At least Apple knows the difference between a tech demo and an actual product. More critically, it knows to prioritize features where it can actually deliver something good, rather than something better at bad.
Joe describes exactly how I’ve been thinking about the HomePod vs Alexa devices, only with more and better words.
Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker.
I love how the HomePod sounds, but I have no way to quantify it. I’ll just link to this instead.
About the automatic room correction:
To have this sort of thing be a built in feature of the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) inside the speaker that is, for all intents and purposes omnidirectional, allowing it to adapt to any room, no matter how imperfect, is just beyond impressive. What Apple has managed to do here is so crazy, that If you told me they had chalk, candles, and a pentagram on the floor of their Anechoic chambers, I would believe you. This is witchcraft. I have no other word for it.
And for fun, from the comments (seanheis)
When I heard that Apple was releasing a smart speaker that had been in development for 6 years and could only set one timer at a time…I knew that it had been properly developed by an audiophile.
A combination of great sound and just-smart-enough control was enough to make me consider shelling out $350 for a HomePod. Early reviews raved about the HomePod’s sound quality, and that clinched it for me.
It may seem self-evident, but the most important aspect of any music speaker is sound quality. It doesn’t matter how “smart” a speaker is if it doesn’t sound good. I’m not talking about the smart device with a speaker you have in your kitchen for setting timers and telling you the weather. I’m talking about a speaker for listening to music. The HomePod is a speaker made for listening to music that also happens to be able to tell you the weather.
I have a few Alexa devices around the house, and I only ever ask them the same handful of questions. “What’s the weather?”, “Set a timer for 15 minutes”, “Remind me to take the trash out at 7:00 PM”. Siri on the HomePod doesn’t need to be terribly clever to keep up with Alexa in my house.
Even so, I was worried because Siri and I have never gotten along. I gave up using it (her?) on my iPhone long ago, and I’ve found Siri on the Watch to be pretty terrible.
Not so with the HomePod. I can be listening to loud music and casually say “Hey Siri turn it down” in a normal conversational voice from across the room and she always hears me. It’s wild how well it works. Not having to think about or second-guess Siri is new to me and quite a nice surprise.
As for the sound quality, I did a quick side-by-side comparison with a Sonos Play:5 and to my (admittedly non-audiophile) ears, the Play:5 sounds better but the HomePod holds its own. The Sonos packs more of a punch at louder volumes, but the HomePod sounds “bigger” somehow. The HomePod sounds great no matter where I am in the room. Its best sound isn’t limited to any particular sweet spot. I also think it sounds better at lower volumes than the Play:5.
So, even though I didn’t think I wanted a HomePod, I’m very happy to have one. I like it so much that I’m getting another one as soon as I sell the Sonos.
I wouldn’t say my old electronics always aged gracefully, but their obsolescence wasn’t a death sentence. My old digital camera doesn’t do what some new cameras do — but it’s still a camera. My iPad, by contrast, feels as though it has been abandoned from on high, cut loose from the cloud on which it depends.
Above all, my old iPad has revealed itself as a cursed object of a modern sort. It wears out without wearing. It breaks down without breaking. And it will be left for dead before it dies.
Reading this made me sad.
I have an Apple IIc that was first used in 1984 and I can fire it up today and it still does what it did then. I may not have a use for what it can do, but that’s beside the point. 1984 was a long time ago and I’d like to not give up on the idea that things should remain functional for more than just a few years.
How many years are we going to continue saying, “Well, Apple is going to do something amazing with Siri and Homekit any day now.” I’m not seeing any signs of that happening. An over-priced speaker with an under-powered voice assistant certainly isn’t what I’ve been dreaming of. I’ve tried. I have a Series 2 Apple Watch, an Apple TV, an iPhone, newer Macs, and a number of “smart” devices. I try, but Siri kind of sucks. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but she just doesn’t get me.
A few years ago Amazon sort of quietly lobbed the Echo at us and I’ve used a phrase starting with “Alexa…” many times a day ever since. Alexa isn’t perfect, but my frustration with her never reaches the fever pitch that it does when arguing with Siri. With an original Echo and a couple of inexpensive Dots, Alexa is always within earshot. No battery and nothing has to be on my wrist or in my pocket. And she seems to always hear me when I talk to her.
I want Apple to provide me the perfect ecosystem of hardware and software that is needed for a smooth smart home experience. So far they have failed to produce or even hint at anything.
So, with the introduction of the Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub, I’m heading even further down the Amazon path. If I can set up new devices without adding more hubs or device-specific apps I’ll be happy. Of course I don’t know how well it’ll all work, but Amazon’s track record with these things is pretty good. Surprisingly good.
I don’t understand how Apple, having had all of the smart home ingredients available to them for so long, can seemingly be so far behind Amazon. But that’s where we are. This stuff feels like a “hobby” for Amazon too, but they’ve gotten it pretty close to just right. I’m tired of waiting for “any day now.”
I have zero concerns about “the notch” in iPhone X. I’m getting a X (pronounced, “a ten”, but I really want to write “an X”, pronounced “an ex”). I want the best camera available in a smaller form factor than the 8 plus.