Looking forward to the HomePod

by Volker Weber

Sketch

Have to detox my brain and started thinking about the HomePod. This speaker is announced, but it is still far away. Apple says December, but that was also the plan for the AirPods last year, so I am not holding my breath until it ships. Why the delay and the early announcement? I think Apple announced it to keep Apple fans at bay against the onslaught from Amazon and Google. And the delay? I believe it's the software. Siri needs to learn a lot for this to work well.

Everything about this speaker is interesting. But the most important part is that it adjusts to the room, and it does so without any setup. We have long learned that speaker placement is important for good sound. With Trueplay Tuning we had a tool to adjust the speaker to a room with just an iDevice. But it's a manual process and it does not take any later changes into account. HomePod adjusts itself as needed. If there are more people in a "hard" room, they would soften up the acoustics with more damping. Whether the room acoustics change or you move the speaker around, it can adjust. Actually, if you add a second one, HomePod discovers it and coordinates itself with it.

What I cannot imagine without hearing one is the sound. From what other people have told me, it sounds way larger than it is. That is of course a good thing. And with its tweeter array it can direct sound to where it needs to go. When Apple announced it they demoed it against an Amazon Echo, which is popular for its Alexa integration despite its bad sound and against a Play:3 which is the oldest speaker in the line-up. No wonder, it blew them both away.

And then there is the microphone array and the A8 chip. You need this array of six microphones for farfield voice recognition. And you need the oomph of the CPU to discover the "Hey Siri" wake words to start listening. That part is not handled by the backend but needs to happen in the speaker itself. HomePod can do it, so can Echo and Echo Dot, but Play:5 can't.

Once I get my hand on a HomePod we will find out how well Siri works, how AirPlay 2 has evolved, and if it is smart enough to support 3rd party services like Spotify. I am very much looking forward to that.

Comments

I can't wait either! I consider this the biggest threat to Sonos (some exceptions will apply of course).
@Sonos now that vowe cannot give (indirect) directions anymore, how about some kind of roadmap for the rest of us!?

Markus Dierker, 2017-07-11 21:01

HomePod is only a single product whereas Sonos has a full range.

They will not give you a roadmap, but they have a full plate of stuff in developmen and some of it should be delivered before the year is out. They pre-announced three things last year in New York: a new API to build complementary apps, Alexa integration and Spotify Connect (which it delivered). Alexa integration takes way longer than I expected and from a hardware perspective it is pretty clear you need an Amazon Echo Dot for the time being. It took five year to develop the Play:5 and given that Sonos has no expertise in speech reco inhouse, they will always depend on Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft. They cannot possibly build their own HomePod without. Sonos strives to be agnostic to voice assistants as they are with streaming services. We will see if anybody else comes forward. For now it looks like Alexa only.

What I would like to see is better Apple Music integration. Apple and Sonos could build an AirPlay integration. What once needed a piece of silicon from Apple can be implemented in software today. Sonos never liked the technically inferior Airplay, but now that Apple is once again working on it, and with the advent of the HomePod, I hope that Sonos reconsiders.

The really interesting stuff is what Sonos is cooking that we don't know of. The first S5/Play:5 was a real innovation, so were Sub and Playbar. What's coming, beyond refinement of the existig portfolio, we don't know.

Volker Weber, 2017-07-11 21:29

Now that's a problem for me. What I really miss in the Sonos world is a better integration in iOS.

The iPhone is set for me, since I have decided to not change my mobileOS again, unless Apple screws up somehow. I'm not an apple fanboy, but I am lazy.

Sonos on the other hand is trying to sell me a product on its own, more or less shielded from iOS. You can only use it with the Sonos app and Spotify. They might be working on opening their world to others, but I have the feeling they are to slow.

At least for me it seems, that most ppl just want a seamless integration into the music apps they use. And for iOS that's Apple Music and a streaming app of YOUR choice.

If that doesn't happen, Sonos will not make it on the long run in my book. Which is sad. Because I have a few speakers and for me the buyin is high enough that it would hurt me to buy out. I would do it though.

Johannes Matzke, 2017-07-12 07:39

I don't care about Siri. But I care about airplay, the one important thing that's missing with a sonos.

And so I'm looking forward to the homepod.

Karl Heindel, 2017-07-12 10:01

I wish I could give you any indication that Sonos is working on better iOS integration but I can't.

Volker Weber, 2017-07-12 10:14

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