Once again, Apple is last to the party. Fashionably late maybe, but late, nonetheless. Silicon Valley’s finest introduces a brand new device: A voice-controlled home assistant speaker. Just like everyone else.
As with most parties, it’s hard to appreciate a fashionably late arrival when the perpetrator hasn’t helped send out invitations, set up decorations, plan activities, or even bring a side dish. Pretty socially un-cool. So did Apple bring something new to the table, or did it just copy everyone else (again)?
Do you own a HomePod at the time of this article? No, you don’t, and nobody else does either. And yet, the internet is already quick to accuse Amazon’s second release of copying Apple’s unreleased new toy. This may sound basic, but it’s impossible to copy something that hasn’t yet been created. Let’s lay aside those concerns and put this issue to rest: Amazon most definitely did not follow Apple’s lead (or lack thereof).
It’s very easy for Apple analysts to sit back and watch competitors experiment in the market, create new technology, and either fail or succeed. But it’s even easier to find a workaround, obscure patents to punish those whose creative brains further advance the tech world. Most Apple loyalists will admit or even bemoan their brand’s lack of creativity. So while the HomePod might be amazing, let’s simply realize that Apple has had years to learn from others’ courage.
CNet did us a solid and compiled a short list of major differences between the main three speakers. Besides price and ecosystem preferences, there seems to be no major advantage to any of the assistants. Further, it seems like you would need both a Google Home and an Apple HomePod to track a package and cast something to your TV (unless you have Chromecast).
The HomePod looks like it should fill an anti-Google home’s void of an always-listening assistant for some basic questions, functions, and tasks. But you’re left with basically a great-for-its-size speaker that works with just one music source: Apple Music. So, expect an ongoing monthly bill to even enable the primary function of an already expensive device.
On the bright side, supposedly you’ll be able to control some of your smart home gadgets. You might be able to send messages (undoubtedly only iMessages, and therefore only with a select group of friends).
This might be the worst element about Apple’s new speaker: It’s drastically overpriced. And in tandem with the horrific news that it costs two or even three times as other speakers (which pack a few more features), people will probably buy it to stay in the Apple ecosystem.
Not to come across as a hater, but I’m just going to say it: The Emperor has no clothes. There is literally no feature on this little marshmallow-shaped clone worth even half the $350 Apple plans to charge. Seriously. It has fewer features than either the Home or the Echo and is justifying its price in its sound quality. You can buy a Bose or Sony Bluetooth speaker for way less with likely way better sound.
And Apple wants you to buy multiple units since it touted the HomePod’s ability to synchronize with other iDevices across the home. So the whole mesh of Google Home’s personal speaker system is further copied. But this one is worth the price.
If you are one of the few people who actually use the always-listening Siri feature on your smartphone to get things done, indubitably you have a handful (or plethora) of instances where Apple’s electronic assistant misunderstood you, embarrassed you, or otherwise enraged you with its incompetence. The iPhone-originated virtual secretary has unfortunately not grown a lot in terms of understanding, prediction, capability, or accuracy in the last few years.
Apple believes that taking a mediocre, rarely-used relic and reproducing it on a grander scale will suddenly make Siri a voice-friendly alternative to Alexa or Google Assistant. Even Cortana on the Xbox One understands full sentences better than Siri does, in my experience. Siri feels underdeveloped, overrated, and all-around not ready to be at your every beck and call in the home.
Very few people actually use Siri for anything other than jokes or maybe reminders on their phones. While you can find a few vocal loyalists, the majority of iPhone owners pretend this feature doesn’t exist.
I’ve actually owned many Apple products and still have a few. I got the iPhone 7 immediately after its release and am quite familiar with the hype and draw of the mainstream company. There is no way the HomePod will be successful unless Apple spends some serious time and money (it has plenty of both) to make Siri competitive, competent, and coexistent with current technology.
The HomePod won’t be very popular if every user needs an Apple Music subscription, an Apple TV, a recent iPhone, and other special software and hardware.
At the end of the day, the marshmallow will have to prove its value to a whole lot of people who have already invested in the Amazon and Google ecosystems.
And charging folks two or three times as much is definitely a bold, prideful, and maybe a foolish decision.
Do you own a smart assistant? Let us know in the comments.