Why Apple’s HomePod will not beat Amazon's Echo or Google's Assistant

Apple is finally taking the home assistant market seriously with the HomePod, but falls woefully short of the competition.

homepod white shelf

Smart homes are big business right now, and Apple announced the HomePod in an effort to edge on the market territory currently occupied by Alexa, Assistant and Cortana. This highly anticipated announcement seems to have left many wanting, as their music-forward approach has left the home assistant functionalities by the wayside.

Apple is marketing the HomePod as a central hub for HomeKit-supported smart home devices, but in reality they have fallen short of the brief. Its claim to “re-invent home music” with its exceptional audio quality courtesy of a Sonos speaker appears to be its only competitive attribute. The digital assistance, through Siri, is just not intelligent enough to effectively navigate basic queries and to add insult to injury, Apple have curtailed Siri’s functionality to an even greater extent with the HomePod, assumingly to compensate for greater capabilities in other aspects, which may or may not be the case.

Compared to the offerings of Amazon and Google, Apple seems to have fallen substantially short. Here are some of the possible reasons why that is.

Amazaon and Google are based on open platforms

Amazon and Google have opened up their Echo and Home frameworks, respectively, allowing users carte blanche when it comes to third party applications and the range of applications is not limited to music. That’s a mistake Apple seem to be making. For example Google Home, though the Assistant, comprises a multi-platform nucleus, through which voice commands can be used to play music, check the weather, send an email or even order a pizza. Siri’s voice recognition issues haven’t been addressed, which also adds to Apple’s woes when compared to the advanced, complex instruction capability of Alexa and Google Assistant.

The stilted wake phrase “Hey, Siri,” doesn’t flow well with ordinary speech and might get taxing over time. This is where the Amazon Echo shines. The word “Alexa” is enough to activate the smart home device, a more succinct, natural segue to instruction.

The HomePod is overpriced

The HomePod claims to be a smart and connected speaker but the price is a good $150 more expensive that others in its class, perhaps pricing it right out of the market. The hardware doesn’t support this extreme price range, with the Echo and the Home both coming in way under the price of the HomePod, there is no discernible quality and performance enhancement to compensate. The HomePod is set to retail at $350, as opposed to $130 for the Google Home and $180 for the Amazon Echo.

Although the sound of Apple’s HomePod may rate better than that of the Echo, the latter is easier to use and has far better voice activation technology, allowing seamless interchanging of music with vocal commands. At almost half the price, what the Echo is lacking in sound quality, it more than makes up for in technical ability and user friendliness.

Apple’s design ethos is missing

Apple has always been at the forefront of innovation and funky design. With the release of the multi-coloured MacBooks in the 1990’s, Apple changed the way people viewed computers. They no longer needed to be sleek and understated; they could represent an exhibition of personal style. Apple appears to have forgotten this with the HomePod. The design is uninspired and minimalist, bringing nothing of value to the décor. Google Home comes with interchangeable facades, which can tailor to the interior design of your home or law office and the Echo has an austerity that has come to be the trademark of Amazon. Apple had the opportunity to break the mould and produce something remarkable, but unfortunately went with the familiar and the innocuous.

The cylinder’s top lights up when Siri is in use, but that’s the extent of it. As opposed to the Echo, which has a blue LED ring that lights up and points towards the user when in use and even changes colour for different functionality. The HomePod boasts no such coveted features.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough innovative features, and let’s face it, verve, in the HomePod to ensure users choose it over the Echo or the Home. Unless the user is deeply entrenched with Apple technology, there isn’t a compelling reason to go with the HomePod. It doesn’t integrate well with third party hardware and applications, its assistant lacks imagination and intelligence and it is already outpricing the market.  This device is not likely to revolutionize smart speakers. Apple have played it safe, and it shows.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT