Apple has finally jumped into the home speaker market; however, they do claim that their new offering, delivers better sound quality than their competitors, analysts claim it will also challenge Sonos.
The announcement made at the 2017 Apple, Worldwide Developer Conference, saw the Company roll out HomePod, a 7-inch tall speaker that has a retail price of $349, it will be available in Australia in December 2017.
The Company that has entered the market late is already facing some serious competition from Amazon and Google despite being one of the first to deliver the Siri voice assistant for their iPhones in 2011.
Like offerings from Google and Amazon the new Apple HomePod has an intelligent voice assistant baked in. Siri can be activated using the command “Hey, Siri.” Apple said HomePods can pick up the commands from across the room with a 6-microphone array (compared to the Echo’s 7 microphones and Home’s 2 microphone). Like other smart speakers, audio information isn’t sent to Apple’s cloud until this voice command has been issued, Apple said.
Users can ask the speaker to read them the latest news, play podcasts, set reminders — everything that’s already possible with Siri on other Apple devices. And with Apple’s HomeKit, Apple’s proprietary wireless protocol for controlling third-party smart home gadgets in iOS, HomePod serves as a hub that can control connected lights and thermostats.
Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes. Siri will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house.
It is the first new device Apple has announced in almost three years. It unveiled the Apple Watch in September 2014.
Apple “can’t afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people’s homes to Amazon, Google and others,” said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight. That’s especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more “pervasive” way that’s less dependent on smartphones, he said.
Under the bonnet the speaker has 7-beam forming tweeters and a 4-inch woofer facing upwards.
The speaker comes equipped with the A8 chip, the same processor found in the iPhone 6 from 2016. The chip does all the audio engineering — real-time acoustic modelling, audio beam forming and echo cancellation.
“It’s the biggest brain inside a speaker,” Apple marketing head Phil Schiller proclaimed.
Apple said the speakers have “spatial awareness” that adjusts the speaker’s sound levels to the acoustic conditions of the particular room. This is very much, like Sonos’ Trueplay feature, which similarly tunes its speakers to any room.
Schiller said the HomePod will be deeply integrated with the Apple Music streaming music service. Users can ask HomePod to do simple things like play a song or an Apple’s Beat 1 Radio, or even ask who is singing or playing drum on a track. Users can tell HomePod that they liked a song or to play more songs like the one they’re listening to. One issue here is whether the HomePod will play nice with other music streaming services like Spotify.
The introduction of a high-quality smart speaker from Apple puts some serious pressure on Sonos, an early leader in the connected speaker market.
While Amazon Echo and Google Home began stealing some market share from Sonos, Sonos prided itself on the excellent audio engineering that went into its speakers.
According to sources Sonos has ambitions on integrating with every intelligent voice assistant out there.
Observers claim that the real competition between Apple, Google and Amazon in smart speakers may come down to the quality of their intelligent assistants. And fortunately for Google and Amazon, Apple’s Siri is widely seen as lagging the competition in both its quality and capabilities.