This past Monday at WWDC something unexpected happened: Apple unveiled it’s first truly new product since they announced the Apple Watch. This new product, which is essentially a combination of a high-end speaker and smart assistant, is Apple’s first venture into this category. They’re calling it the HomePod (a riff on iPod) and it is meant to compete with the likes of other virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Echo as well as Google Home. The key difference between HomePod and the other products is that HomePod is also marketed as a high-end speaker as well. Alexa and Google Home are supposed to be primarily used for accessing information such as the weather or directions while HomePod is meant to be used both for playing high-quality music as well as using Siri like you would on one of Apple’s other devices (For those that don’t know, Siri is Apple’s version of a digital assistant that is currently available on most of Apple’s products).
Even though the high-quality sound of the HomePod is supposed to distinguish it from other like products–which it does–the inclusion of the speaker hardware does raise the price of the system pretty substantially–HomePod is priced at $349. Make no mistake about it, however, the HomePod is not meant to be a digital assistant, it is meant to be a high-end speaker capable of producing lust-worthy, pitch-perfect sound. This is a speaker with smart capabilities, not the other way around as other smart speakers such as Alexa are marketed. According to Apple’s website
We completely reimagined how a speaker should make music in the home. HomePod combines Apple-engineered audio technology and advanced software to deliver the highest-fidelity sound throughout the room, no matter where it’s placed. This elegantly designed, compact speaker totally rocks the house
In terms of tech specs this speaker is surprisingly powerful. Included is a seven tweeter array, a “high-excursion woofer”, a six microphone array (to make it easy for the voice-activated Siri to hear you of course), and one of Apple’s own A8 chips all combine to form an extremely powerful and loud, smart speaker. Though small–standing at only 7 inches tall–the array of tweeters and woofer combine to create a room filling sound. The A8 chip also allows the HomePod to use an algorithm that constantly fine-tunes the music in order to create smooth, distortion-free sound. Additionally, HomePod also has a cluster of sensors that allow it to assess the size of the room it is in and customize the sound of the music accordingly.
One of the most exciting things about this speaker besides the music it produces, however, is the way that it utilizes Apple’s Siri platform. To activate Siri all you have to say is “Hey Siri – ” followed by your question. It might not seem that significant at first, but Siri in HomePod can be used for much more than asking to play a specific song or asking about the weather. It can be used for hundreds of tasks, but some interesting ones include controlling your smart-home devices (lights, AC, fans, alarm, etc), replying to texts, setting timers, translating, and much more. Additionally, if you have a question about the music that is playing you could ask Siri something like “Hey Siri, Who is the drummer in this song?” or, if you’re bored with your current music selection, you could say “Hey Siri, DJ for me”
Overall, this is a very excitingly development in the constantly evolving Apple ecosystem of products. Apple is known to hold its’ products to an incredibly high standard, and it seems like HomePod is no different. With its friendly, but sleek, design Apple is appealing to a massive market. For some people the price might be preventative, but if you were already in the market for a speaker and/or digital assistant then HomePod is definitely worth taking a look at. Available in two different colors, Space Gray and White, HomePod is scheduled to be released sometime in December, but until then you’ll just have to settle for existing smart “speakers”.