Siri started life on the iPhone back in early 2010; about eight years ago. I know. There are four generations in technology years. Apple says Siri is active on hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads and Macs.
So what? Siri is largely useless to the masses of Apple customers; a salon trick, a curious news, maybe a glimpse into the future, but absolutely nothing to write home about or turn the drums around. Still, Apple has given Siri a new home; something of a digital mansion.
Talk To Me
Yes, Siri has improved listening skills and a growing list of commands that match commands, but have not yet come close to the potential that Steve Jobs identified with Siri on an iPhone 4s back today. Yes, iPhone 4s count as back in the day . Siri has released and taken the backseat of newcomers Alexa, from Amazon and Assistant, from Google. Both do more and sound better.
Apple gave Siri a new home inside the HomePod, Apple's expensive response to Amazon's Echo line of talking speakers, and Google Home, Google's line of, well, talking speakers. Julian Chokkattu has a nice description of the HomePod:
The speaker does not look technical, so it can easily be blended into your home. It's packed with seven tweeters with folded horns around the base, each with custom amplifiers to help you spread the sound regularly in a room. A woofer sits on top, with a 20mm surface to provide deep bass. In the center sits a six-microphone array, which is used not only to pick up your voice from a room, but also to detect frequencies that divert objects in the room. This, along with the A8 processor (the same chip on the iPhone 6), helps it feel the room in a room, and gives the speaker the ability to adjust the sound so that it maintains consistent quality in any location.
Simply put, HomePod knows how your room sounds, and adjusts the audio output accordingly – to get the optimal sound for your room. While Amazon Echo and Alexa go for connected devices, Apple promises that the HomePod will be the best-sounding talking speaker you can buy for $ 349.
Tweeters and woofers and microphone, oh my!
The sound quality is beautifully warm, but the bass is not overwhelming, although it was still quite rich. Closing your eyes makes it easy to feel like you're on a live performance. We could pick out the vocals and instruments clearly. The speaker lets each instrument shine through; you can hear precise guitar picks. No, it doesn't have that crisp sound you want to hear from very expensive high-end speakers, but again, the HomePod doesn't cost thousands, but still shines brilliant sound quality out of a small, small enclosure.
See? Typical Apple. Build a reasonable luxury, in this case a speaker with Wi-Fi and Siri inside.
Amazon is not focused on quality sound. Google Home is trying to play both sides of the quality fence.
Overall, the HomePod sounded alive, rich and balanced. And this was reaffirmed when we heard the speaker play music against Sonos One, Google Home Max and the latest Amazon Echo. During our brief meeting, the HomePod sounded best and was the most consistent. Each song sounded good, while on the other speakers only some of the songs sounded solid.
OK, Apple has carved a niche. What about Siri?
You may be disappointed to hear that you cannot use voice commands to play music on any streaming service other than Apple Music. Siri is what strengthens the HomePod, and although the assistant's new voice sounds a lot more human and has a handful of great features, it doesn't fall short during the current competition.
However, quite enough. It's not like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant are getting much use on iPhones or iPads. As was the case with Watch, Apple pushed good hardware out the door with the first HomePod, and future software versions will have – or must have – more capacity than the original.
It is a little disappointing to see zero multi-user support, but we hope it is a feature that is in the works. Both Google Assistant and Alexa can identify who is talking and easily switch accounts.
Apple appears to have carved out a portion of the market that Amazon Echo and Google Home do not. Privacy. Both competitors are built to extract usage information from customers to sell more products or display more advertising. Apple games are hardware, not personal information.
What is missing from the HomePod is what is missing from Siri. Smarts. Brains. Ability. HAL 9000.
Apple will sell HomePod, and at $ 349 per pop, make money if only 1/10 of 1 percent of Apple's installed $ 1 billion customer base one the first three years. Or, in another way, more than Amazon Echo and Google Home combined (about 100,000 units).
In the meantime, let's hope Apple does something about Siri in the great high-quality audio furniture; a Siri that can recognize individual voices in the same room, a Siri that can listen and act on multiple commands, or, in another way – give customers a Siri that is useful.