Well, Apple has now joined the litany of other tech giants who are releasing smart speakers that are designed to respond to voice commands. Boasting similar capabilities to the beloved Alexa and Google Home, HomePod is Apple’s foray into the world of voice-operated sound systems.
But how does it compare to the others?
HomePods Pricing in the UK
The HomePod system retails for a cool £319 in the UK ($349 US).
From the competition, we have the Amazon Echo at £89.99 and the Google Home being £129 (we are ignoring Google Max as it is only available in the US right now). So for the current market, Apple’s offering is clearly a lot pricier. However, this is likely down to the far superior audio quality – the sound is really quite exceptional.
That said, is it really worth nearly £200 more just for better sound? Should British consumers be willing to shell out so much more for better sound, but less reliable voice activated functionalities? (More on that a bit later)
Apple HomePod’s Design
Apple has always been about the minimalistic approach towards design, so you can probably imagine that it looks sleek, minimalist and will be pretty compact.
Well, you’d be right.
At 172mm tall, Apple’s HomePod is about the height of a can of Coke, and 142mm wide – a slightly larger diameter than a CD. It sits tidily on any shelf and looks attractive wherever you place it, as it is a bit more square-shaped than the tall, slim versions from Amazon and Google.
HomePod is also covered with what Apple calls, “seamless 3D mesh fabric,” and it has a touch-sensitive display that controls the sound and lets you know when Siri is activated.
You can choose from two colours – Apple’s proprietary white, and space grey.
What Can The Apple HomePod Do?
This device is meant to be used primarily as a music player but, remember, you can really only use Apple’s platforms natively. That means shelling out £9.99 a month for Apple Music subscription or importing your library from iTunes (providing you legally purchased everything from the iTunes Store).
When you want to play music from Spotify or an Amazon playlist, you’ll have to use Apples Airplay to cast it across, and that is not as easy as it sounds.
At this point in time, Apple doesn’t have any way for third-party apps of programs to be used with HomePod, and this seems unfathomable. Will this change with time? You’ve got to hope it does, but given Apples love for a closed ecosystem, this is something I very much doubt we’ll see a change anytime soon.
HomePod, Siri and HomeKit
Maybe you want to use your HomePod in the same way that others use Alexa? If you want Siri to help you with your daily tasks and answer your questions, you might be barking up the wrong tree here.
I am not the only one who has noticed that Siri is well.. a little limited when it comes to general knowledgeability and carrying out your requests. She often responds that she doesn’t understand, or wants you to repeat your question. This can quickly become frustrating.
The HomePod has been designed to work with the iOS Home app and by doing so, allows it to operate any smart devices that you have in your setup in the Home app. Including closing your blinds and turning off lights by voice command or on a schedule.
For example turning the lights on when you’re due back home from work, or even by proximity to your WiFi.
The automation is indeed impressive here.
The voice commands are effective too when setup correctly. I asked Siri to control my Elgato Eve Degree gadget to turn up the humidity in my home; it worked like a charm. Siri is very adept at working with the HomeKit devices.
However, if your smart home products are not Apple Home compatible, you are out of luck. There are not yet any patches or workarounds that allow you to connect your existing smart home gadgets to your HomePod, and that is a real loss.
The Sound Quality
If you are looking for a platform from which to run your life (i.e. order a pizza and check you in for a flight) this is not a smart assistant that will make your life easier.
That said, if you are looking for a fantastic, small and attractive speaker, the HomePod is a great option that is focused on design and sound quality good enough to satisfy any picky audiophile given its form factor.
Apple claims that HomePod has been specifically designed to “play music the way the artist intended you to hear it”, and it does sound fantastic.
Inside the compact shell, you will find a high-excursion woofer and a custom amplifier. The internal motor drives the diaphragm, enabling it to bounce 20mm peak to peak – something that is shocking for a speaker this small. You’ll also find seven beamforming tweeters and seven amplifiers. Apple has stated that this allows for “precision acoustics with tremendous directional control”.
The Apple HomePods Pitfalls
While the above notes seem to point to a glowing review, it just isn’t that simple. Things start to head south as soon as you start setting up your HomePod in your house.
Remember, to even set the device up, you need a relatively new iOS device (such as an iPhone 5S or later, an iPad 5th generation or later, an iPad mini 2 or later, or an iPod touch 6th generation or later) and all must be running iOS 11.2.5 or later.
This makes the HomePod useless if you own an Android.
We also have to bring up the sore spot that Siri isn’t actually all that smart, not when compared to the ever-useful Alexa. There’s no denying that what Google is putting out is leagues ahead in what their devices can do, as well as the kinds of tasks Alexa can do and the questions it can answer.
Want to curl up and relax with some playlists from your Spotify or Amazon Music playlists? Another whammy, no go here. You can only play music directly from your Apple Music accounts. However, you can airplay these services from your iOS device to HomePod, and once it’s playing, you do have some basic functionality (pause skip, play). But again, unless you have an iOS device, you can’t even connect to your HomePod because it has no Bluetooth support!
These oversights significantly limit HomePod’s reach to the consumer, and that is a real shame.
A Blind Oversight – The Lack of a 3.5m Jack
A blind oversight for me has to be the exclusion of a 3.5m jack from the overall design.
Sure, it’s one thing to remove it from the newer iPhone designs, but you can still purchase an adaptor to give your phone the option. To make a speaker so expensive, and remove such a basic functionally, is a gross oversight in my opinion and it severely limits the possible applications that the HomePod could have been used for.
I can’t be the only one – I think a lot of people will complain to Apple about this problem. I am convinced, however, that if they do release a second generation, we should see a 3.5m jack on hopefully a newer, smarter more accessible HomePod.
A Final Verdict on the Apple HomePod
Above all else, you need to think of your HomePod as a great speaker that happens to have Siri built in.
Siri can answer simple questions, turn up your heat, read your texts and create notes, but remember – it’s not your HomePod that is doing those things – it’s Siri. Don’t use Siri too often? Or, happy to keep using it on your phone or watch? Then maybe you could benefit from simply bumping up the speakers on your home stereo or PC.