Apple has made its entry into the smart home speaker segment, with the launch of the HomePod at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose. Apple isn’t just claiming its ‘smart’ speaker will compete against the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home, but this is also pitched as a top-end audio system. So yes, Apple is also going after Sonos
, the high-end audio company which is known for its wireless speakers.
Apple will face tough competition when its HomePod hits the market, especially from Amazon Echo, which has emerged as the most popular voice-activated smart speaker in the market. Apple made an entry into voice assistants with Siri way back in 2011. But in comparison, voice assistants from Amazon and Google have largely been more popular with users. Both companies were also quick to launch their respective smart speakers with voice assistants baked-in. We try to compare the HomePod with Amazon Echo Show, Google Home and Sonos Play:5. Let’s take a look.
Apple HomePod looks a lot like the Mac Pro which was introduced in 2013. The 7-inch tall speaker has a cylindrical design and is covered in a “3D mesh fabric”. The Siri wave appears on the top of the speaker and when you say “Hey Siri, I like this song,” it offers a similar effect as you get on Amazon Echo and Google Home. There are touch controls in the top, but their implementation is unknown at the moment.
HomePod also comes equipped with Apple-designed custom A8 chipset, the same processor found in the iPhone 6. This is the most powerful chip found in a smart speaker, claims Apple. HomePod is designed a carry a number of number of functions including providing updates on the weather, news, traffic and sports as well. Users can also control HomeKit smart devices using voice commands.
Apple says it has engineered HomePod with “spatial awareness” meaning the speaker adjusts its audio to fit whatever room it’s placed in. The technology is very similar to Sonos’ TruePlay, which is a software feature that will allow users to tune to the room environment. The emphasis is clearly on the sound quality, other than just being ‘smart’.
Apple said HomePod can pick up commands across the room with six microphones, providing 360-degree sound experience. The speaker also has seven beam-forming tweeters each with its own amplifiers. Apple also said its HomePod will be deeply integrated to the Apple Music music streaming service.
At $349, it will be more expensive than Amazon Echo Show ($229) and Google Home ($129) but cheaper than Sonos Play 5 which costs $449. Apple HomePod will launch in US, UK and Australia in December.
Although it was launched in 2015, Sonos Play:5 is still considered as the most powerful wireless speaker. The Play:5 has the minimalist design. It features three mid-woofers, a central tweeter, six amplifiers as well as two microphones. The Play 5:5 also comes with an accelerometer that tells the speaker whether its place vertically or horizontally. One of the biggest features of the Play:5 is the TruePlay which will use the microphone built into the iPhone or iPad to take a rough measurement of the room, and then automatically tune the speakers to fit the space.
Sonos is known for churning out high-quality speakers that sound good, and the Play:5 is no exception. However, unlike Apple’s HomePod, the Play:5 is less ‘smart’.
Amazon Echo Show
Last month, Amazon launched its Echo Show, an Alexa-powered smart speaker. It’s also the most expensive Amazon Echo with a price of $229. The Echo is the fourth-generation Amazon Echo device. The first Amazon Echo speaker was launched way back in 2014, followed by a smaller Echo Dot, the Echo Tap and the Echo Look, which has a camera but no touch screen.
The Echo Show has a 7-inch touchscreen, making it the only ‘smart’ speaker to have such feature. Users can make video and voice calls with other Echo devices, or play content from YouTube and other apps. It also has a 5-megapixel camera as well. Like Apple HomePod, the Echo Show will respond to voice commands, play audio. Users can even ask for weather information by saying “Alexa, what’s the weather?”
Amazon Echo Show is capable of controlling smart home appliances around the home. It can also be used to replace baby monitors and front door cameras.
Google continues to improve its voice-activated smart speaker, which is powered by the Assistant. Like Amazon Echo Show and Apple HomePod, Google Home is a WiFi-enabled, voice-activated smart speaker that can play music, answering questions and control lights across the home. At this year’s I/O, Google rolled out number of features that might help the company to position the smart speaker at par with Amazon Echo.
In a few months from now, Google Home will be able to make free VoIP calls through the US and Canada. There’s no additional setup required, all you need to ask the Assistant to take the call. Google Home is also getting new multimedia capabilities. It will soon support free music streaming from Spotify; it’s also getting new streaming partners too. Later this year, the Assistant on Google Home will gain the ability to send visual responses to your TV via Chromecast.