Apple's HomePod: Superb sound, but how smart?

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Watch: A closer look at Apple's Homepod

We weren't allowed to film it, so I can't show it to you, but a quick off-camera demonstration of Apple's new HomePad speaker confirmed what the company promised on stage: it sounds terrific.

The company trotted out two "competing" devices, a Sonos Play 3 speaker ($299) and an Amazon Echo ($180), to receive something of an audio beating at the hands of the HomePod ($349). But this should be no means be considered an independent test. Apple controlled all aspects of it, including the settings on the competing devices.

Even so, Apple made a point of touting the device's spacial awareness.

If you put it in the corner of the room, a spokeswoman said, it would quickly recalibrate itself in order to fill the room with sound. Put one in the middle of the room and it'll play sound out in all directions. But stick it in the corner and it will aim its output away from the wall. Pair two of the devices together, and they'll act as stereo speakers.

In the highly-controlled environment, it delivered as promised . Tougher will be how it deals with homes full of objects that make the task harder.

But while Apple's device can claim, in this test at least, to sound the best - that may not be enough to make the product a success.

Homepod hobble

Siri is built in to the device, and though an integration with Apple Music you can ask it requests such as "play Sia". Annoyingly, and one thing that will be frustrating to many, that integration will I'm told only work with Apple Music.

Image source, Getty Images

If Spotify is your preferred music service for example, you can't use voice commands. Instead you'll need to resort to treating the HomePod like a bluetooth speaker.

What may hobble Apple's HomePod won't be the noise it makes, but its less impressive listening skills. Siri is in third place behind Google Home and Amazon's Alexa when it come to offering intuitive, natural digital assistant.

But Siri will only improve, and Apple's decision to sell this as a music device makes perfect sense. If I think about my own habits with Alexa and Google Home - and I've been trying them both for months now - I'd say a good 90% of use is for music. The assistant side of things just isn't useful enough at the moment.

So should Amazon and Google be worried by Apple's new gadget? Not yet. There's more than enough room for all of them, and besides, the real casualty in this race will be the likes of Sonos and Bose. Now simply sounding great is no longer enough.


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