Apple debuted its HomePod speaker on Monday, but we still have some questions.
Apple unveiled the $349 HomePod at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. Although Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller addressed music features, HomePod's Siri functions and its ability to control devices on Apple's HomeKit smart home service during his keynote presentation, later on at the show, Apple only provided a live demo of the speaker's audio quality. Aside from the obvious comparisons to Sonos, as well as the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, we don't actually know much about Apple's pricey Siri speaker.
Here are the questions we still have about the HomePod, which is slated to hit stores in the US, UK and Australia this December (£270/AU$465, converted). Note: Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Apple referenced the HomePod's compatibility with Apple Music and AirPlay 2 at WWDC, but what about streaming from other devices via Bluetooth? The Echo can do it, and Google announced upcoming Bluetooth support in May. Not only would Bluetooth integration make the HomePod accessible to non-Apple-Music iPhone customers, it would also theoretically allow audio playing from iOS or Android devices.
Apple displayed a list of Siri commands for controlling HomeKit smart home devices, but smart lock commands were conspicuously missing (see the screenshot below).
Currently you can lock and unlock the August Smart Lock with Siri on your phone, and with Alexa speakers. You do need to set a 4-digit PIN code to unlock the door, though. Google Home supports locking and asking for the status of the lock; an unlocking feature is supposed to be released later this year.
To prevent random people from controlling your August lock from a stolen iPhone, your iOS device requires a passcode before it will let you issue a Siri unlock command. How will this work with the HomePod speaker? Will the HomePod follow suit with Alexa and require a spoken PIN code to unlock a door? Could it use voice ID to authenticate a particular user?
August's founder and CEO took to Twitter after the WWDC keynote and said, "HomeKit feature built-in: Bluetooth to Wi-Fi bridge for the August Smart Lock." That suggests you will no longer need the August Connect accessory to convert the HomeKit smart lock to Wi-Fi remote control. Johnson's tweet is not an explicit confirmation of Siri-based lock control via HomePod, and has since been deleted, but it does at least confirm that the HomePod has more smart home capabilities than what Apple mentioned on stage.
Johnson added on Twitter today: "You should be able to make all the same HomeKit commands that you can with an Apple TV." Does that mean the HomePod will act as a gateway to remote Siri access like the Apple TV currently does? We're not sure, but it definitely sounds possible.
The HomePod "is a great way to send messages," according to Apple's official press release. What does that mean?! Will I be able to say "Hey Siri, send Ashlee Clark Thompson a text message?" If so, that would be a really neat feature that isn't currently available on Alexa devices or on the Google Home. Will it be limited to iMessages? We just don't know yet.
The Amazon Echo supports Echo-to-Echo calling; the Google Home will soon offer a similar feature that extends to mobile numbers and landlines. If you can send messages from the HomePod, you might as well be able to call people, too. Still, Apple made no mention of a calling feature during the WWDC keynote.
Apple says: "Automatic room-sensing technology allows HomePod to quickly learn its position in a room, whether it's in a corner, on a table or in a bookshelf, and within seconds, is perfectly optimized to deliver an immersive music listening experience wherever it is placed"
The speaker has six microphones onboard and presumably Apple uses these to calibrate the system. In comparison many competitors use a smartphone app or separate microphones to set it up. However, if you move the speaker to another location what happens? Do you need to set this up through the app, or does it trigger a (loud) automatic calibration routine?
Chromecast customers can currently turn on their favorite Netflix shows with Google Home. There are a lot of potentially cool integrations between Apple TV and HomePod, too, although none were mentioned during the keynote address. Apple did announce that Amazon Prime is coming to Apple TV later this year, so maybe we'll soon be able to say, "Hey, Siri, play the Americans." A gal can hope.
As always, we'll provide updates as we learn more. In the meantime, check out this handy comparison chart of the the three main voice control speakers:
|Apple HomePod||Google Home||Amazon Echo|
|Responds to voice commands||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Wake word||Hey Siri||OK Google, or Hey Google||Alexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer|
|Music streaming options||Apple Music (other options unknown)||Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn||Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others|
|Smart home partnerships||Will likely work with Apple's established HomeKit partners: Ecobee, Honeywell, Chamberlain, D-Link, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, iDevices, and more||Nest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, IFTTT and others||Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, Big Ass Fans, IFTTT, Control4, Crestron, other devices via skills|
|Output to stereo system||Unknown||Yes, via Chromecast||Yes, via Bluetooth and the Echo Dot|
|Synced audio playback to multiple devices||Probably -- Apple announced synced multiroom audio as a feature of iOS 11||Yes, to any Google Cast device||No|
|Personal assistant highlights||News briefings, language translation, weather, traffic info, set reminders, play podcasts, convert units||Search Google, get a personalized daily briefing, check traffic, check your calendar, make a shopping list, check flight status, track a package||Add items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package|
|Other features||Send messages and we'll inevitably find out lots more in the months ahead||Cast to your TV with Chromecast, launch and control YouTube or Netflix via Chromecast||Order a pizza, play a game, arrange an Uber pickup. Echo has an ever-growing list of thousands of skills and counting|