Apple's pricey HomePod sounds great but exacts some trade-offs

Apple HomePod reveiws are overall positive

TrendForce reveals who is winning the smart speaker race

Today is the official release date for Apple's HomePod Speakers and the company just posted cost of repairs for uninsured HomePod customers; $279, which is almost as much as buying a new one for $349.

What's clear is all three devices promise voice control, wireless streaming music, home automation, news and weather, Internet searching, lists and calendars and other productivity and information services. "Seriously." when Apple Music launched in 2015.

Amazon pitches the Echo as a smart home assistant that happens to play music.

HomePod is not a directional speaker.

For audiophiles, the HomePod is built like a tank with a woofer, a custom amplifier and seven tweeters to provide a rich range of sound, according to reviews from TechCrunch, the Verge and the New York Times.

Apple has explained that HomePod automatically tunes itself for each environment, with an accelerometer that detects when the speaker has been moved and triggers an acoustic scan of the room. Amazon and Google have had longer to establish voice recognition in their devices, thus it is perhaps not surprising that the Apple HomePod is inferior in quality here. On the Echo Plus, Alexa also works as a smart home hub, and lets you set up accessories.

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced HomePod last June at WWDC 2017, saving it for the traditionally important "one last thing" slot at the end of his speech.

It's evident Apple picked music as its focus over Siri.

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While an Apple ID is required to activate HomePod, every request made of Siri is not only encrypted, but also anonymised, before being sent to Apple's servers.

This can't be said of other smart speaker manufacturers, who collect data from every request sent back to headquarters and compile it into a comprehensive user record. Third, some functions of HomePod overlap with Siri in iPhone. If you are looking for a smart speaker, Alexa is ahead of the race with Google Home close behind.

Siri is limited predominantly to Apple services right now, which includes communications features, like messages and phone calls.

You need to have an iOS device to use it, and you must subscribe to Apple Music to access songs. "(You have to start the phone call on your phone and transfer it to the HomePod to use it as a just-okay speakerphone.) Siri also can't compete with the huge array of Alexa skills, or Google Assistant's ability to answer a vast variety of questions".

The speaker system in the HomePod is impressive, but you can get better for $350. Though the feature isn't yet available, Apple has apparently backed off of calling two-HomePod synchronization "stereo", and plans to separately release two-speaker and multi-room modes at unspecified future dates.

It's covered in a soft grill material that comes in Space Gray or White.

The writer flew to San Francisco, California, as a guest of Apple. Now that they've missed the chance of competing for sales during the holidays, overall interest in Apple's smart speaker may have continued to die down. The HomePod also allows hands-free voice calls.

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