What I Want from Apple’s HomePod

I got a chance to really see and listen to Apple’s HomePod during WWDC and the quality of the speaker in this device is really amazing. It was demoed compared to a comparable Sonos speaker and an Amazon Echo speaker and the HomePod beat them in overall sound quality hands down. I could not believe the audio quality I heard out of this small cylindrical speaker.

Although these demos were prototypes and the final version of the HomePod will not ship until Dec, Apple is working out the final specs and what it will ultimately be capable of doing before locking in the design and sending it to manufacturing for the December official launch.

While it is a quality speaker that also has Siri, for me Siri is less of an issue since I already have Siri in my pocket via an iPhone and on Apple Watch and in my case Siri on a speaker is redundant. That is not to say I would not use it if it were handy but I already get that instant access to Siri if I need it via the iPhone or Apple Watch.

I know I may be the odd one on this as my colleague Bob O’Donnel suggests that it will be Siri that makes or breaks the HomePods success.

But Apple made it clear to me that the HomePod’s reason to exist is as a music speaker and represents their corporate culture that believes that music is a central tenet of our digital experience. While Siri is important and is used to manage the music on the HomePod, Siri’s other capabilities are an extended feature since Siri is capable of connecting to HomeKit devices. But as I said, I already have that feature via my iPhone and Apple Watch and in most cases, they are more convenient to use for this purpose.

Given its price, it is actually very competitive with home speakers such as ones from Bose and Sonos. But I would want one other major feature added to the HomePod and that is its ability to connect to my Apple TV or even directly to my TV via the HD optical audio port on all new televisions.

When I asked Apple officials about this they said that at the time tying the HomePod to the Apple TV is difficult since current Apple TV’s were not designed to connect to external speakers via cable or even wirelessly. However, they were seriously looking at this idea.

One of the big problems with most new HD TV’s today is that because of their thin design the speakers and audio systems on most are not that great. That is why a secondary market for high-quality external TV speakers and speaker bars are in high demand. While prices for these external TV speakers can be as low as $149, the sweet spot for relatively good speakers is in the $350 to $500 range although some larger audio speakers for the TV could cost as much as $2000.

One way Apple could make the new HomePod connect to the TV would be for it to include a port that supports an optical audio cable and let it work directly with the TV. That would allow the HomePad to work as a high-quality speaker for the TV too and give people even more of an incentive to buy it. Keep in mind that the HomePod is a stationary device. Yes, it is small enough to move around but I suspect most people would place it in one location most of the time and leave it there. In this case, it would be close to the TV and while using the optical cable is not as optimal as a wireless solution, it would work.

But I see the HomePod as eventually being much more than a powerful speaker and home assistant. Apple said that this speaker uses their A8 chip. When Apple announced the A8 two years ago, they positioned it as a desktop PC-class processor.

If this was just a speaker and home assistant, that processor is an overkill. I sense that Apple has a much greater vision for this device and could do a lot of innovative things such as turn it into an actual Set Top Box, a computer like extension of the Mac or IOS ecosystem, etc. The HomePod is capable of hosting its own operating system, just as the Apple TV and the iPhone itself did even before they evolved from devices into platforms. Think of this as a Trojan horse for Apple to create an even more powerful platform and endpoint that connects to their ever expanding ecosystems of products and services.

This is a product to really keep your eye on. While most see it as a direct competitor to Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, this is much more then these two products are positioned to do today and in the future given their current designs. With Apple making the core of the HomePod a serious computing device, it will be interesting to see how Apple evolves this product over the next few years.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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