: 100V to 240V AC
Frequency: 50Hz to 60Hz
Operating temperature: 32° to 95° F (0° to 35° C)