HomePod a “Breakthrough” Smart Speaker
Apple noted the growing popularity of wireless home audio and smart speakers, but made the point that current offerings are lacking. Called out by name in the WWDC 2017 presentation were Sonos and the Amazon Echo. Sonos — the market leader for wireless multi-room audio — was noted for offering speakers that lack any “smart” capabilities. Amazon’s Echo was singled out as offering poor quality audio.
The HomePod is described as a “breakthrough” device that delivers high quality audio along with spatial awareness, smart features and integration with streaming audio. In other words, Apple is positioning it to take on Sonos in audio quality, while offering the smarts of the Amazon Echo, combining the two approaches in a single product.
Apple HomePod Key Specs:
- Array of 7 tweeters (each with its own amplifier), upward-facing 4-inch high excursion woofer
- Tweeters support beam-forming
- 360-degree audio
- Apple A8 CPU
- 6 directional microphone array with echo cancellation
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO
- Designed for Siri, Apple Music, HomeKit
- Multi-speaker configuration support
- 5.6-inches tall, available in white and space gray mesh fabric cover
High Performance Audio with Smarts
Apple is touting the fact that the HomePod is packed with drivers, delivering superior audio to the Amazon Echo and competitors like Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Home.
But the company is also touting its intelligence (the HomePod is powered by an Apple A8 chip), as helping to boost audio performance compared to Sonos. AAPL says the HomePod does real-time acoustic modelling, scanning the room it’s in and using beam-forming technology to shape audio based on variables like room size and its position. AAPL says it can essentially act as a virtual surround sound system; set up two HomePods and they automatically work together.
Using the New AirPLay 2 wireless standard, multiple HomePods can also be used for Sonos-style multi-room audio.
Apple Music + Siri Control
Naturally, HomePod is designed around two of AAPL’s key services: Siri and Apple Music.
With Apple Music integration, the smart speaker has 40 million songs on tap. Siri can help the user choose music (what AAPL called the speaker’s “musicologist”), including recommending tracks.
But Siri voice control is also the key to taking on the Amazon Echo. The HomePod features Apple HomeKit integration, so Siri can be used for tasks like turning on smart lights or adjusting the thermostat. And, like Siri on the iPhone, AAPL’s personal digital assistant can be asked questions about the weather, traffic and pretty much anything else.
Apple is big on privacy, so whenever Siri is active, the top of the speaker displays a “Siri” animation, and AAPL employs end-to-end encryption and anonymous IDs for any queries.
Two things the HomePod is not: portable (there’s no battery) and Bluetooth (Wi-Fi only). It’s meant to be set up in a home and used by the regular occupants as opposed to carried around and casually connected to by anyone with a smartphone.
When and How Much?
AAPL says the Siri speaker will cost $349. It starts shipping in the U.S, U.K. and Australia in December and will roll out to other countries later.