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Apple’s HomePod is Three Years Behind Amazon’s Echo

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, thinks Apple is 3 years behind Amazon because they’re focused on the speaker and not the assistant. Filled with lots of information “according to people familiar with the situation”,  Why Apple’s HomePod Is Three Years Behind Amazon’s Echo seems written to inspire anger from Apple zealots particularly considering the HomePod hasn’t actually been released yet. Not to mention that nightmare inducing animation accompanying the article.

As someone who is way outside the knowledge of what’s going on inside Apple, a lot of the points have a ring of truthiness to me.

 The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.

I can totally see Apple mocking the sound quality of the Echo or Google Home and think that’s the main selling point of a device like this. It’s like they learned nothing from the iPod Hi-Fi experience. It sounded great but nobody wanted to buy an overpriced speaker  – no matter how great it sounded.

But the Siri team was told that the HomePod was about music and quality sound, one of the people said. Yes, the speaker would be voice-activated but it wouldn’t be positioned as a personal assistant.

I hope they recognize by the time it ships that the assistant is as important as sound quality.

The Echo is a truly standalone product at the center of an ecosystem. The cloud-based operating system has made it easy for developers to create thousands of skills or voice-activated apps. By contrast, the HomePod is essentially an extension of the iPhone, like an accessory. When someone asks the HomePod to open a third-party app, the request won’t go directly to the cloud, as with the Echo, but to an iPhone.

The iPhone is to Apple as Windows was to Microsoft. Maybe it’s a stop-gap until these devices are powerful enough to not have an iPhone connected in some way but Apple’s method of requiring everyone to have their own iPhone (or iOS device) gets in the way of a lot of opportunities.

What’s more, Apple has limited the kinds of apps to messaging, to-do lists and notes. If Alexa is the beating heart of the Echo, Siri is almost an afterthought.

Yep.

But we’ll see what the device is capable of when it actually ships in 2018.

Right now, for Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals Amazon has the Echo on for $99CDN, regularly $129. Apple’s HomePod will likely be $399 – $450CDN.

This is the part I believe the least:

 Testers dropped the speaker from various heights and even threw it in a room with young kids.

There are no kids allowed at Apple. Nobody there in management has any idea how to build software for families.

  1. It seems crux of you argument that Apple can’t build software for families is that it’s too expensive to buy Apple hardware for each family member. I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, Apple hardware has always been expensive because Apple wants to build hardware with expensive components—like Face ID, or a speaker with seven tweeters and six mics. On the other hand, families are naturally more frugal. Also, kids are harder on said hardware, and that can also eat into budget (the only iOS device in this house that’s had a broken screen replaced was an iPad driven over by a tricycle).

    It’s likely that Apple doesn’t want to enter a market dominated by price. Android tablets (especially Amazon Fires imo) can’t be beaten on price. For families that are able (and moreso willing) to spend money on a device per member, Apple’s family plans with iCloud do quite a good job. Otherwise, Amazon does.

    The main evidence that Apple does make software for families is the App Store. Their rigid approval process is the ire of many app developers with the main benefit being a safe place for families. Compare that to the lax filters on the Play Store or YouTube kids, and the difference is often stark.

    As for the HomePod being another HiFi—it might be! Apple should be taking these kinds of risks. To sit on a hundred billion dollars and play it safe would be both boring and foolish. Something was right about the HiFi, as they’re still selling above list on eBay. To try and find the nugget that worked and build it into something new is perfectly Apple.

    Also, I expect if the HomePod fails they’ll make a Beats Pill with Siri and sell it for much cheaper

  2. I’m kind of arguing with how I assume Gruber might respond to this article – with a bit of snark and pointing out that Apple decided to wait until it was the right time for them to enter this market. The more I try to use Siri it feels like it hasn’t moved forward much since launch and these home assistant devices, imho, hinge on whether the assistant is any good. You can go buy a bluetooth/wifi speaker that will sound as good or better than the HomePod – but you’re going to buy the HomePod because it’s marketed as having Siri integration. But I think Siri is going to suck for awhile on the HomePod. I’m pre-ordering a Echo while they’re on sale and see how it works in our home. Maybe I’ll end up selling it for a HomePod but I just don’t think Apple has a long term vision for this space that makes sense.

  3. I’m going to buy a HomePod for the modern AirPlay experience, with that sweet W1-like source switching. Normal BT is a pain in comparison.

    Siri definitely isn’t as smart as Alexa or (especially) Google Now but I’m honestly unimpressed with voice integration. What would I use it for? Each of the few times Alexa has been demoed to me it was to play music Using Siri on my watch or phone to bark out a quick text makes sense, but having a central speaker read me the news seems forced and unrealistic.

  4. W-1 is what’s on the AirPods, right? I’m tempted by those but I rarely need headphones. I might have to rent some on a future trip. 🙂

    I’ve got kids who need to use my iPhone to ask what the scores were in hockey last night. Every. Single. Day. It’s worth buying a voice assistant they can talk to and not run around the house with imho.

  5. Yup, W1 on the AirPods and new beats headphones. I have a pair of Beats Solo3 you could borrow sometime if you want to check out how smooth W1 is. Or we could meet for coffee sometime, but only if you won’t strangle me.

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