Apple Introduces HomePod Smart Speaker

Apple made the pitch yesterday that it tried to create a speaker that is better than Sonos, yet as smart as Google Home or Amazon Echo. Whenever Siri is listening, the area will let you know with the LED lights forming waves for every word you speak.

The device can also be used to send messages, get updates on news, sports and weather and control smart home devices connected using Apple’s HomeKit. It’s clear Apple has Sonos, probably moreso than Amazon or Google, in its crosshairs. Where Apple is really focusing on differentiating the HomePod is in pure audio quality. Alongside the seven speaker array, the Apple HomePod boasts of a 4 inch upward facing woofer.

The real question is: HomePod is undoubtedly a great product, but can it carve out enough of a niche for itself so that it can grow along with the smart speaker market? Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, mentioned that the speaker can execute acoustic modeling in real-time.

The company details that it uses spatial awareness to work out its location and automatically adjust the audio depending on where it is in the room. But Apple will need to have something else up its sleeve to convince casual fans to buy a $350 smart speaker that isn’t as smart as the competition. You can say “play more songs like that”, or “I like this song”. One issue here is whether the HomePod will play nice with other music streaming services like Spotify.

The HomePod will use its internal microphones to pick up voice commands and uses the same processor chip as the iPhone to pump out “spatially aware” sound, Apple said. Furthermore, a third major player has entered this market, with Apple recently unveiling its “Home Pod,” a 7-inch tall speaker for playing music, checking news and controlling other smart devices. The move is one of the first significant forays by Apple in the voice-technology, since the time it launched Siri way back in 2011.

And, with a six months heads-up, Amazon and Google can fill in any gaps and reinforce their products with new features.

The HomePod will cost $349 and will be available in December 2017 in a choice of white or space grey. While he didn’t discuss exactly how the devices differ, he told USA Today that the HomePod’s $349 price tag makes it substantially more expensive than his company’s alternatives, including the popular Amazon Echo.

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