On the potential of HomePod

At WWDC17, Apple decided to focus and market the HomePod around the music quality and advancements it will bring to the home as the home speaker. And despite my tech enthusiasm, I think this is the right approach. This will allow them to reach a wider audience than the tech-savvy or enthusiasts who have for so long compared Alexa with Siri.

According to all reviews I’ve read so far this product really does sound great. So it should come as no surprise that it could be a great companion not only to your music, but to the Apple TV content too.

If the past tells us something, that is HomePod’s December release is just in time for a iOS 11.2 release. This gives Apple time for more than two minor iOS releases to come up with features that will be specific for the new HomePod. This was hinted multiple times throughout the WWDC livestream, especially in regards to AirPlay 2 that both Apple TVs and this HomePod will benefit from, but also in regards to the features tvOS will bring.

At WWDC not much has been said about tvOS except that “we will be hearing a lot more about later this year”. And with a new Apple TV with 4K rumoured for later this year, a high end speaker will go hand in hand with high quality movies and series.

So if Apple shared very little of what the HomePod can do and will do, it means they’ve got more in the works. This will allow Apple to under promise and over deliver, just like they’ve done with the AirPods.

But the aspect I want to talk about is the second category, the intelligent speakers. The Siri version they promoted was the musicologist that lives in your living room. On the HomePod, Siri will be able to handle your music requests, fine tune and change the songs’ list based on the user’s inputs, as well as answer questions about the song, artist or album. Siri will also be able to do the common tasks it can already do on all other platforms. Here is a full list of capabilities it will have, as they’ve been listed at WWDC:

  • Music
  • News
  • Unit conversion
  • Messages
  • Reminders
  • Podcasts
  • Alarms
  • Translation
  • Stocks
  • General knowledge
  • Weather
  • Traffic & Nearby
  • Sports
  • HomeKit

This list of domains that were announced are surely the main ones, but lack the Siri extensibility announced last year and this year was surely disappointing to me. payments, ride ordering, note taking are some of the main skills Siri should be able to perform.

This is the aspect that I believe and hope Apple will address with later this year as part of maybe, iOS 11.2. And I say that because for a few months now, since the rumours started going around in regards to the speaker, I have argued that if Apple was to release one, it had to do 3 things really well:

  1. Be able to hear you
  2. Be able to recognise you
  3. Be able to do understand and do more for you

The HomePod should be able to do these three things really well.

Be able to hear you

This device, unlike your phone, watch or computer is not supposed to be next to you. You’ll be addressing it from across the room, in situations when you might not even be able to reach your phone, or would be difficult to. So it should be able to hear you easily even when you are at a significant distance from it, even if there is noise around, like music, other family members talking or simply outside noise.

Thankfully, this seems to be resolved, based on what Apple presented. The HomePod is equipped with 6 microphones who is able to hear the user even if the music is playing.

Be able to recognise you

Unlike your iPhone, Apple Watch and Mac, and just like the Apple TV the HomePod is a device meant to be shared with others in your home, your partner, maybe your children of any age. But unlike the Apple TV which has a GUI one can interact with, the HomePod won’t. So what I mean by recognising is identifying who you are. This is important, especially since Apple announced the HomePod will be able to read and send messages.

The question is, whose messages? Mine or my father’s? If I ask Siri to reply to read my messages it should be able to know I mean mine. Moreover, my tastes might be different from my family’s, therefore when I say “Hey Siri, play My New Music Mix” it should bring my playlist up.

Siri is able to recognise my voice only at the minute. I’ve already tested this with a couple of friends who tried to activate “Hey Siri” on my phone and it would not trigger when I said it. The tricky part here would be recognising more than one person and connecting to each of our individual accounts.

We do not yet know what the set up process for the HomePod looks like, but I hope this has been considered.

Be able to do understand and do more for you

As much as I love Siri, and I use it quite often on my Apple Watch and iPhone, I still feel like it’s “intelligence” is limited. Besides understanding exactly what you want, which means better natural language processing, it should also be able to do more than just tell me the news.

I should be able to order a taxi, pay my bills, send money to someone. This is why I believe some sort of Siri developer integration is crucial for the HomePod to be a “smart speaker”. If not this year, we will certainly see it at some point next year.

With this said, I’m excited to find out more details about it later next month, which is when, I hope, Apple will tell us more about it.