Apple's HomePod was a bit of a tough sell when it launched in 2018. The $350 speaker (now selling for $300) was far more expensive than the Amazon Echo or Google Home, and Siri was less capable and intelligent than Alexa or Google Assistant. One thing was undeniable, though: the HomePod sounded excellent. It was first and foremost for music lovers, and things like smart home controls felt like an afterthought. The HomePod took its place as a niche product while the inexpensive Google Home Mini and Echo Dot gave Amazon and Google a commanding presence in the smart speaker space.
OK, yes, the HomePod sounds great. After spending a good chunk of the afternoon with Apple's new Siri-controlled speaker, listening to tunes in the company's tiny Tribeca apartment meeting space, I'm more convinced than ever that Apple has built an aural triumph in its initial entry to the "smart speaker" space.
The follow-up to Apple's $300 HomePod has finally arrived, with the smaller, spherical HomePod mini, complete with onboard Siri and a new "intercom" feature. The new smart speaker is slated to arrive next month. Unveiled alongside the iPhone 12 during Apple's "Hi, Speed" event on Tuesday, the $99 HomePod mini (pre-orders begin November 6 for shipping on November 16) takes a page from Amazon's revamped Echo speakers (or is it the other way around?) with a ball-shaped, fabric-covered industrial design. Set to arrive in white and space gray flavors, the HomePod mini has a backlit touchpad on top with integrated volume and playback controls. The new HomePod mini comes equipped with a full-range driver and dual passive radiators, while the speaker itself is powered by Apple's S5 chip. Inside the 3.3-inch shell is a full-range, neodymium magnet-powered dynamic driver, a pair of force-cancelling passive radiators, and an acoustic wave guide at the bottom that's designed to deliver 360-degree sound.
Apple has released the first major update for its HomePod smart speaker - and has its sights firmly set on Amazon and Google. The new iOS 11.4 update released today adds multi room capabilities to the Siri smart speaker, allowing users to play music in other rooms, in in every room at once. It comes as Apple is believed to be putting the finishing update to a major update to its Siri AI software. The free update also adds new features such as the ability to store iMessages in the cloud. The new iOS 11.4 update released today adds multi room capabilities to the Siri smart speaker, allowing users to play music in other rooms, in in every room at once.
When Amazon first introduced Alexa and the Echo speaker six years ago, the idea of talking to a digital assistant wasn't totally novel. Both the iPhone and Android phones had semi-intelligent voice controls -- but with the Echo, Amazon took its first step toward making something like Alexa a constant presence in your home. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there's a huge variety of smart speakers available at various price points. As the market exploded, the downsides of having a device that's always listening for a wake word have become increasingly apparent. They can get activated unintentionally, sending private recordings back to monolithic companies to analyze. And even at the best of times, giving more personal information to Amazon, Apple and Google can be a questionable decision. That said, all these companies have made it easier to manage how your data is used -- you can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's also less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, too. The good news is that there's never been a better time to get a smart speaker, particularly if you're a music fan.