Apple officially released the HomePod, today, a smart speaker that integrates with Siri, its digital assistant to play music, recite the news, and control devices throughout your home. While Apple was an early entrant to the voice assistant space, its new $350 smart speaker is going to face some tough competition. Kasiana McLenaghan was at Apple’s 5th Avenue store for the launch.
It’s 7:45…And there’s no one here.
Not every Apple product can be as big a hit as an iPhone. And Apple took preorders though its website, which may also explain the slow day in stores.
While Apple has designed the HomePod to listen to conversations, the company was not as excited about letting reporters listen to people interacting with device in its store. So this morning I had to turn off my recorder while I watched Apple store employees power these devices up for the first time.
At 8:00 am, they said the magic words – “Hey Siri, play my favorites.” To which Siri responded “I couldn’t find your favorites mix in your music.”
Eyeing my audio equipment sitting on Apple’s tastefully understated table, the employee tried again. “Hey Siri, what’s the latest news from NPR?”
To which Siri provided news from CNN.
And that is the problem according to Michael Prospero, the Senior Reviews Editor at Tom’s Guide, which rates tech gadgets.
“The HomePod falls behind any other speaker from Google or from Amazon in that Siri just can’t do as much as Alexa or Google Assistant,” said Prospero.
While Apple was the first major player in the voice assistant market when they launched Siri seven years ago, companies like Amazon and Google have caught up, making big investments in the artificial intelligence software that powers their own smart speakers.
Today consumers have a lot of choice. They can ask Alexa to play music from their Spotify playlist, or read a recipe from Allrecipes.com. If they opt for a Google device they can ask Google translate to help them brush up on their Spanish or play them podcasts from the I Heart Radio app. But Prospero says that Apple isn’t following that kind of open strategy.
“The HomePod falls into Apple’s walled garden approach. They try and suck you into their ecosystem and use their phone, their laptop their iPad and so on, and that includes their services,” said Prospero.
Which is why the only way you can ask Siri to play music on the HomePod is through Apple Music, not any of your other musical apps. Michael Simon, a staff writer at MacWorld, says that the HomePod is another effort to hold people in the Apple universe.
But not everyone is as focused on Siri’s capabilities.
“These people are all ridiculous online, the talk about smart speakers and prices, look I wanted a speaker,” said Bryce Shearer, an Apple fan who came to pickup his HomePod this morning in Midtown Manhattan. Shearer is pretty passionate the quality of Apple products.
” It’s not about the smart assistant, because Siri will be upgraded whenever they feel like they want to upgrade her. When Siri finally wants to compete with Amazon and Google it’s just gonna be software, but the hardware is gonna be there, the sound quality is gonna be there. And you know everyone says oh, it’s overpriced. Excuse me – the Google Max is $50 more. Let’s start actually talking about the facts here. Yes the Amazon is dirt cheap, but it’s nothing, it’s a microphone,” he said.
For diehards like Shearer, the HomePod is a great speaker, and he believes that someday it will get a bit smarter. But not everyone is as optimistic.
“While I don’t doubt that Apple will make improvements over time, they’re starting from a bit of a deficit and it’s a lot to you know pay $350 for a speaker with the anticipation that you’re going to get these improvements,” said Prospero.
The HomePod faces some stiff competition in the market. Amazon says that it has already sold tens of millions of Alexas.