Apple is launching shipments of its HomePod smart speaker Friday, but by all accounts, the emphasis with HomePod is much more on the speaker than on the smarts.
- Why such a big difference?
The result is significantly more powerful audio performance from the HomePod compared to its two rivals.
- What else can HomePod do?
A few other typical smart speaker tasks that the HomePod reportedly can't do: find a recipe, make a phone call or summon an Uber (although Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed the HomePod works with Uber during an earnings call last week). Apple has marketed HomePod's superior audio quality as its defining feature, and some have wondered how well the speaker will be able to project itself in retail settings which are often noisy and crowded. Case in point: this isn't even the first time it's been repurposed against Apple for a music product - Rdio wrote "Welcome, Apple".
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Despite the impressive music set-up, the HomePod does have some limitations.
The voice of Siri also lacks the natural flow of either Amazon'sAlexa or Google Assistant - among the artificial intelligence systems it still sounds the most robotic.
Select Apple Authorised Resellers, including Best Buy in the US; Argos, Dixons Carphone (Currys PC World), John Lewis, Shop Direct (Very and Littlewoods), EE and Apple Premium Resellers in the United Kingdom; and The Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Telstra in Australia, have also started selling the HomePod locally.
Apple's HomePod sounds fantastic, but it's meant to be used with Apple Music - you'll need an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad with Apple Music installed in order to even set up the HomePod.
Note that the $199 Sonos One is able to use Alexa now, is adding Google Assistant support via a software update in the near future, and will have support for streaming music via Apple's upcoming AirPlay 2, as well.
The set-up process is less cumbersome than for the Echo or Google Home, which use a companion app and require some WiFi network selection.
If you're on the fence about HomePod and wondering whether to audition it at an Apple Store or your own home this weekend, here are a handful of helpful details that will put this new speaker in some perspective.
HomePod is an exceptional home music player, the best in its price range and several above it, offering a music listening experience that will delight any audiophile. If you are confident that you would enjoy the HomePod, then wait.
However, in other areas the device is limited by how locked into Apple's own ecosystem it is. For instance, the HomePod is only compatible with Apple devices.
Sonos is smart enough to not go quite that far.
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