Apple HomePod: 3 lingering questions
Apple didn't so much as mention its smart speaker during its event last month, though to be fair it had little time with the occasion packed full of iPhones as it was.
That means that with only a couple months left before the HomePod is out on the market, there are still more than a few questions about Apple’s smart speaker play.
How will you interact with the HomePod?
Both Amazon and Google offer apps to talk to their respective smart speakers. Will the HomePod have something similar? It’s certainly not out of the question. The Apple Watch, for example, has an iOS app to pair the device and configure certain features.
Then again, while there is an Apple TV Remote app for iOS, Apple’s set-top box is more or less self-sufficient. Sure, you can speed the setup process by holding your iPhone near it—a feature that will likely be on the HomePod too, despite its apparent lack of built-in Bluetooth—but once you’ve got it up and running, an iOS device is totally optional. Not so with the Apple Watch.
Will the HomePod be one size fits all?
Amazon and Google have both played the field by launching multiple models of their smart speakers. Apple is often criticized for taking a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s pretty easy to point to examples where it broadened its product lines when there was opportunity to do so. The iPod mini and iPod nano, the iPhone Plus, and the iPad mini have all had their successes (even if some of them eventually shuffled off this mortal coil)
It’s hard to imagine Apple going much bigger with the HomePod either. It’s already closer to the Google Home Max, in both size and price, than the standard Google Home or Amazon Echo, so amping up the sound and repositioning the current HomePod as a mid-range model doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. For now, anyway, it would seem that there will be but one true HomePod.
Will the HomePod get new features regularly?
Finally, how much of a platform is the HomePod to Apple? The device is built on the same A8 chip that powers the Apple TV, which means that it has plenty of processing power to spare. So far, Apple’s told us that the HomePod can pretty much do everything Siri can do on iOS, with the addition of some more sophisticated music-related features. But is that the extent of it?
Amazon and Google are both iterating fast on their smart speakers, rolling out new features every few months—but that hasn’t traditionally been the Apple way. Will we only see substantial new feature updates every year, as with iOS and macOS? Or will the company rely on Siri’s server-based nature to roll in new functionality in between major software releases? And what of third-party apps and integration? Apple’s been slow to add that to Siri, but Amazon already has an extensive library and Google has been heading in that direction as well.
A lot of will probably depend on just how successful the HomePod ends up being. The specter of Apple’s last speaker, the impressive-sounding but ultimately unpopular iPod Hi-Fi, still hangs over the head of the HomePod, as does Siri’s reputation as the virtual assistant that has fallen behind in the current arms race. The HomePod is Apple’s chance to show that it’s still in the game, but as with any product from the company, the proof is going to be in details.
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