Apple’s HomePod teaser was somewhat oddly placed. Two hours into a developer conference without real developer opportunities and six months before the product is ready to ship. Why? Apple surely has a list of reasons like working around leaks and market pressure to show what they’ve been building.
If for no other reason, the teaser was probably intended to whet the appetite of Apple users tempted to jump in to the Amazon Echo ecosystem. I was certainly in that camp, and it worked for a few reasons.
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It’s not because of how Apple is marketing HomePod. Apple wants the HomePod story to be that it has the audio quality of a Sonos wireless speaker with the smart assistant features of an Amazon Echo. Both the Sonos Play:3 and Amazon Echo were actually shown on stage to make this point.
You can’t get that in one device yet, but you don’t really need great audio output for your voice assistant to talk to you and Sonos is working with Spotify and Amazon to bring integration later this year.
I would still wait for Apple’s HomePod even if it didn’t claim superior audio quality for music playback (and maybe there’s an opportunity for lower-end versions of the smart speaker at a cheaper price down the road).
What HomePod does that I would have wanted out of an Amazon Echo is integration with Apple services. That’s Apple’s competitive advantage here for me.
Apple Music integrates with Sonos wireless speakers, but you control or play it through the Amazon Echo. Apple Music integration is HomePod’s headline feature.
HomePod will also play Apple Podcasts which make up about half of my audio listening. Neither Sonos nor Amazon Echo will connect to my Apple Podcasts library out of the box.
Then there’s Apple Reminders support. HomePod has it, but Amazon Echo doesn’t. I use Siri to set Reminders from my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Mac regularly so having a home voice assistant that could not would be a miss. (Amazon Echo did recently gain iCloud Calendar support, but relies on other solutions for reminders.)
Finally, there’s HomeKit. Being able to control my HomeKit lights, thermostat, fans, and plugs with an always-present voice assistant has been very appealing to me, but having to sort out which accessories work with Alexa as well would be a major inconvenience. The goal for me is to tell family they can communicate with the smart speaker naturally without sharing HomeKit access to guests or managing a separate smart home system.
So the days of me browsing Best Buy and being tempted to try the Amazon Echo or Google Home are over now. Apple surprised me by sharing the HomePod months in advance, and I can wait six months to purchase the product I actually want. The name is even growing on me…
As for my Sonos speakers, they still work with Apple Music even if the software to control them is sub-par (especially on the Mac). I’ve been tempted to expand my collection there too, but I won’t following the HomePod announcement.
I have two Sonos Play:1 wireless speakers and one Sonos Play:5 which is a higher end speaker than what HomePod claims to be. They’ll stick around as they’re still useful for listening to Apple Music across multiple rooms, but I won’t add to the collection unless they work with AirPlay 2 which isn’t likely.
Both Amazon Echo and Sonos will still have a place in the market (with maybe even more market share), but neither are best for me long-term as invested in Apple services as I am. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered with HomePod, like how it will handle multiple users, but for now it looks like it will be the best solution for me when it ships in December.