The Apple HomePod, the Cupertino brand's answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home, is officially launching this Feb. 9. Like any smart speaker in the market, it's shaped like a dome, barely has a screen, and is meant to be a fixture in the house, be it in the living room, kitchen, or one's bedroom.
Unlike any smart speaker, it focuses primarily on music playback, offering advanced audio engineering techniques that promises to deliver high-fidelity sound wherever it's placed in the house. HomePod scans its environment — it knows, for instance, whether it's facing a wall, if it's in a corner, or far from walls entirely — and promptly adjusts its sound production.
Apple HomePod Cons
The $350 speaker, however, has quirks, like any Apple product. For starters, it's not very smart — at least not as smart as, say, Alexa or Google Assistant. Yes, it does come equipped with Siri, which has gotten better over the years, but as it stands, Alexa and Google Assistant remain far more deft at responding to commands and offer wider arrays of functionalities.
There's also the thing with Apple's tendency to lock its products inside its own ecosystem. That's why the HomePod cannot be configured with anything other than an iOS device. Android users won't be able to purchase a HomePod, take it home, and get started. Also, the primary service on HomePod is Apple Music. Users can play tunes from Spotify, yes, but it's not integrated properly on there.
Is It A Niche Product?
The above being said, the HomePod is starting to seem like a niche product targeting Apple's loyal fanbase. Will it find any success in the smart speaker landscape, where the most prized quality is being actually smart? Read critic reviews and impressions below:
Recode: "HomePod has what can only be explained by the most balanced audio, not just of any smart speaker but of any speaker I currently own, which includes a number of Sonos speakers and a Bose Home Theatre system," said Recode's Ben Bajarin.
"By balanced, I mean evenly distributed quality sound. With many speakers and sound systems, there is a zone of perfection. That is a specific place or alignment of your body where the system sounds the best. HomePod is unique in that it doesn't have a singular place where it sounds the best. Apple's engineers designed HomePod to sound the best no matter where you are in the room."
He also described Siri functionalities of the speaker.
"Siri on HomePod is not as full-featured as Siri on your Macs or iOS devices, and this was done by design. Siri on HomePod focused on doing a few things well for the individual and the communal family of the house, and from my experience, it did those things well. Alexa and Google Assistant do have more features, for now, and they are definitely more advanced in their functionality."
The Verge: "Here's what's good about Siri on the HomePod: the microphones are terrific at detecting the "Hey Siri" wake command. It was better at hearing me over loud music than my other smart speakers, and very good at hearing me from across rooms with weird echoes," said The Verge's Nilay Patel.
"You can't ask Siri to look up a recipe. You can't ask Siri to make a phone call. (You have to start the phone call on your phone and transfer it to the HomePod to use it as a just-okay speakerphone.) Siri also can't compete with the huge array of Alexa skills, or Google Assistant's ability to answer a vast variety of questions."
The New York Times: "Apple's speaker is certainly an impressive piece of hardware. Audiophiles will appreciate that it has a woofer with a custom amplifier and seven tweeters. The result is a speaker with a deep bass and rich treble that is loud enough to fill a large room with superb sound. HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google's Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison," said The New York Times's Brian X. Chen.
"But Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it. Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant. Siri doesn't even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone."
TechCrunch: "Apple's HomePod is easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever. It's got better separation and bass response than anything else in its size and boasts a nuance and subtlety of sound that pays off the 7 years Apple has been working on it," said TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino.
"The HomePod sounds great but on the surface, it's debatable whether it's great enough to justify the limitations of its smart features when compared purely on those merits and not as a component of the Apple ecosystem."
USA Today: "Apple has opened up Siri to developers, but the feature set for HomePod and Siri is more narrow — you might send messages by voice or consult your grocery list, but the list of third-party apps that are compatible with HomePod are relatively thin, including LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Skype for iPhone and Evernote. CEO Tim Cook even misspoke during Apple's recent earnings call when he said that you could summon Siri on HomePod to hail a Lyft or Uber. That is not the case right now," said USA Today's Edward C. Baig.
"Indeed, the perception out there is that Siri, despite being on tens of millions of iPhones and the first virtual assistant to make a name for itself, just isn't as smart or useful as Alexa and the Google Assistant."
Time: "With the HomePod, the company will have to prove that it can compete in a game for which somebody else wrote the rules. Not even Siri can answer whether that will be possible."