Apple has upped the ante in the race for smart home supremacy with the launch of HomePod at its worldwide developers’ conference in San Jose.
Speaking at the company’s opening keynote, CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple thinks it offer consumers more than is currently available in the smart home market, particularly when it comes to home music. “Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music,” Cook said.
Introducing the HomePod, senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller reflected on the current state of the market. Schiller pointed to competitors, such as Sonos, that have focused their efforts on producing the best sound for home speakers, and contrasted this with the likes of the Amazon Echo, which, he suggested, had created a smart speaker that doesn’t necessarily sound as good musically. Apple, Schiller said, wants to combine the two.
HomePod is a seven inches tall, cylinder-shaped speaker unit powered by an Apple A8 chip – the same chip that powers the iPhone. It includes seven beam-form tweeters for precision audio, a 4-inch upwards facing woofer, and six microphones for communication with Siri and room-sensing.
It also features a spatial awareness capability, meaning it can detect the layout of the environment in which it resides and adapt its sound accordingly. It will use Siri as a “musicologist”, Schiller said, which essentially means you can use Siri to access and play your music via Apple Music, the music platform the speaker works best with, he claimed.
While Apple focused most of its launch on the musical aspects of the HomePod, this launch was undoubtedly the company’s attempt to make its mark in the smart home assistant space, which means Siri’s real benefit will come from giving users their news, weather and sports updates. It will also power the HomeKit, Apple’s smart home feature.
On privacy, Schiller confirmed that messages would only be sent to Apple when a user speaks the phrase, “Hey, Siri” to begin communicating. Even then, an anonymous ID is created, so that the user’s question cannot be tracked back to them, and all communication is end-to-end encrypted.
Apple playing catch up?
In comments to Internet of Business, Ben Wood, chief of research at analyst house CCS Insight, said the launch was unsurprising.
“[Apple] can’t afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people’s homes to Amazon, Google and others as access to content, information and search becomes pervasive and less dependent on the smartphone,” Wood said.
“Apple’s HomePod speaker casts fresh focus on Siri and will draw inevitable comparisons with the AI smarts of Amazon, Baidu, Google and others. This is the product that will measure Apple’s progress and whether its stance on privacy hinders its machine learning endeavors.”
“As the iPhone reaches a point of near saturation in mature markets and replacement rates continue to slow, Apple must find new ways to lock in users. Adding a smart speaker into people’s homes creates a further touchpoint for consumers and a valuable gateway to Apple services. With over 165 million subscriptions to Apple services and quarterly revenue of $7 billion, this is an important priority for growth.”