Apple’s answer to the Amazon and Google assault on the smart speaker is up and running, but users risk being locked away further in Apple’s tightly managed ecosystem.
Looking at the reviews across the industry, many are shouting and screaming about the sound quality and performance of the device. For some it is the best quality in the price range, but others have noted users will be even more restricted to what other services they can interact with compared to other Apple products.
“As advertised, the thing sounds great,” writes TechCrunch. “There’s little question here that the HomePod is a speaker first, smart second, bucking the trend of the earliest Echo and Google Home devices.”
“If you have a room in your home or workspace where you would like to listen to music from Apple and/or podcasts, and you care about audio quality, you should absolutely consider HomePod,” Daring Fireball says. “If you’re looking for something else, you probably shouldn’t.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever described a tech product as “lonely” before, but it’s the word I thought about the most as I was reviewing Apple’s new HomePod,” The Verge comments.
This is the problem. Apple has created a product for the iArmy alone, which isn’t better than what else is one of the market, except in terms of being a speaker. Unfortunately users are demanding more from technology than ever before. They have a huge variety of different content services which they want to be interoperable and, whether Apple likes it or not, the voice user interface is starting to catch on.
Siri is not as good as Amazon or Google’s virtual assistants. The device does not recognise Spotify even exists. The HomePod is more entrenched in the walled Apple ecosystem than other products. You can’t ask Siri to look up recipes or make a phone call. You can’t even ask the HomePod to change the channel on your Apple TV.
In some cases it’s the little things which make the difference. For example, you can ask Siri to set a timer, but you can’t ask Siri to set two timers at once like you can with the Amazon and Google equivalent. Some users have found this feature incredibly useful when cooking. Alone this little gimmick won’t make a difference, but when Amazon or Google are better at dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of these little gimmicks, why would you choose a lesser device?
Apple make a really good speaker which you can control with your voice. It seemingly hasn’t made a smart speaker.
Perhaps the memo got lost on the way to the engineering team, which has supposedly been working on this device for six years. The point of smart speakers is to be useful to the user. Amazon and Google have created products which have a huge number of skills, adaptable to various different scenarios in the home, but also compatible with the rest of the users life as well. This is what the market wanted.
To be fair to Apple, the HomePod is capable of controlling other areas of the smart home, but only products which sit nicely in its stringent ecosystem. Apple might come out with some good products for the smart home but the problem is there will be specialists out there. A company which exclusively focuses on smart heating products, or connected kitchen devices for example. These will eventually be better than the versions iLifers are forced to buy to realise the full value of the HomePod, leaving these users will a sub-standard smart home.
Perhaps Apple will use the billions it has stashed away to buy the best-in-breed for every product type when someone disrupts the status quo. This is the only way we can see the HomePod and its closed ecosystem living up to the reputation. We are incredibly doubtful, but Apple has some $200 billion horded in the bank and is one of the most profitable companies on the planet; it isn’t out of the question, but a dangerous strategy.
Apple has seemingly created an incredibly sound speaker, but has missed the entire point of the connected economy. It’s about interaction and openness. Could this be anything more than a flop?