By Dennis Jones
Enter HomePod, Apple’s Very Apple Smart Speaker
Between the development and launch of Amazon’s Echo (2014), Google Home (last year) and, most recently, Microsoft Invoke, the smart speaker market has been heating up for some time now. However, one tech giant had remained noticeably absent. And that’s Apple. Well, that was Apple, until now. As expected by many insiders, Apple used this week’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference as the perfect occasion to throw its hat into the smart speaker ring, by introducing HomePod.
Standing in at seven inches, HomePod looks every bit the Apple gadget. It’s also a powerful, Siri-voice activated tool, that Apple hopes will become indispensable to the homes of its customers and further deepen their dependency on Apple products.
Like Echo (powered by Alexa), Home (powered by Google assistant) and Invoke (powered by Cortana), HomePod serves as a home assistant. It functions as the smart home hub for all HomeKit-compatible devices. And that way, it’s deeply integrated in Apple’s product stack, in addition to being able to answer all and sundry questions about weather, traffic etc.
But Apple being Apple, HomePod supposedly stands out from the crowd qua speaker in the following ways. It’s built for high-fidelity audio quality; it offers directional control; and it includes a virtual surround sound feature. In other words, it’s a really, really good speaker, meant to compete with the likes of Sonos.
So why is Apple jumping in to the smart speaker market now, or rather in December, when HomePod officially goes on sale for $350? It turns out even a tech giant like Apple can’t afford not to compete in and for the connected home. By 2020, a forecasted seven billion digital assistants in connected devices will be on the market. Apple simply can’t sit on the sidelines, missing a golden opportunity to reach further into the domestic lives of its loyal consumer.
Plus, Apple has done its homework, learning from incumbents. So in responding to privacy issues that have bedeviled other voice assistants, Apple promises to anonymize and encrypt all voice commands to Siri from HomePod, so that Apple won’t be privy to what its consumers are saying on Apple products.