- Apple announced it will launch its HomePod smart speaker on February 9.
- The HomePod is very similar to the popular Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, but is powered gby Apple's voice assistant, Siri.
- Siri leaves much to be desired compared to other virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa or Google's Assistant, which may impact the HomePod experience.
Apple's long-awaited attack in the smart-speaker wars is coming February 9.
The $350 Apple HomePod will work very similarly to the popular Google Home and Amazon Echo devices: Once you plug the speaker into a wall and connect it to your WiFi network, a virtual assistant — in this case, Siri — can answer all of your questions and commands, from getting the weather to playing music to controlling the various smart devices in your home.
Having owned an Amazon Echo for more than two years, I can easily recommend a smart speaker for anyone and everyone; it will really change the way you live. That said, I have some concerns about the HomePod.
Speaking from personal experience, the success of these physical smart-speakers is almost completely dependent on the strength of the virtual assistant that lives inside them. And Siri, despite being the first major virtual assistant on the market, lags behind the competition.
Mind you, Siri has improved recently. Apple released a huge update to Siri in iOS 11, last year's big update for iPhones and iPads, which made Siri more natural-sounding and respond more quickly.
Indeed, Siri on my iPhone X responds much more quickly to commands than previous versions of Siri, which only bodes well for the HomePod. I love my Amazon Echo because it's so quick to respond that it feels totally natural; at the very least, Apple's HomePod will need to be similarly speedy if it hopes to compete.
But Siri is still behind the competition in other important ways. In particular, Siri just doesn't come across as a convincing virtual assistant.
Recently, I spent time asking questions to both Siri and my Amazon Echo.
All of these questions my Amazon Echo was able to answer, but Siri could not:
- What's your favorite video game?
- What's your favorite band?
- What's your favorite flower?
- What's your favorite kind of cookie?
- What's your favorite movie?
- Are you married?
- What's your favorite country?
- Sing me a song.
- What are your hobbies?
- What's your favorite dessert?
- What's your favorite book?
- Who's your favorite actor?
- What's your favorite season?
- What's your favorite month of the year?
- What's your favorite TV show?
- Who is your favorite musician?
- Who is your favorite president?
- What's your favorite planet?
- What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
- What's your favorite cuisine?
- What is your sexuality?
- What is your gender?
- What's your favorite weather?
- What's your favorite state?
- What's your favorite city?
- What's your favorite holiday?
- Are you a Democrat or Republican?
- Who are your parents?
- Who is your best friend?
Of course, none of these questions are essential to the experience of owning a smart-speaker, but they do make the virtual assistant feel more alive, real, and convincing. When my Echo responded to all of these questions, I really felt like Amazon put a lot of effort into designing this experience, going above and beyond to answer even the silliest of questions. Siri has none of that nuance, or frankly, personality.
Siri will improve over time, through software updates, like every other virtual assistant out there. But at the HomePod's $350 price point, you could buy three Amazon Echos (or Google Homes), or seven Amazon Echo Dots (or Google Home Minis). Apple boasts superior audio quality with its HomePod, but if you care more about having a quality virtual assistant, you can't go wrong with the competition right now.
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