November 19 2017

HomePod: New Intelligent Home Speakers From Apple

November 19 2017, 06:59 | Geraldine Moore

New Smart Speaker Expected as Apple Kicks Off Worldwide Developers Conference

Apple WWDC 2017 HomePod

Apple has finally joined the smart speaker fray, following the tack of fellow tech giants Amazon and Google. Apple announced this $350 smart speaker at WWDC to go up against Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Sonos Play 3. In the case of HomePod, which features a six-microphone array - compared to the Echo's seven microphones and Google Home's two -Apple said the device can pick up the commands from across the room.

Apple-designed upward-facing woofer, paired with the custom A8 chip, enables bass management through real-time software modeling that ensures the speaker delivers the deepest and cleanest bass possible, with low distortion.

However, Apple has a well-established reputation for keeping its app ecosystem and platforms under tight control, so developers hoping for more open smart home ecosystems such as Google Home with the Google Assistant and the Amazon Echo Show with Alexa, may be sorely disappointed. White and Space Grey and will cost you $349, which is fair in my opinion, keeping the Apple's product prices in mind. If Apple hits a home run with its own offering, it could start taking away the throne from Amazon. Speakers can detect when the HomePod placed against the wall and they adjust their sound output according to it so that the sound is spread equally into the wide area of the room, instead of just muffled against the wall.

For comparison, a Sonos Play:1 and Amazon Echo Dot (which will work together this later year) now cost a combined US$300. It remains unclear though if the app will be integrated into Apple's TV app on tvOS since their integration will begin at the end of the year.

Like those other products it is created to be a digital home assistant, capable of answering questions about maths as well as music-related enquiries - but it comes with some Apple quirks.

Apple also used its annual developer meeting in San Jose, California - its largest ever with some 5,000 people attending - to offer hints about so-called augmented reality technology.

Where Apple may have the advantage is if it can, in fact, provide superior sound quality, given its stated focus on music. "That both plays to Apple's strength and history in music and avoids the direct comparison in terms of price because this really does a lot more". United Kingdom and Australian prices are yet to be confirmed. I'm sure we'll learn more about the device in the coming months, but it seems like Apple is downplaying this announcement.

Apple has suggested that it could potentially use speed detection to know if a user is in a auto when it's moving. To be fair, I did not get to hear an audio demo, but conceptually, the idea of doing fairly major processing on a mono speaker of audio that was already significantly processed to sound a certain way on stereo speakers during its creation strikes me as a bit challenging.

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