Apple’s HomePod has just started shipping, and the company’s device has already faced a considerable deal of criticism. With high end specifications and great sound quality, the HomePod is a great choice – but only if you’re heavily locked into Apple’s ecosystem.
There’s just no comparison between Apple’s HomePod and Amazon’s Echo devices. Even the Echo Dot, the cheapest smart speaker around, can perform more tasks and connect with more devices than the HomePod which is eight to nine times more expensive.
That’s not to say that the HomePod’s lack of features does not justify its price tag. It just means it doesn’t justify its pricing right now. Apple has said the device will receive new features in future updates, but given the delayed release of the HomePod and the high price tag, our current recommendation is pick an Amazon Echo device instead.
If audio quality is more important to you (and it should because you’re buying a speaker) the Sonos One or the Sonos Play:1 would be a much better choice instead. Read on for our explainer on the six ways that the Echo devices beat the HomePod.
- The HomePod traps you into Apple’s services unlike the Echo
- Multi room audio support is a must have in 2018
- Does the HomePod’s audio quality justify its price tag?
- The HomePod can’t tell the difference between two user’s voices
- Siri has a lot of catching up to do to keep pace with Alexa
- Amazon’s latest chip research proves it is the best choice by far
Apple’s smart speaker locks you into the Apple ecosystem from the very first step – you can’t set up one without an iPhone or an iPad. Not only does that eliminate several potential users, it also cuts down on the resale value of the device as you’d only be able to sell it to people who own an Apple iPhone or iPad. You also need to be updated and running the latest version of iOS 11 on your device to pair with the HomePod.
Amazon’s Alexa enabled devices from the Echo Dot to the Echo Show can play music from services like Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRADIO, Amazon Music and others. The HomePod, on the other hand will only stream tracks from Apple Music, no other services are supported at this point. The company has not confirmed if third party streaming will be added in a future update. But if you don’t have an Apple music subscription, you can play music on your phone via AirPlay.
But here’s where it gets tricky. What are the only devices that can broadcast music via AirPlay? Only Apple devices. That’s immediately excluding a lot of Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone users from the ability to use the HomePod to stream their music without a subscription to Apple Music. Contrast that with Amazon’s Echo devices that can play any audio, not just music and all you have to do is pair it with your phone.
It feels like Apple built this device exclusively for users that are completely locked in to their walled garden, because the speaker isn’t very useful if you don’t use it in conjunction with other Apple devices or pay for a monthly Apple Music subscription. Picking an Echo device will let you connect to host of services and play music from your phone, two things that Apple refuses to let you do with your device!
This feature shouldn’t even be a big deal or a selling point anymore, to be honest. Every smart speaker in 2018 should allow you to pick up music where you left off in another room or play music simultaneously in different rooms in your house.
The HomePod does not support this functionality and Apple says the functionality will be added in later this year. The reason for this delay is apparently due to a dependency on AirPlay 2 which is expected in a few months.
Now considering you’re going to be paying $350 for your smart speaker and an additional $10 every month for Apple Music, would you say that is a fair price to ask for a device that cannot do multi room audio, but will add support for it later this year?
The Amazon Echo Dot, a tiny smart home speaker with a price tag that is seven times lower than that of the HomePod can play your music as you walk around your home, as well as play music streaming through one device via all the other connected devices, which is great.
Even though we mentioned the Echo Dot to highlight how even the simplest devices support such a useful feature, you’ll obviously want to pick the Echo Plus, or better still, the Sonos One or the Sonos Play:1 to give you multi room audio that will keep you asking Alexa for more.
One of the most touted features of the HomePod is the audio quality, something that several users were quick to praise. And it is great, with stable audio reproduction and all the right elements that make up a great smart speaker that is geared towards audiophiles. In fact, if you place it near a wall, it will send out the extra reverberations towards it and the high note and treble your way towards the rest of the room.
How much would you pay for all of that, though? Considering that all of that great music is locked behind a $10/month subscription fee (so you can enjoy an unlimited collection of music on demand) or AirPlay powered listening that requires an iPhone. What if you could pick up two speakers with audio quality close enough to the original HomePod?
We aren’t going to recommend that you choose an Amazon Echo device here instead of a HomePod. Instead, we’ll do you one better and recommend that you pick up a Sonos speaker instead. It must be noted here that the Sonos One can be purchased in a set of two for the same price of one HomePod unit.
Considering that the performance of the Sonos One is excellent (possibly one of the best on the Alexa side of the field) and the fact that it has multi room audio, it would make so much more sense if you own an Android phone, a traditional music player or any other device, really – thanks to support for good old Bluetooth.
The HomePod cannot recognize individual voices, so it cannot support multiple users – meaning every command that is received is interpreted as originating from the owner. Some have hailed this as an attempt to protect the privacy of its users, which in itself is a great move on Apple’s end.
But in attempting to do so, the company has inadvertently enabled another privacy vulnerability. Thanks to the lack of individual voice detection, anyone can ask Siri to read out your most recent texts and she will gladly comply. Now granted, it will read it off the device that it is paired with, but that’s still a single individual’s phone.
Consider this, Amazon’s Echo devices can identify multiple users, know exactly who made what voice requests and ties them into their respective accounts. This is excellent for those who share a single device at home, especially if your smart speaker is going to cost you $350 per unit. This works on all devices from the Echo Dot to the Echo Show, so you’re covered for multi user voice support, no matter what.
Asking Alexa to text you your shopping list works as if you had a real life assistant at home, the device can tell exactly who issued the command and replied with your list of shopping items, separating everyone else’s information and lists into private and secure containers that can only be activated with their voice.
Amazon’s Alexa is witty, funny and informative. Built in to every device that supports the assistant, you can also use Alexa to perform very useful tasks like finding addresses, looking up names and recipes. You can also order a pizza, call yourself an Uber or even receive flash briefings with several news partners.
You can also extend the device’s functionality in many ways using Skills, something that Siri lacks – with no word on whether something similar will arrive to the first generation HomePod. These add great value to an already capable product and is sorely missing on Apple’s offering.
Siri on the HomePod cannot do much beyond the occasional reading of your texts or answering complex questions. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant blow it out of the water with their quick and sharp responses and dry humor. If you’re looking for a proper voice assistant that just works and responds to every single reply, make sure you pick up an Echo device.
Lastly, if you’d like to control your smart home devices with your voice, you will not find an assistant that is as capable as Alexa. Google’s Assistant has only recently been catching up in terms of device compatibility. Siri on the other hand only works with devices that are HomeKit compatible, which narrows down the list of devices you can work with considerably.
Not content with how much they have attained in such a short period, the company has just announced that they will intensify their chip research and development to ensure they are on top of the market. The company has been using their own processing chips since 2016, so this announcement isn’t much of a surprise.
Ever since Amazon acquired Annapurna Labs way back in 2015, the company has been looking for new ways to improve on their chip quality and the recent addition of Blink to the Amazon family last year will help them in their quest.
The company aims to develop a new generation of chips capable of handling more AI processing on the chip itself, reducing the load on Amazon’s servers and power consumption to the point where we could see Echo devices that don’t need to be plugged in at all times.
While this isn’t a reason in itself to buy an Echo device over the HomePod, it is a clear indicator that Amazon is definitely the company to choose because they have been in the smart speaker and assistant game for longer than any other company. Especially when you consider that this is Apple’s first smart speaker and while the rest of their products have been spectacular, their assistant Siri has never been the best in the business.
If you haven’t figured it out by the end of the last paragraph, the HomePod is an extremely locked down and tame device, but with so much untapped potential. It has great audio playback and can adapt to any room without any extra calibration. But that’s about it, really. And if you ask us, that’s not enough for a smart speaker that launched in 2018.
Unfortunately, this means that we cannot recommend it in good faith to any of our readers, given that the device depends so much on Apple’s services and Apple devices. Considering that over half of our country’s smartphone users are running Android on their phones, it is absolutely essential that any device they choose must work seamlessly and without the need for any ‘workarounds’. Amazon’s Echo devices are extremely capable alternatives if you’ve been considering the HomePod and at a much lower price!