A developer conference in the heart of Silicon Valley isn't an obvious locale for influencing the way people shop, but the updates rolling out of Apple's annual Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in San Jose stand to change the way we search, view and pay for products online, and developers are downright giddy. Like Google executives they didn't talk about how it uses machine learning to identify voice of a kid from that of a grown up guy. But Apple did not announce support for third party voice skills, like Amazon and Google offer with their smart speakers. For all Amazon's boasts, the Echo sounds tinny and hollow in comparison to its more music-centric rivals. What I was expecting was something about playing music from your personal library. For the sake of smart-home tech, here's hoping the HomePod's arrival is just as infuriating, and undeniable. The Echo is also looped into Amazon and is capable of accepting online product orders via voice command, which Siri can't handle. "Instead you'll need to resort to treating the HomePod like a bluetooth speaker", BBC notes. "And general knowledge. It's great at the things you want to know, and do, in your home". "Over time you could imagine saying something like 'Hey Alexa, ask Siri this'". But that is not the primary responsibility of the HomePod.
On the other hand, Google Home works with Chromecast-compatible speakers, while the Echos will soon work with Sonos speakers. On both the Home and Alexa, music sounds awful. There is no soundstage. And this lineup starts from $1,100 for the entry level model with 1080p panel and goes upto $3000 for the high end model with 5K display and Radeon Pro 570/ 575 or 580 GPU. All of them are spying on you, in one way or another. They are not the kind of speakers on which you can play Symphony No 9 and experience your heart fill with joy.
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Amazon and Apple declined to comment on how their differences have affected customers. It also needs to have "spatial awareness" to make the music sound good no matter the room size.
I wouldn't exactly say that right now Apple has the advantage with the HomePod. With a 4in subwoofer, seven tweeter array and some fancy real-time sound modelling, it certainly has the tools to trounce the Google Home and Amazon Echo family. It is expensive for a speaker. "Ultimately the consumer always loses, when deals like this are held up". To date, Apple has paid out more than US$70bil to app developers, including US$10bil since January. Apple focussed on camera performance of the iPhone and reaped rich rewards. It will find favour with consumers because a speaker - whether it is smart or dumb - is primarily going to be used for playing music. However, at least until Sonos' deal with Amazon to add Alexa control, it lacks any sort of intelligence.
Apple seems to be aware that it is late to the smart speaker party, almost two years after Amazon debuted the Echo and several months after the release of the Google Home. In terms of functionality, outside of the high-end speaker housed inside Apple's new toy, you can buy seven Echo Dot devices for the same price as a single HomePod. And it is the music playback that HomePod will most likely do better than the other smart speakers.