Apple’s $US350 HomePod smart speaker is finally available to pre-order starting today.
The device will start shipping in two weeks, on February 9. You can buy a HomePod in black or white.
Apple products tend to be fantastic, polished pieces of tech, but there are plenty of reasons you should pass on Apple’s speaker, at least for now. Take a look:
1. Two of its biggest features won’t be ready until “later this year.”
When Apple unveiled the HomePod late last year, it advertised the ability to pair two HomePods together to create stereo sound, where the HomePods actually detect and communicate with each other to create a balanced sound throughout your living space. It also advertised the HomePod’s support for AirPlay 2, which lets you play the same music, or different songs, in different rooms.
Unfortunately, neither of these features will be available at launch. If these features are important to you, it might be worth waiting until these features finally become available to make your HomePod purchase. By then, you might even be able to find the device on sale.
2. The voice controls only works with Apple Music. And the paid version at that.
If you, like millions of others, use Spotify to stream all your music, you’ll be out of luck with the HomePod. You won’t be able to ask Siri to play any of your Spotify music; you can, however, beam Spotify to your HomePod through your phone, like you would with any other Bluetooth speaker. Still, this is a notable limitation when HomePod’s competitors, Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo, both let you stream various music services and interact with them through voice commands, and even set them as the default app for music requests.
Apple’s HomePod only has built-in support for voice commands for one music service – Apple Music – and it only supports the paid version. So, get ready to pay an extra $US10 per month if you want to listen to music on your HomePod the way Apple intended.
3. $US350 for a smart speaker is exorbitant, especially compared to the competition.
Apple makes just one version of HomePod, which costs $US350.
Amazon, meanwhile, sells a family of similar smart speakers at an array of prices:
Amazon Echo Dot – $US50 Amazon Echo – $US100 Amazon Echo Spot – $US130 Amazon Tap – $US130 Amazon Echo Plus – $US150 Amazon Echo Look – $US200 Amazon Echo Show – $US230
Google also sells its Home family of smart speakers at a similar range of prices:
Google Home Mini – $US50 Google Home – $US130 Google Home Max – $US400
The Sonos One smart speaker, which works with both Alexa and Google Assistants, costs $US200 – but Sonos is running a promotion where you can get two Sonos One speakers for $US350, which is the price of one HomePod.
Compared to the most popular speakers, Apple’s HomePod is the second-most expensive on this list; only Google’s Home Max is more expensive. And considering how so many of these devices have near-identical features, it’s very difficult to justify $US350 on a smart speaker unless you truly prefer Apple’s ecosystem over the openness of the other speakers.
4. The HomePod sounds incredible by all accounts, but competing speakers don’t sound “bad” by any means.
Madeline Buxton from Refinery29 got to spend an hour with Apple’s HomePod, and she found that Apple’s smart speaker has superior audio quality compared to the competition:
“Fortunately, HomePod also delivers where it counts: The sound. When I listened to the speaker next to Google Home Max, the latest Amazon Echo, and Sonos One, the vocals were consistently crisper and clearer on HomePod. The pluck of guitar strings pops, and bass notes have the robust thump-thump you want from them.”
That said, most people will not have any issues with the audio quality from any of the other smart-home devices from Amazon, Google, or Sonos.
I’ve owned Amazon’s very first Echo speaker for over two years now, and I have zero qualms about the sound. It fills the room, can get very loud, and is clear. Apple’s HomePod might be clearer and louder, but for most people, the Echo will be good enough.
In other words, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything just because you went for an Amazon or Google speaker over Apple’s more expensive offering. The sound on those devices is also very good, and Sonos’ latest offering with Alexa built-in leads the pack in sound quality for those looking for more of a high-end speaker.
5. Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are both superior virtual assistants compared to Siri.
Siri got some big improvements in iOS 11, including quicker response times and a more natural-sounding voice, but Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are still superior to Siri when it comes to overall capability.
All of these assistants can do basic tasks – play music, set alarms and reminders, etc. – but Siri falls behind when it comes to more nuanced contextual questions, or even just fun questions you might want to ask your virtual assistant.
Recently, I spent time asking questions to both Siri and my Amazon Echo. This is just a sampling of some of the questions my Amazon Echo could answer, but Siri could not:
What’s your favourite movie? What’s your favourite country? What’s your favourite season? Sing me a song. What are your hobbies? What’s your favourite book? Who’s your favourite actor? What’s your favourite TV show? Who is your favourite musician? Who is your favourite president? Are you a Democrat or Republican?
In general, it feels like Google and Amazon put more time and effort into their virtual assistants, going above and beyond to program responses to even the silliest of questions. This is odd considering Apple’s Siri was the first major virtual assistant on the market, and had a big head start on Alexa and Google Assistant.
Hopefully in time, Apple can get Siri up to par with those other two assistants, but for right now, buying the Siri-powered HomePod is a bit of a risky endeavour. Speaking from personal experience, the success of a smart-speaker is determined by the strength of the virtual assistant that lives inside it. And Siri, unfortunately, still could use a bit more work.
6. HomePod can’t be used as a standard Bluetooth speaker — and Android users are out of luck.
The HomePod supports Bluetooth 5.0, but it still can’t be used as a standard Bluetooth device. That means it will not connect to Android devices at all; there is no standalone HomePod app, as HomePod lives inside Apple’s “Home” app for iPhones and iPads.
7. HomePod doesn’t have an auxiliary port.
Many Bluetooth speakers include an auxiliary port in case you ever want to manually connect an iPod or an iPhone to play your music. Unfortunately, HomePod has no such port. Call it “courage,” call it whatever you want – if you buy a HomePod, you’ll be relying on either Siri or your using your iOS device as a remote.
This also means you can’t connect your HomePod to your TV like you can with some Sonos speakers – unless Apple decides to activate its built-in Bluetooth at some point in the future.