HomePod: The secure smart speaker that's big on music

NATION-NOW     5 things you need to know Friday     
       5 things you need to know Friday

HomePod may be a latecomer on the smart loudspeaker scene, but Apple's entry onto the dance floor is about to liven up the party.

Apple's Audio Lab, where the HomePod was developed. Audiophiles will appreciate that it has a woofer with a custom amplifier and seven tweeters. Boasting direct and ambient audio beamforming and a complex microphone array, the HomePod offers quite an upgrade over the standard smartphone speaker.

Apple made a great sounding speaker in HomePod, but some of the smart features still have rough edges. I found that when music was at a high volume, HomePod generally heard my "Hey Siri" voice commands from across the room, a good thing. And given Apple's tendency to reject open connections to other company's systems, it may find it has some serious catching up to do. But the potential for automation with a quick voice command could end up a huge timesaver. This is thanks to Apple's own intelligent personal assistant, Siri. From there, your Apple ID and other account settings will be transferred to the HomePod.

Siri's chief role here is as your voice-driven "musicologist", which when coupled with an Apple Music subscription, learns your musical preferences over time and surfaces new material you might like, culled from an Apple Music catalog of 45 million-plus songs from more than 2 million artists.

This can't be said of other smart speaker manufacturers, who collect data from every request sent back to headquarters and compile it into a comprehensive user record. Third, some functions of HomePod overlap with Siri in iPhone. In particular, those who already own Android devices will definitely benefit from the Google Assistant, and the ability to collaborate with other Android-driven hardware.

Siri is limited predominantly to Apple services right now, which includes communications features, like messages and phone calls.

Currently, Siri does not communicate with Apple TV, which is a baffling omission considering all the recent work put into developing the latter, and the ease with which Google Home users can use Chromecast to watch something on the big screen. HomePod is not a Bluetooth speaker, so only services that have native support, or are compatible with Siri (think: Whatsapp), can be accessed directly.

In addition to several speakers mixed among Apple's other products on tables throughout the store, HomePods have been set up in larger locations next to Apple's HomeKit displays, however, they didn't appear to be connected to the rest of the demo just yet.

Select Apple Authorised Resellers, including Best Buy in the US; Argos, Dixons Carphone (Currys PC World), John Lewis, Shop Direct (Very and Littlewoods), EE and Apple Premium Resellers in the United Kingdom; and The Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Telstra in Australia, have also started selling the HomePod locally.

The writer flew to San Francisco, California, as a guest of Apple.

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