Stop Comparing Apple’s HomePod to Alexa and Google Home Right Now
Prior to officially pulling back the cover on its newest piece of hardware—the HomePod speaker—Apple had an image up on the big giant screen facing the audience at their Worldwide Developers Conference that had both a Sonos speaker and Amazon’s Echo speaker positioned next to one another.
The messaging from Apple’s senior VP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller was clear: Some companies that have dabbled in the speaker market are doing a tremendous job creating simple, exquisite wireless audio experiences but with speakers that wouldn’t fall under the category of “smart speakers” (Sonos); and there are others who’ve created devices that are excellent as in-home voice assistants but that lack the ability to play quality audio (Echo and Google Home).
And though they’re late to the game, excuse Apple’s tardiness as they spent an inordinate amount of time (like they always do) developing a product that brought together the world of hi-res audio and smart speakers under the umbrella of one device—the HomePod.
Launching this December (let’s hope), HomePod is, first and foremost, an incredible audio device. Apple packed in a ton of power performance into a tiny seven-inch (6.8 if we’re being nitpicky) speaker. You’re looking at a four-inch high-excursion woofer that’s supported by seven one-inch tweeters that point in every direction, and six microphones. Apple overlaid their A8 chip, which is the real brains behind the speaker, allowing the device to adapt audio playback to the environment that the speaker is set in.
As Schiller said, Apple was looking to “rock the house” with HomePod, because that’s the type of listening experience consumers look for when they go out and purchase a speaker. And with the $349 price tag, it’s clear that that’s exactly the type of consumer Apple is marketing this device to. At nearly double the price of both the Amazon Echo ($180) and Google Home ($149), the HomePod isn’t positioning itself to compete with those devices. They’re aiming higher and hoping to play in the same space as a Sonos with their PLAY:3 speaker ($299).
That might sound crazy coming from a company that hasn’t, until the launch of this product, given so much as a thought to the home speaker market, but the early returns on the HomePod’s performance show that Apple (again, like they always do) isn’t diving blindly into this market.
“I’m no audio expert, so I won’t even pretend I can go into all the reasons why the HomePod sounds so good,” Business Insider’s Steve Kovach wrote. “But I did notice the HomePod was able fill a large room very well and sounded great no matter what angle I was listening from.”
To most consumers, that’s all that’s going to matter—that this speaker sounds great. And during the keynote, Apple made it clear that that’s what they’re more concerned with as well. Though, questions still remain surrounding the HomePod’s ability to play nicely (or not nicely at all) with music services other than Apple Music, which could make or break the decision for a large chunk of consumers considering the HomePod.
The smart features and Siri integration almost felt like an afterthought, but they’re definitely worth mentioning. Of course, Apple’s voice assistant will give you the ability to control the listening experience through the speaker, responding to commands like “Raise the volume,” or “Skip to the next track,” or “Play Backstreet Boys.” But you can also get tons of information out of Siri as well with questions like, “Who’s the drummer on this track?” or “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?”
Additionally, Siri through HomePod can get answers and provide assistance with measurements, translations, news, sports, traffic, general knowledge questions, and more. And, with HomeKit integration similar to what’s available on the iPhone, the user can ask Siri, via their HomePod to control connected devices in their home.
So, yeah, HomePod can act a lot like the Google Home speaker or Alexa through Amazon’s Echo line. And, sure, Apple wants to capitalize on the excitement and opportunity that those companies have created. But it’s tough to try to compare them to one another because of how Apple is positioning the HomePod. It’s a speaker, and a powerful, high-performance one at that. Amazon and Google took the techie, smart-gadget route, which is perfectly fine. Nothing wrong with that approach at all. It’s just different from what Apple is doing with the HomePod. They care about the audio experience perhaps more so than they do the home control experience. Maybe that’s because Siri still lags behind Alexa. Or maybe it’s because Apple wants to capitalize on a different part of the market.