The One More Thing at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote address turned out to be the HomePod speaker. Though it won’t arrive in stores until December, the $349 device is already being praised for some of its unique features. It’s also being criticized for its limitations. Here’s our early read on Apple’s HomePod.
What HomePod got right ...
HomePod offers plenty of features that will likely make it one of the top-selling gifts of the 2017 holiday season. Among these:
Sound, sound, and more sound
If there’s one thing most would agree on it’s that HomePod packs a lot of power under its hood. This includes a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, seven tweeters, six microphones, and so much more.
Sound-wise it’s very clear HomePod isn’t targeting Amazon Echo or Google Home customers. Instead, it’s going after the home audio industry as a whole and yes, this is a big deal.
Watch your back, Sonos.
It would have been easy for Apple to look to the Amazon Echo or Google Home for design cues for HomePod. Luckily, they did not. Instead, the speaker looks a lot like the company’s unloved Mac Pro and that’s just fine in our book.
Additionally, Apple deserves major kudos for recognizing that not everyone wants a white speaker. When it arrives later this year, HomePod will be available in white and black.
AirPlay hasn’t been shown much love in recent years. That’s going to change thanks to the HomePod speaker and the arrival of AirPlay 2. The protocol allows you to add HomePods to multiple rooms with ease. Better still, the speakers can communicate so that everything’s always in sync.
Apple has already signed up more than a dozen speaker partners who will support AirPlay 2 in future products. These include Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Marantz, Libratone, Beats (of course), and more.
Apple Music and Siri
Not surprisingly, Apple Music and Siri are a big part of what makes HomePod tick. With Apple Music integration, users have access to over 40 million songs from over 2 million artists.
With Siri, you can find songs using your voice. Plus, with HomePod’s “Shared Up Next” feature, everyone in your home can have a say on what songs are coming up.
Wondering whether Siri is listening? Look at the top of HomePod and watch the LED waveform animate whenever you’re speaking. Yes, the animation looks cool.
The HomePod speaker isn’t just for listening to music. It’s also been designed to become the centerpiece of an Apple HomeKit connected home. In doing so, you can talk to Siri to control your smart home accessories.
You can already control smart home accessories with your iOS devices, of course. Therefore, it’s going to be awhile until we can find out whether the process is different or easier on HomePod. But with Amazon Echo and Google Home already offering this with Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively, this was a must-have feature for any Apple speaker and we’re glad to see it.
HomePod can adjust its sound based on its location in a room. In doing so, we’re promised an immersive listening experience. If this feature truly works, we’re in for a real treat.
Of course, like so many other things about HomePod, we’re going to have to wait until December to experience the feature in a home environment.
What it did not
There’s much to love about the HomePod speaker. However, some questions and concerns remain.
Being a speaker, HomePod should work with music streaming services not named Apple Music, right? Actually, we don’t know yet since Apple hasn’t said whether the device supports Bluetooth.
We get it, Cupertino wants people to buy the HomePod speaker and then become an Apple Music subscriber forever. However, they should also recognize that for whatever the reason, not everyone who is an Apple fan wants to become an Apple Music subscriber.
Our bet: HomePod will eventually support Bluetooth, but not at the beginning. The good thing: Because it supports AirPlay 2 there’s going to be way to listen to other music services on the speaker. Just don’t ask Siri for any help finding a song.
The HomePod speaker is covered with cloth mesh, which seems to be the material preferred by many speaker manufacturers. You know who also likes cloth mesh? Cats, according to Mashable, which worries HomePod could fast become “a very expensive cat scratcher” due to its size and design.
Mashable has a point. You might be okay with Frisky playing around with a $100 speaker. However, when the product costs $349, you may think differently.
The bottom line: HomePod’s internals probably justify its price tag, however, Apple’s decision to use cloth mesh on the outside could prove problematic. They may have to rethink this for the second-generation model.
Weak language support
Back in March, we noted that Apple’s Siri was winning the voice-assistant wars in at least one way: compatibility. At the time, Siri could speak 21 languages localized for 36 countries, far and away more than Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant combined.
Unfortunately, at least at launch, HomePod will only support English. What’s up with that Apple?
Wrapping it up
HomePod is going to be a big deal when it launches before the end of the year. Though many questions about it remain, it looks like Apple’s next winning product. Stay tuned.
Are you planning on buying HomePod? Let us know below.
Are you planning on buying Apple's HomePod? Let us know below.— AppAdvice (@AppAdvice) June 7, 2017
This article was first published on June 7, 2017.