I first wrote about the original blockbuster smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, way back in November of 2014. Later, in March 2017, I wrote a post called Talking to Technology. During these last few years, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant have begun to handle some of our online interactions, moving them from keyboards and mice to natural language. While many online tasks will still be best accomplished with keyboards for the foreseeable future, this really is an important development.
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If we just focus on the “smart speaker” part of the interactive assistant space, we can see the competition for the new HomePod. There are now several devices in the Amazon Echo product line and several in the Google Home product line. A few other companies, including Sonos, also have products in this space. The Verge, in an article that praises the HomePod's sound quality, also mentions that the Sonos One now supports Amazon Alexa integration, and is promising Google Assistant integration later this year. To look at a full range of products in this space, take a look at a nice comparison in a December 2017 piece in PC Magazine.
As Apple enters the space with the HomePod, do they have a value proposition that will shift the market? Apple has a good (but not perfect) track record of entering a product space after it is partially established, and then dominating it by delivering excellence in design, styling, user experience, quality and performance – usually at a premium price. Is that likely to happen now with smart speakers?
Apple says that the HomePod will bring together “Apple Music and Siri to learn your taste in music. It’s also an intelligent home assistant, capable of handling everyday tasks and controlling your smart home.” The promise of smart home control is intriguing, but only time will tell if Apple can deliver.
If the Echo seems like the strongest right now in speech interaction but weakest in audio quality, and the Sonos series seems strongest in audio quality but leaning on Amazon for interactive speech support, can Apple HomePod find a way to be the best (or at least very strong) in both? It needs to be noted that the HomePod sells for $349, which by comparison to competing products is certainly on the higher end.
For those heavily invested in the Apple economy of MacOS and iOS devices, Apple iCloud and Apple Music, and who believe that Apple HomeKit will soon deliver integrated smart home automation with HomePod as the control point, the HomePod seems like it could be a winner. For those not so invested, it might be that the high price tag makes it less attractive than the lower cost smart speakers already well-established in the market.
Are you planning to buy a HomePod? Please leave a comment and tell us why or why not.
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