Apple’s wireless smart speakers called the Apple HomePod was scheduled to release this December. But, for some unavoidable circumstances, Apple has decided to delay the launch of the speakers and are now scheduled for an early 2018 release.
According to Apple, the HomePod was never meant to be an Amazon Echo competitor, but it seems otherwise right now. With the Amazon launching multiple variants of Amazon Echo and also with Google and Microsoft coming out with the own smart speaker, it is high time that Apple actually joined them.
The HomePod was a side-project
The HomePod was not a real consumer-centric project when it was first initiated in 2012. Side projects are pretty common inside Apple and HomePod was one of them. The project was scrapped and resurrected several times, but the company actually never went anywhere with it.
Back in 2014, Amazon came out with the Amazon Echo smart home speaker. Back then, Amazon was the only one in the scene and the company took a bold step bringing the Alexa powered speakers in homes. Sources say that Apple engineers who had been engaged in the HomePod project bought the Amazon Echo devices and reverse-engineered it. They were trying to figure out how the device was actually built.
Back then, the issue with Echo was poor sound quality and Apple was trying to build a better speaker. However, in spite of the average audio quality, Amazon Echo started becoming a common household item in most of the smart homes.
Apple was “dithered”
Apple was really confused about what it wanted to do with the HomePod. Would it be a completely new consumer product like the iPhone or the MacBook? Or will it be an accessory, like the Apple AirPods?
Also, the HomePod went through massive design changes, mostly because the company was trying to squeeze out good sound quality from the speakers. At one point, one of the HomePod design had a 3 feet tall device.
Apple went forward with the HomePods only to keep the customer base loyal, even though it had the resources to make a full-fledged Amazon Echo competitor. They also made HomePod a simple accessory, and not a device of its own. This is one of the reasons why HomePod will not be able to do all the things that Alexa on Amazon Echo can.
What can Siri do?
Siri, on HomePod, will not be as functional as Alexa, or as Siri is on the iPhone. It will be able to play music from iTunes when the HomePod arrives early next year. Other than that, it can be used to control some Apple optimized smart home devices.
Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana are way better in this domain. Alexa has quite a large set of skills that can be used to integrate it multiple third-party apps and services. Cortana also comes with a similar skill set. Cortana also comes with a premium speaker setup, the Harman Kardon Invoke.
Delivering Premium Audio
The biggest challenge for such speakers is delivering premium audio quality. Audio quality drops when you have a smaller speaker. Also, in that form factor, there is a whole lot of things to integrate, such as power supply systems, microphones and the PCB.
Amazon has three Echo devices and recently released the fourth one. Google Home also comes with 2 variants. For Microsoft, the Harman Kardon Invoke only comes in one size and so does Apple’s HomePod. Measuring 7 inches in height and 5 inches across, it is quite a compact device and in terms of audio quality, it has been praised by a lot of people.
For the HomePod, Apple wanted to improve on its beamforming audio. The idea of audio beamforming is to allow speakers to shape the audio and direct it towards a listener. Usually, most of the smart speakers are omnidirectional. Beamforming allows the audio to be directed in a single direction. This means, that the HomePod can direct sound in the room, depending on where the speaker has been placed.
HomePod also went through a branding dilemma where Apple once thought that it would be a good idea to sell it under the Beats branding. However, Apple will be using their own branding, it seems.
Apple said that it will ship a million HomePods in early 2018, but they are not talking about any exact dates or even months. People in US, UK and Australia will be the first to receive the devices, followed by the rest of the world.
Apple’s indecisiveness it to be blamed for delaying the HomePod launch and also making it such an underpowered device. However, Apple does seem serious about developing HomePod more. So, even though the device cannot do much, it is expected to launch with at least some more skills and will also get some more by the end of the year.