Apple HomePod smart speaker: Last night Apple dropped the HomePod in India literally out of nowhere for a cool Rs 19,900. Usually, there is a lot of hype around Apple’s hardware launches even in India, but this one landed with a whimper. Why? Because the HomePod is a three-year-old gadget which first appeared at WWDC 2017, only to be launched in 2018.
The other reason is that while Amazon’s Echo and Google Home have made a niche for them as established themselves as Uber smart hosts for voice assistants – Alexa and Google Assistant, the HomePod is the host for Apple’s Siri which is well known to be not the smartest cookie around, especially in India.
Let me let you in on a secret. I’ve been using two HomePods for over a year paired together which combines to become the sound system of my studio. Of course, I bought these from the United States, and since Apple just released the product in India, it never supported Siri in the Indian dialect, even though it was based on my India iCloud account. And the experience as smart speaker has been very rudimentary.
The other issue is that it works only with Apple’s gadgets and works best with Apple’s software — be Apple Music, Apple TV+ now if you have an Apple TV box. Sure, your Spotify playlists will play and so will YouTube Videos and Music, but the experience isn’t as seamless. And if you happen to use an Android smartphone, then forget about it, so be mindful of this issue.
And here comes the rub, the HomePod is different from every other smart speaker. While the Google Home and Amazon Echo are prickly speakers at best, they make up for that core competency through the smarts of their respective AI-based assistant.
On the flip side, the HomePod is an engineering marvel when it comes down to delivering a big sound in a miniaturised spherical box using AI to smartly give you the best sound quality uniformly and adding the benefits of Apple’s Siri AI and ecosystem as it also doubles as a hub for HomeKit enabled Internet of things appliances like smart bulbs, switches and whatnot.
The HomePod competes with stuff from high-end audio companies like Bose or Harman and Kardon, than say a Google or Amazon.
At the end of the day, what remains to be seen is how much plumbing Apple has done in the back end to make Siri sing with an Indian dialect on the HomePod alongside having localised services that play well with it. That’s something I’m going to test soon and talk about in the HomePod review.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is a senior technology journalist based out of New Delhi.