Apple HomePod Smart Speaker for Smart Home

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  • Introduction:

The Apple HomePod is Smart speaker developed by Apple Inc. It was announced on June 5, 2017, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.

The HomePod was originally scheduled for release in December 2017, but was later delayed to early 2018. It was initially released in Australia, the UK and the US, available in two colors: White and Space Gray. On January 23, 2018, Apple announced that the HomePod will be available for preorders on January 26, and orders started arriving on February 9.

To differentiate the HomePod from competing products like the Google Home and the Amazon Echo, Apple is focusing heavily on audio quality. HomePod is just less than seven inches tall, but Apple has packed a lot of technology into the device’s body. It features a 7 tweeter array, with each tweeter outfitted with its own driver, and an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer for crisp, clear, distortion free sound even at loud volumes.

A Siri virtual assistant and wireless speaker from Apple. Announced in 2017 for December delivery, Apple touts the HomePod as a quality sound system as well as the ideal gateway to the Apple Music service because users can ask Siri to find and play songs. With a high-excursion woofer and seven tweeters, the HomePod fine tunes the music by sensing the room environment. When more HomePods are added in the same room or in other rooms, the devices communicate with each other to balance and control the sound. HomePod is also a hub for controlling lights and accessories in the automated home. See Smart speaker, virtual assistant and smart home.

What’s the story behind HomePod?

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that HomePod started several years ago as a side project by Apple audio engineers, and that the release of Amazon’s Echo was a complete surprise. HomePod project was shelved and revived several times, with the focus on music playback; Siri implementation was almost an afterthought. It took two years as a side project before Apple decided to make it a priority.

  • Design:

HomePod resembles a small mesh-covered Mac Pro. It has a cylindrical body with a flat top that is outfitted with a 272 x 340 display that shows a Siri waveform when activated. Built-in touch controls are included to play/pause music and adjust the volume.

Measuring in at 6.8 inches tall and 5.6 inches wide, the HomePod comes in Space Gray or White, and aside from the mesh fabric and the waveform LED at the top, there are no other external markings on the speaker, so it has a clean, simple design that matches with a range of interior decors.

  • SUPPORTED TOUCH GESTURES

The HomePod supports several gestures using the aforementioned touch controls at the top of the device. A tap will pause/play music, while a double tap will swap to the next track. You can go back to the previous track with a triple tap, and a touch and hold will bring up Siri (with a visible waveform to indicate when Siri is listening).++

A tap or a tap and hold on the “+” button will raise the volume, and a tap or a tap and hold on the “-” button will lower the volume.

Key features

The HomePod is Apple’s challenge to Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo series and Google’s Home speakers. Amazon has sought to establish itself as the market leader in smart speakers, with its Echo and Echo Dot models dominating smart speaker sales for the last two years.

Siri power

The HomePod will be the first smart speaker powered by Siri, Apple’s voice and smartphone assistant, presenting a big challenge to the company to prove its virtual assistant can compete with the fast-moving Amazon Alexa and Google’s Assistant.

Despite being older than both, having been launched in 2011 compared to Alexa’s 2014, Siri has long lived at the periphery of iPhones, used by some but not an integral part of the experience. While it was there and had its uses, many people simply do not use Siri to its fullest.

With the HomePod, Apple aims to change this. Siri will allow the HomePod to send messages, set a timer, play a podcast, and check the news and link up to a range of HomeKit smart home tech to give Apple users a smart home hub at last.

Other features will include the HomeKit ability to control hundreds of home accessories and set phrases like “Hey Siri, I’m home” to control several accessories at the same time, such as turning lights on and off, setting a temperature or other smart home automation.

Apple Music

The HomePod is “designed to work with Apple Music”, meaning it’s not really going to work with any other streaming services like Spotify. Apple says it will be able to learn preferences and music tastes shared across devices and respond to nuanced natural language search requests such as “Hey Siri, can you play something totally different?”

Apple Music will give users access to its 45 million songs plus their iTunes library without adverts.

Messaging and SiriKit apps

The HomePod will support messaging services through Apple’s own app, but will also be compatible with third party apps such as WhatsApp through development with SiriKit. With this, users can choose to send a message to a friend or family group straight on WhatsApp, other supported apps will include to-do list apps like Evernote.

Powerful speakers

Apple has pitched its speaker as beyond the current offering of smart speakers, boasting Apple-engineered audio specs. Apple marketing head Phil Schiller said he expected people to be “blown away by the audio quality”. The seven-inch tall HomePod is powered by an Apple A8 chip that can sense its location in the room and adjust the audio to improve the sound wherever it is placed.

The HomePod has a woofer for bass, seven tweeters for high frequency acoustics and six microphones to pick up “Hey Siri” from around the room.

Apple also say the HomePod should be easy to set up in seconds using an iPhone (it will only work with Apple devices like iPhones and iPads, not Android). Users can hold an iPhone next to the HomePod and it will be ready to start playing music in seconds.

Multi-room

Apple says the HomePod will be built for use as a Multi-room audio device. On launch, this feature will not be enabled. Apple says it will come in a software patch. This will mean that users can play disco in the dining room while playing blues in the bedroom. If there is more than one HomePod in the same room, the speakers can be set up as a pair for a stereo sound experience.

  • Sound Quality and Hardware

HomePod is filled with sophisticated hardware dedicated to providing the best possible sound. At the bottom, there’s a custom seven beam forming tweeter array, each with its own individual driver. Precision horns drive audio from the inside of the speaker out through the bottom with what Apple says is “tremendous directional control.”

Above the tweeters, there’s a six-microphone array that allows the HomePod to hear spoken Siri commands even when loud music is playing, and above the microphones, there’s a 4-inch upward-facing Apple-designed woofer that has a powerful motor to move a lot of air, resulting in deep bass. The speaker uses automatic bass correction powered by a low-frequency microphone and dynamic software modeling to keep sound distortion free even at loud volumes.

  • HomeKit

HomePod, like the Apple TV and the iPad, serves as a HomeKit hub. As a HomeKit hub, HomePod enables remote access for HomeKit devices, allowing them to be controlled when a user is away from home.

Through Siri integration, HomePod is also able to control all of a user’s HomeKit devices, similar to what’s possible on an iPhone or iPad.

  • Compatible Device

HomePod will work with all devices able to run iOS 11.2.5, with the iOS 11.2.5 update required for using HomePod. Devices compatible with iOS 11.2.5 include the iPhone 5s or newer, the iPad mini 2 or newer, the iPad Air or newer, the sixth-generation iPod Touch, and all iPad Pro models.

Using peer-to-peer Airplay to play music on the HomePod from an iOS device or Mac will require a Mac from 2012 or later with OS X Yosemite or later installed, or an iOS device from 2012 or later with iOS 8 or later installed.

How do you activate it?

HomePod has six microphones so that it can be activated verbally using the “Hey Siri” voice command. We’re not sure what happens if you have “Hey Siri” activated on your nearby iPhone as well. Hopefully, Apple implements a way for you to customize which device responds and fulfills the voice commands, or for the iPhone and HomePod to communicate with each other and figure it out. We’ll let you know once we do our full review.

Does it have a touch screen?

Well, that depends. What’s your definition of “touch screen”? Technically, yes. HomePod has a 272×340 “screen” at the top that will respond to touch controls. You can tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or adjust the volume. But unlike the Amazon Echo Show, HomePod screen is not a video screen, but an LED matrix. It animates with an LED waveform to indicate whenever Siri is listening, and it might be able to display other shapes or symbols.

You’ll also be able to control HomePod by tapping the screen. Apple has released a list of commands that will be available at launch:

  • Tap: Play/Pause
  • Double-tap: Next track
  • Triple-tap: Previous track
  • Tap or hold plus: Volume up
  • Tap or hold minus: Volume down
  • Touch and hold: Siri
  • Limitations of Apple HomePod:

Here are seven major things Apple’s new HomePod can’t do:

      HomePod can’t pair with Android phones:

In order to set up your new HomePod, you need to have an iOS device. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an iPhone — iPads and iPod touches work, too — but it will not work with Android devices whatsoever, even as a typical Bluetooth speaker.

Here are the devices HomePod is compatible with:

  • iPhone:

iPhone 5s through iPhone X (including iPhone SE)

  • iPad:

12.9-inch iPad Pro

10.5-inch iPad Pro

9.7-inch iPad Pro

iPad (5th generation)

iPad Air and iPad Air 2

iPad mini 2, 3,4

  • iPod touch:

iPod touch (6th generation)

 

      HomePod doesn’t recognize different people’s voices:

While HomePod will answer to anyone’s commands, it isn’t capable of recognizing individual voices. This means you can’t set up user profiles or tailor the device to different members of a household.

      HomePod can’t check your calendar:

The version of Siri that lives inside HomePod isn’t quite the same as Siri on your iPhone. It can’t check your calendar for events or make a new one.

For comparison, both Google Home and Amazon Echo have those skills — and not just for Google Calendar. Even the Echo can sync with your iCloud calendar, so it’s a bit strange that that feature isn’t available on the HomePod (not yet, at least).

  • HomePod doesn’t work well with other streaming services besides Apple Music:

To be clear, streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Tidal will work on HomePod — they just won’t work very well.

Once your HomePod is synced with your device, you’ll be able to play whatever you’d like through the speaker, thanks to Airplay. But you won’t be able to control your music using Siri, which takes away a lot of the functionality that makes HomePod “smart.”

      HomePod can’t hook up to another device using an auxiliary cord:

HomePod does not have any inputs, so there’s no way to plug in an auxiliary cord to listen on a non-supported device.

      HomePod can’t make calls on its own:

Right now, if you say “Hey Siri, call mom,” it can handle that in a matter of seconds. But in order to make a call using HomePod, you have to dial the person’s number on your iPhone, then manually select that the call play through HomePod. It works great, but it takes a few steps to get there.

      HomePod can’t answer random questions:

The HomePod version of Siri isn’t prepared to answer random questions like Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s not 100% clear what the device’s limitations are exactly, but Apple says Siri on the HomePod is capable of “general knowledge.” That likely means it can’t answer obscure trivia questions, play games, or tell jokes like other smart speakers.

  Price and availability:

The HomePod is going to cost £319, or $349 in the US, when it goes on sale. When it arrives in the UK, sellers will include the Apple Store, Argos, Currys PC World, John Lewis, Very and Littlewoods.

  Pros and Cons of the Apple HomePod:

            Pros of Apple HomePod

1) The design is coolThe HomePod is a cylindrical unit that looks like an enmeshed version of the Mac Pro, and is available in two colors; Space Grey and white. The colors are demure and tasteful, and will definitely look great in the den, sitting with the other entertainment devices. It is certainly striking to look at, but will blend in perfectly with the right kind of décor. Of course, it is not that good for carrying around, but then its purpose is to be used at home.

2) The acoustics are great: As far as the demo version shows, the HomePod is great with sound. The experience begins with the 3D mesh surrounding the speaker, which, according to Apple, was chosen for its great acoustic properties; in other words, it makes music sound better. The intelligent speaker also sends out the sound in all directions; so, if you are having a party and people are scattered all across the room, no one will complain of the music being too loud in some places and hard to hear in others. The music sounds loud and clear, and you can clearly pick out the different instruments playing in the song. In fact, the music sounds better than when played in Amazon Echo and Sonos Play: 3.

3) It’s highly convenient: The top of the Apple HomePod is touch sensitive, which means that you can regulate the volume and the music simply by tapping the device. Plus, the device will only wake up at the voice regulated “Hey Siri’ command, so no data will be transmitted until the speaker wakes up. It is also possible to create a multi-room system by connecting two HomePods together, or linking the speaker with another compatible device. It is even compatible with the iPhone; all you have to do is hold the two devices near each other, and the speaker will effortlessly play music from your iPhone.

4)Siri has some tricks up her sleeve: Siri is the voice of the device, so to speak. Like Amazon Echo and Sonos Play, you can ask Siri to play a particular song. But, unlike the aforementioned competitors, Siri will also answer questions about the song, like the name of the bass guitarist and the genre of the song.

5)It’s not just about the music: As emphasized by Apple, the HomePod is a smart device. Which of course means that its functionality extends beyond mundane music playing? The HomePod is all set to be the HomeKit ninja; by activating Siri with a voice command, you will be able to control all HomeKit enabled devices in your home without having to use the iPhone, such as the Hue lights and the motorized blinds. What’s more, you no longer need the Apple TV, with its frankly out-of-date set top box to regulate the HomeKit devices when you are not in your home; the HomePod speaker will take care of all that.

Cons of the HomePod:

1)The sound could be better: The sound quality is good, but not so good that you can drown in it. The most jarring note is possibly the fact that bass notes sound way too loud, although the vocal are not overshadowed by them. For someone who is trying to concentrate on the vocals and/or really trying to get a feel of the overall song, this can be a tad disconcerting.

2)No luck for non-Apple devices: The HomePod can be paired with other compatible speakers, that is, only those speakers that feature the Airplay 2 functionality, recently launched by Apple. Which means that Android phone users will have no luck with the speakers?

3)It doesn’t seem very personalized: Sure, that doesn’t seem to be a big letdown, but it is possible that the HomePod will not be able to integrate with all your devices and communicate with them, something that the Echo already does. This is not certain, but the demo version did not showcase this feature, which means you might not be able to shop online or order food with the HomePod.

4)It’s extremely pricey: Yes, that is a big thumbs down for the Apple HomePod. Even coming from the revered stable of Apple which faithfully churns out pretty expensive devices regularly, the HomePod is likely to burn a hole in most of our pockets with its initial price tag of $349. The UK and Australian prices have not yet been declared, but it can be anticipated that they will be uncomfortably close to the USD mark.

The Apple HomePod is going to be available in stores from December 2017 onwards. It is slightly on the pricier side, but Apple being Apple will face no difficulty in finding takers. And as far as the demo is concerned, the product has certainly been able to arouse the interest of gadget aficionados and even the casual user. Let’s hope Apple is able to live up to the frenzy they have created yet again.

MeenaG Staff

Internet of Things Enthusiast

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