Apple Announces HomePod Speaker with Voice Assistant

At its recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Apple offered a sneak peak of the HomePod, a voice-assistant-enabled smart speaker that will go up against the popular Amazon Echo and Google Home. The speaker will be priced at $349 and is expected to start shipping in December.

Framing the HomePod as a product that “reinvents music at home,” Apple emphasized high-quality audio as a differentiator from the other smart speakers, essentially describing the HomePod as a smart Sonos speaker.

Standing just under 7 inches tall, the squat HomePod is covered in seamless (white or gray) mesh fabric and uses a circular array of seven “beamforming tweeters” with acoustic horns that control directivity to create a 360-degree sound field. The bottom-mounted tweeter array is complemented by a custom 4-inch high-excursion woofer that fires up from the top of the speaker, all powered by a custom amplifier. A powerful motor said to drive the woofer’s diaphragm “a full 20mm” achieves what Apple described as “deep, rich bass.”

The speaker’s design is impressive when you compare it with the Amazon Echo, which has a single 2-inch tweeter and 2.5 inch woofer or Google Home’s 2-inch full-range driver.

The HomePod is run by the powerful A8 chip Apple uses in the iPhone. Algorithms analyze room acoustics and dynamically adjust the sound to provide an “immersive listening experience” whether the speaker is in the middle of the room, on a shelf, or against the wall. As Apple put it, the HomePod “steers the music in the optimal direction.”

As you’d expect, the HomePod streams Apple Music directly to the speaker. It’s also equipped with AirPlay 2 so you can stream music from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and share it with other HomePods using voice commands.

Those voice commands are, of course, executed through Siri, which can do most of what it does on an iPhone, iPad, or compatible Mac (without images or video). Users can use voice commands, to play music and access playlists from their personal library or the Apple music library (with a subscription). But its capabilities go beyond just playing music.

Apple likened Siri’s role to that of a musicologist able to understand “more of the questions we’re going to ask about music,” including things like who’s playing on a particular song or the name of the artist’s latest album. The HomePod uses a centrally located array of six beamforming microphones so it can hear your voice over the music and from across the room.

In response to public’s growing concern over privacy as it relates to voice activated devices, Apple said the HomePod will listen for its wake word but will not record until you say, “Hey Siri.”

The HomePod will also connect to the iCloud so you can use Siri to set reminders, appointments, read calendars, play news, traffic, and sports, recite movie times, and more. You will also be able to use voice commands to control compatible HomeKit devices that turn on lights, adjust heat, lower window shades, and more—even when you’re away from home. And if you’ve set up automated scenes, you can control groups of devices by telling Siri “I’m home” or “It’s time for a movie” and so on.

Apple is late to the smart speaker game so it remains to be seen whether HomePod will be able to compete with the myriad of skills included in the Amazon Echo or if it will be able to keep up with the depth of information available on Google Home.

For more information, visit apple.com.

Related:

Voice Speaker Usage to Double This Year.

COMMENTS
mwelters's picture

I am very much in apply echo system except that I discarded Airplay long ago for Sonos and use Amazon Echo for voice assistant. I will not be buying this. It simply does not compete.
The Sonos Play:1 is excellent and looks better. Sure, it doesn't have Siri or other assistant built in, but it has the advantage of not being so tied to Apple Music, which I don't use (I prefer any of Google Play, Deezer and Spotify).
The Amazon echo works with all my smart home devices: Wemo, Harmony Remote Hub, Nest, etc., with Sonos integration promised for this year (by Sonos). Those don't work with Siri. Apple's homekit would not come even close to meeting my needs since it does not accommodate my preferred products. Accordingly the smart aspects of this Apple speaker simply does not compete with Amazon Echo or Google Home. They must know that since they downplayed that aspect.
Yet another underwhelming product from Apple.

Brak Rules All's picture

How can you say that when you haven't even heard it yet? I get it that you are not an Apple ecosystem guy, so it may indeed be a poor fit for your needs. But to go into full Apple-hater mode and make the above assertion is absurd. "Yet another underwhelming product from Apple." Yawn

brenro's picture

Looks like a roll of Charmin'