HomePod: The secure smart speaker that's big on music

TrendForce reveals who is winning the smart speaker race

9to5Mac stopped at Apple's new Michigan Avenue store in Chicago and Apple The Summit in Birmingham, AL today to take a look and listen to how well HomePod performs in acoustic conditions that will differ significantly from most people's homes.

Apple's Siri has fallen a little behind the pack in this department, although the consumer electronics giant is largely pushing its speaker system as a music playback device.

While an Apple ID is required to activate HomePod, every request made of Siri is not only encrypted, but also anonymised, before being sent to Apple's servers. "Apple's engineers designed HomePod to sound the best no matter where you are in the room". Meanwhile, today - February 9th - saw the global release of Apple's Siri-powered HomePod.

After months of anticipation, Apple on Friday finally released its HomePod smart speaker. The HomePod is also able to detect its position in a room by sending sound beams in all directions and detecting when and where the beams are bounced back from a wall in a sound test that lasts 10 seconds, according to the Verge. It beat out the Sonos One, Google Home Max, the Amazon Echo, and standard Google Home in audio quality, the site said. As the result, Tien believes HomePod's limited support for third-party apps will make it harder for HomePod to fully realise the functions of smart speaker. The basic Amazon's Echo costs around $100, and while Echo is in a lesser league when it comes to sound, if you're a more casual listener of music you frankly may not give a hoot.

You'll similarly be able to balance two HomePods next to each other for a complete stereo effect but must wait for a free software update from Apple coming later in the year.

HomePod is available now in white and space grey, for $499, from the Apple website and in stores. Google's Assistant is also found on its smartphones, while Apple naturally enough relies on the Siri system that is resident in the iconic iPhone series. It can't yet control iOS devices or Apple TVs, and it can't distinguish between multiple users' voices. Until now, Google Home Max was the sweetest sounding smart speaker I've listened to.

Brian Chen from the New York Times spent his time with all three main smart speakers: HomePod, Alexa, and Home respectively, and his experience paints quite a picture.

Perhaps the biggest issue stems from Siri's inability to recognize your voice apart from others. I found that when music was at a high volume, HomePod generally heard my "Hey Siri" voice commands from across the room, a good thing.

That is not to say that the Amazon Echo is a bad system in this department, far from it, but the Google Home voice recognition capability is superior to either of its competitors. For users of Spotify, Apple Music's main competitor and a music streaming service with almost twice more global subscribers, the only way to play tunes is by using an iPhone or Mac and connecting to the HomePod via AirPlay. At times, not only did HomePod respond, but so did Siri on my nearby iPhone.

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