On Monday 18thJune, Apple released their smart speaker, the “HomePod”, in Canada.   In comparison with the other smart speakers on the market, such as Google Home and Amazon Alexea, the Apple HomePod is primarily an audio speaker.   What does this mean?   Well Apple have gone all out on creating a speaker that sounds good.  It just so happens to also be smart.

Apple are considered late to the market with the HomePod. Originally released in the US and UK in February, the Amazon Alexa came out back in November 2014.   This is a common trait with Apple – they spot a market where they see room for improvement and then take time to develop a product, which may not be first, but is often ahead of the competition in terms of design, features and usability.

So how does the HomePod fair, and how does it compare to the competition?

Well I’m lucky enough to be sitting here listening to a HomePod and I have to say, I like it!

The box itself is pretty weighty, something the HomePod uses to its advantage when it comes to sound quality.  Right from unboxing the speaker, you know it’s going to be something special.   As is usual with Apple packaging, the quality of materials, fit and finish is second to none.  Even the cellophane wrapping has a small tab on it which, when pulled, breaks the seal and all four sides effortlessly slide away.  It’s like unboxing one of the treasures from Indiana Jones!   Once you remove the top box cover you’re presented with the top two thirds of the speaker.   If you haven’t seen one, it’s a relatively small cylinder with a mesh cover and rounded edges.   The top of the speaker is a glossy dome, but more about that later.   The HomePod is available in two colours, Dark Grey/Black or White.   I chose the grey option as I was worried the white mesh could look grubby over time.   Attached to the HomePod is a power cable which is non-removable (some videos have demonstrated that with enough strength, you can actually disconnect it, but it risks damaging the speaker so I wouldn’t recommend it!).  The chord is 2m long so should be lengthy enough for most placements but could also be a pain if you only need a short length!

Setup couldn’t be easier, but it does require one thing – an iPhone.   Apple is well known for their closed ecosystem, Apple products working well with Apple products.  This puts some people off, but the end result is their devices work seamlessly together.  The setup of the HomePod is evidence of this – to begin the setup, you simply hold your iPhone next to the speaker.  It picks up all of the settings and plays some tones back to the phone.   That’s it!   No putting in passwords for WiFi, services etc.  Just a magic wave of an iPhone and you’re done!

Siri the intelligent assistant (more about her later) will then talk you through some of the things you can do with the speaker as a brief tutorial.

Speakers often suffer from a basic problem – placement.   They sound different in a big room than a small room.    Some are placed near walls or corners, which ultimately affects the way the sound gets bounced around your room.   This is where Apple’s speaker really sets itself apart from the competition.   In addition to speakers, inside is an array of finely tuned microphones.   These microphones listen to the sound waves being bounced around the room and automatically re-tune the HomePod to sound good no matter where it’s placed.   And if you pick up and move it, sensors detect this and automatically retune on the fly.  You end up with a room filling sound that works well wherever you place the speaker.   This technique has been called “Computational Audio” as it takes a lot of processing.  With deep base and crystal clear reproduction, enhanced by the “computational audio” the sound is pretty amazing given the small size of the speaker!   It’s not going to rival a high end HiFi and speaker setup, but beats anything of a comparable price or size.   Audio is always a personal preference though – everyone hears differently, so I’d always advise listening to one before buying.

So, I mentioned Siri earlier.   If you’ve used a recent iPhone, or iPad, you’ve probably come across Siri.  She’s the “digital assistant” built into recent Apple devices who listens to commands and tries to respond in a helpful way.   The speech recognition capabilities of Siri on the HomePod are way better than any other device I’ve used.   I don’t think she’s miss-heard me once yet – and the most amazing thing is she can hear you with the music blaring away!   Yes, you can have music on and just speak quietly and yet she’ll hear you perfectly.  In fact, I can talk to her from another room and she understands fine!

You can ask her to play specific tracks, albums or playlists.  Or instead ask for a genre – for example “Hey Siri, play some Rock Music”.   And while the music is playing you can ask her to change the volume, skip tracks, or even “who’s playing”.   It soon becomes second nature to talk to a speaker and rely on it doing what you ask.   If you have HomeKit compatible lights you can even ask her to turn off or dim the lights!

At $449 (CAD) a HomePod certainly isn’t cheap.   It’s the first of its kind and rumours are Apple are already working on a lower priced variant which may be out later this year.  Also, the commands you can ask Siri aren’t as extensive as those you can ask a Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

Where HomePod really excels though is in playing music.   Both in the sound quality and the overall experience of controlling the device and discovering new music.   If you have an iPhone and are looking for a quality speaker that’ll sound amazing anywhere in the house, a HomePod might be for you.  And Apple have just released an update that will sync multiple HomePods, so now you can have music playing around the whole house!   At $449 you probably want to start off with one though!

Until next time – keep rocking!