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TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

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HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

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HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

By Adam C. Engst
http://tidbits.com/article/17790

My HomePod arrived on Friday, February 9th, and I wasted no time in extracting the surprisingly dense HomePod from Apple’s elegant, almost artistic packaging, and setting it up on the dining room table. I call this photo “Still Life with HomePod.”


I use the singular above because, although many HomePods will live in shared spaces throughout our houses, the iOS 11-like Quick Start process made it clear that it was essentially “my” HomePod. Tonya is, of course, welcome to use it, but it will take its cues for what music to play from my Apple Music collection, it will send texts from my Apple ID, and any reminders added via Siri will collect in my default Reminders list.


Obviously, there are a few minor workarounds to this single-user limitation, such as creating a shared Reminders list (or using the Family Reminders list, if you’re using family sharing) and explicitly directing new tasks to that list, and I’m sure we’ll discover more as we go. But my first impression is that Apple has punted on the technically difficult question of connecting multiple accounts to the HomePod so Tonya could send texts, add things to her Reminders lists, and access her Apple Music playlists and personalization.

It’s worth noting that the HomePod can play only music from Apple Music, purchased from the iTunes Store, or stored in iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match. Notably, it can’t play tracks in your iTunes library via Home Sharing, at least on its own. That said, it works fine as an AirPlay speaker, so anything you can play on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad, you can stream to the HomePod. It would be nice to see Apple adding Home Sharing support in the future, though the company is clearly focusing its energy on paid cloud services.

Audio Quality -- Enough whining — the HomePod is a speaker, so on to the music! I’ll date myself here, since the first song Tonya and I played was “The Man’s Too Strong,” from the 1985 “Brothers in Arms,” by Dire Straits. That album was one of the first recorded on a Sony 24-track digital tape machine, and one of the first directed at the then-new CD market. Dire Straits sounded great, far better than an iPhone on its own or an iPhone in a Mangobeat amplifier (see “Mangobeat Amplifies iPhone Volume Naturally and Sustainably,” 9 December 2016 — sadly, it appears to be defunct).

Our house, which dates from 1984, was built with speaker wires in the walls and a pair of Realistic bookshelf speakers mounted high up in the kitchen. In the living room, we’ve attached a pair of decent Mission speakers from 1990 to a somewhat newer Yamaha receiver, and it gets music via an AirPort Express over AirPlay. The HomePod sounds better than the Realistic speakers, which can’t compete on bass, but is pretty comparable to the much larger Mission speakers. Comparable, that is, except for the fact that the HomePod can’t do stereo. To be fair, the beam-forming tweeter array can provide some spatial separation, so while one HomePod can’t provide stereo, it doesn’t sound quite like a single speaker.

The HomePod can fill a room with sound — it has plenty of power. In our house, where the first floor is largely open and roughly 24 by 48 feet (7 by 14 meters) with 8–10 foot (2.5–3m) ceilings, there’s no problem hearing the HomePod at 75 percent volume anywhere downstairs. At full volume, I measured the HomePod at about 80 decibels at 6 feet (2m) away — definitely louder than was comfortable. We generally run it between 15 and 40 percent.

Happily, unlike our stereo system, which draws about 30 watts idle and 40 watts in use and thus makes us want to turn it on only when we’re using it, the HomePod sips power, taking roughly 4 to 7 watts when playing, 2.5 to 3 watts when it is resting but has been used recently, and 0 watts, occasionally spiking to 1.5 watts or so, when it has been alone in a quiet room for some time.

I won’t pretend to be an audiophile, nor to be able to offer any objective advice about the HomePod’s sound. If you look elsewhere, you’ll find plenty of opinions — the musically involved Kirk McElhearn thinks the HomePod’s is overly bassy, perhaps due to its digital signal processing, which works well with some types of music, but less well with others. How the HomePod compares to any other speaker probably depends on room setup, connection/transmission technologies, and much more.

True audiophiles have probably invested significant time, money, and effort into building stereo systems that sound much better. They might see the HomePod much like a pro photographer would see a point-and-shoot camera — a distinct step down in quality, but perfect for informal use. Younger, more mobile people might appreciate the HomePod’s quality because they’ve grown up with headphones and don’t have ungainly stereo systems. And those who have been struggling along for years with somewhat unsatisfactory audio systems might see the HomePod as the opportunity to leap into the modern era, particularly once Apple updates the HomePod’s software so two of them can work in stereo mode. That’s due later this year, along with support for multi-room audio.

Speaker Smartness -- Although you can stream music to the HomePod from an iOS device or Mac via AirPlay, and via the new controls Apple recently added (see “New Ways to Control Your Apple TV in iOS 11.2.5 and iTunes 12.7.3,” 2 February 2018), you’re most likely to control it directly via Siri. “Hey Siri, play some soft jazz,” and “Hey Siri, play the Yardbirds radio” work well, with Siri tapping Apple Music for a jazz playlist and pulling out tracks that are similar to the music of the Yardbirds.

However, I often found myself somewhat at sea because I seldom think, “I’d like to listen to songs that are musically similar to the Yardbirds.” This may date me too, but I usually approach the idea of listening to music with an open mind, and only hit upon something to play after scanning a list of available albums or artists. Back in the day, that meant looking at a shelf of LPs or CDs, and now it’s a matter of looking through my Apple Music library. With Siri on the HomePod, that’s not possible, so you have to be specific, or bail entirely and say, “Hey Siri, play music I’ll like” to get your personal station in Apple Music. You can work around this by finding tracks on the iPhone or Mac and then sending the audio to the HomePod via the new controls.

You can adjust the volume by asking Siri to change the volume by percentages — “Hey Siri, set the volume to 20 percent.” Other standard controls work via Siri too: pause, play, skip, and so on. You can even tell Siri to fast-forward or rewind some number of seconds. If you don’t want to ask Siri for help, just tap the volume buttons on the top of the HomePod, or tap it in the middle of the top to stop playing.

Notably, the HomePod picks up your commands even if music was playing quite loud. We used a Google Home for a little while last year, and that was one of its problems — it couldn’t pick out commands that well when it was itself the source of a lot of sound.

Although Siri does fine at controlling music and telling you about it — I like being able to say, “Hey Siri, what’s playing?” when I don’t know the name of a song I recognize — it’s not nearly as good as general knowledge questions. Sure, it can give you a somewhat lame weather forecast and report on traffic conditions (we don’t have anything worth calling traffic here in Ithaca), but those tasks are better accomplished in other ways. (Like with Dark Sky for forecasts and Google Maps for real-time traffic.)

Siri on the HomePod can do some level of trivia, like how far it is from the Earth to Mars, or who wrote “Catcher in the Rye,” but organically, I’ve never had a real question that, when I posed it to the HomePod, it could answer satisfactorily. This was also true of the Google Home, when we had that, and various Amazon Echos I’ve interacted with in other people’s houses. So either I’m an outlier, or this use case is akin to being told that personal computers are great for keeping your recipes — nominally true, but not something people did much.

I don’t have any HomeKit devices, so I wasn’t able to test the HomePod’s capability to control them via Siri. I presume that works — the commands are quite simple, and there’s no reason to assume it wouldn’t. Honestly, being able to control HomeKit switches and the like via Siri on the HomePod increases our interest in installing such automation a bit, though we could, of course, have done the same stuff through Siri on the Apple Watch.

More successful were simple things like setting a timer (“Hey Siri, set a timer for 20 minutes.”) and sending text messages (“Hey Siri, text Tonya ‘Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes.’”). Getting the HomePod to read incoming text messages was a bit clumsier, since it merely binged to indicate there was a response, and then I had to say, “Hey Siri, read my messages.”

Hey Siri Priorities -- Siri on the HomePod is always listening for the “Hey Siri” trigger, but you might have other Apple devices that are as well. I’m in the same room as the HomePod, typing on an iPad Pro, with my iPhone X next to me on the chair, and an Apple Watch Series 2 on my wrist. So which answers to “Hey Siri”?

First, note that, usually, only one device ever responds if you’re the primary user. That said, my iPad Pro and the iPhone X always wake up and show that they’re listening, before realizing that another device has priority.

Which device gets priority is interesting. My iPhone X, when it’s unlocked, and the Apple Watch, when I’ve raised my wrist to look at it, share top priority, as the closest devices to me. In fact, if I give both attention at the same time, they’ll both respond to “Hey Siri,” and the HomePod will blithely continue playing music.

However, if neither has my attention, the HomePod takes priority next, which means that it responds most of the time that I’m not actively looking at the iPhone X or Apple Watch. The iPad Pro is the odd man out, getting priority only if I’m not within range of the HomePod and neither of the other two devices have attention. That’s true even if I’m actively typing on the iPad.

Of course, you can always force Siri to respond on a particular device by invoking it manually with a button press instead of “Hey Siri.” That approach becomes necessary for anyone who is not the primary HomePod user, since this priority scheme doesn’t work for them. If Tonya raises her wrist and says “Hey Siri” to her Apple Watch, both it and the HomePod respond. Not great.

HomePod and Apple TV -- You can send audio from your Apple TV to the HomePod. Set this on the Apple TV in Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output, or, for a shortcut, press and hold the Play/Pause button on the Siri Remote while on the main Apple TV screen. Also, in many apps, you can also switch to the HomePod while watching a show by swiping down to reveal audio controls.

This is mostly useful if your HomePod is in the same room as the Apple TV. In my initial testing, I experienced a few audio dropouts right after starting a new program, but it settled down after a few seconds and the audio synced perfectly with the video. That perfect synchronization also happens if you play video on another device and send the audio to the HomePod via AirPlay, which isn’t entirely common among AirPlay receivers.

A few notes about the Apple TV integration:

  • When audio is playing through the HomePod, you can use “Hey Siri” to pause and play the Apple TV content, change volume, and even rewind and fast-forward X minutes. However, other things Siri on the Apple TV can do, like tell you who stars in a movie, still work only when you press and hold the Siri button on the Siri Remote.

  • Once you’re not playing audio on the HomePod through the Apple TV, you can control the HomePod normally via “Hey Siri” again.

  • Doing that disconnects the HomePod from the Apple TV, forcing you to reconnect via the Play/Pause button shortcut. There might be a way of using Siri on the Siri Remote to connect it, but my guesses at “Change audio output to HomePod” and “Change audio output to Dining Room” (the name of my HomePod) didn’t work.

HomePod as Speakerphone -- I almost forgot about the speakerphone capability of the HomePod — you can start a call on the iPhone and then tap the Audio button and select the HomePod to transfer the call to the HomePod. Honestly, this works brilliantly — the HomePod is unquestionably the best speakerphone I’ve ever used. Sound quality is fabulous, and it handles people moving around the room well.

You can transfer calls made via the Phone app and FaceTime Audio, but not other voice-over-IP apps like Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack. It’s possible that Apple will provide an API to tap into the HomePod and updates to those apps will support it, which would be great.


Unfortunately, you can’t ask Siri on the HomePod to make calls, which seems a shame. Perhaps Apple will add this capability in the future — it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard for the HomePod to do Wi-Fi calling, as can the Mac and iPad, or even just control its paired iPhone to place the call.

The Competitive Landscape -- Right now, the HomePod occupies a somewhat uncomfortable space at $349. Amazon now has six Echo products: the Echo Dot for $39.99, the Echo for $84.99, the Echo Plus for $149.99, the small-screen Echo Spot for $119.99, the larger-screen Echo Show for $179.99, and the camera-laden Echo Look for $199.99. Over at Google, the Google Home Mini costs just $39 right now, the mid-range Google Home is $99, and the Google Home Max (probably the most comparable in terms of audio quality) is $399.

Why would anyone buy a HomePod over one of the more mature and radically cheaper devices from Amazon or Google? Audio quality, perhaps, but the big one is complete integration with the Apple ecosystem. The Amazon and Google devices won’t work with Apple Music, just Spotify, so if you don’t have a Spotify account, the HomePod gets a lot more attractive right off. (Conversely, if you do use Spotify, the HomePod is a lot less interesting.) Having the HomePod appear as an audio output device for any iOS device or Apple TV is similarly a big deal.

Similarly, if you want to use voice control to interact with your task lists, text messaging, and so on, you’ll need a HomePod. Support could be deeper — you can’t access calendars or contacts via the HomePod yet — but it’s a safe bet you’d never be able to do via competing devices that can’t access iCloud.

You might not be happy about this, but it’s entirely rational for Apple to force users into this choice because “Apple everywhere” is the path of least resistance for those with Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Apple has no incentive to help Spotify in any way, and that’s all that opening the HomePod up would do at this point. Even if Apple does decide to open the HomePod up to the wider world in the future, it’s more important for it to work well within the Apple ecosystem first.

Apple’s greatest resource, in many ways, is its installed base. The fact that the company is making radically more money than ever before in its Services category (including Apple Music) and the Other category (which includes accessories like the AirPods and Apple Watch) shows that Apple thinks its best bet going forward is to entice current users into spending more on Apple services and accessories that will enhance their overall experience. The HomePod fits right into this strategy.

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Article copyright © 2018 By Adam C. Engst . Reuse governed by Creative Commons License.




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

@lbutlr
On 2018-02-12 (17:57 MST), TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> Right now, the HomePod occupies a somewhat uncomfortable space at $349. Amazon now has six Echo products: the Echo Dot for $39.99, the Echo for $84.99, the Echo Plus for $149.99, the small-screen Echo Spot for $119.99, the larger-screen Echo Show for $179.99, and the camera-laden Echo Look for $199.99. Over at Google, the Google Home Mini costs just $39 right now, the mid-range Google Home is $99, and the Google Home Max (probably the most comparable in terms of audio quality) is $399.


Comparing to the Echo or Google Home speakers is simply not relevant. This is primarily a speaker with some voice integration laid on top (that will likely continue to be improved).

None fo the other products have even decent audio, and are literally decades behind the audio that the HomePod is able to produce.

Now, I am no audiodweeb .. er, audiophile, whatever... but I do like listening to music and the HomePod is a better speaker for music than anything else I've ever owned. The Amazon and Google products are not playing in the same ballpark, and the homepod is noticeably better with one speaker than a stereo pair of Sonos One speakers.

I find it interesting because I cannot accurately describe the sound other than to say that it sound like you are in the room with the music in a way that stereo never managed to do, instead giving you an oddly artificial placement for individual instruments which broke down as soon as you moved out of the "sweet spot".

I was not sure I was going to get a HomePod until I heard some of the people (Serenity Caldwell in particular, and Jason Snell and Rene Ritchie to a lesser extent) describe their demo time with the speaker, but based on Settern's comments I dropped by the Apple Store on Friday and gave the speakers a listen.

The store I went to (Denver Cherry Creek) is fairly large for an in-mall store, and the speaker was in basically the worst possible environment (a large mostly empty space with a lot of reflective surfaces) and it sounded great.

It's been plugged in since Friday afternoon in my Dining Room and has been playing music nearly constantly. I usually start it with "Hey siri, play some music" but I've also given it the names of saved playlists I have in Apple Music ("Hey Siri, play Incomparable Members Chill List", "Hey Siri, play Jason's Power Pop mix" or even an iTunes playlist "Hey Siri, play my Top Rated"). Also, all the various special playlists on Apple Music are right there, "Hey Siri, play the A List" or "Play Monday's playlist" which, when repeated, steps through the various playlists Apple Music creates on Monday.

The most impressive thing, technically, is how good Siri is at picking up commands at a distance and at a volume too low for humans to hear. I've said things to Siri and my wife, much closer than the HomePod, asks what I said while Siri starts doing what I said.

The only awkwardness is that the HomePod cannot process some commands, but it has priority nearly all the time and it will not handoff the command to another device. So if I say "Hey siri, what's my schedule tomorrow" chances are good the HomePod will respond that it can't access my calendar instead of letting my phone or iPad answer )or better still, getting the answer from the iPhone or iPad!).

As a speaker, I give this a solid 11/10 and as a home assistant maybe a 5/10 as, though Siri has many advantages over the Echo and Google thingy, it is also missing a lot of things I'd like (like multiple timers and more customization).

Oh, and the HomePod keeps playing music if I leave the house. That's HUGE. Even if I am not listening to music, I will fire up the HomePod when I leave the house. And it is a fantastic HomeKit device as it is so good at picking up my voice I don't need to yell at it to get it to turn down the lights at night.

$350 is not much money for a really good speaker, and this is a *really* good speaker. All the other stuff is just gravy.

--
'But look,' said Ponder, 'the graveyards are full of people who rushed
in bravely but unwisely.' 'Ook.' 'What did he say?' said the Bursar. 'I
think he said, "Sooner or later the graveyards are full of everybody".'




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Marc Zeedar-2

> On Feb 12, 2018, at 9:43 PM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> Now, I am no audiodweeb .. er, audiophile, whatever... but I do like listening to music and the HomePod is a better speaker for music than anything else I've ever owned. The Amazon and Google products are not playing in the same ballpark, and the homepod is noticeably better with one speaker than a stereo pair of Sonos One speakers.

There is a fascinating post on reddit from an audiophile who did extensive testing and is blown away by the HomePod:

https://www.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/7wwtqy/apple_homepod_the_audiophile_perspective/


> I find it interesting because I cannot accurately describe the sound other than to say that it sound like you are in the room with the music in a way that stereo never managed to do

What impresses me the most (as a non-audiophile) is that the detail in the sound is still there at every volume level. I've never had high-end speakers, but I know in the past I used to have to crank up music really loud in order to hear subtle items in the background. With HomePod, I can have volume low (20%) and still hear those details and when I do play it loud, there's no distortion.

I also did a test where I put HomePod in my kitchen on one side of a wall that divides my kitchen and living room. This is just about the worst placement possible. I went to the other side (my living room) about 20 feet away and I listened to a podcast just fine. It didn't sound muffled or distorted. From in there I could even tell HomePod to "skip ahead 5 minutes" when I got bored with a topic (I did have to speak up a bit for HomePod to hear me).


> On Feb 12, 2018, at 4:57 PM, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> Which device gets priority is interesting.

The problem I've had is that often when I am trying to talk to HomePod, I have my iPhone in my hand (I'm reading or playing a game, for instance). This confuses the priority as my phone is active so it wants to respond to the "Hey Siri" trigger.

I was *really* glad to discover that I can control HomePod from iPhone via the control panel widget. (The iPhone's Music app even shows what HomePod is playing and what's up next!)


> I don’t have any HomeKit devices, so I wasn’t able to test the HomePod’s capability to control them via Siri. I presume that works — the commands are quite simple, and there’s no reason to assume it wouldn’t.


I only have one HomeKit device (a smart plug controlling a lamp) and it works great with HomePod. It responds much faster than when I control it with voice via iPad or iPhone. I told it to turn lamp on and it was on almost instantly. With my other devices, it sometimes takes 5-6 seconds for the lamp to respond (normal is about 3 seconds and HomePod is about 1 second).


> Why would anyone buy a HomePod over one of the more mature and radically cheaper devices from Amazon or Google?


I can't believe you didn't mention *privacy* as one of the key selling points. While I'm less opposed to Amazon's voice thing (I'm a huge Prime user and Amazon already knows more about me than I do) than Google's, I frankly don't trust either company and wouldn't have either device in my house if you gave them to me for free.

I'm not saying Apple is perfect or benign, but they have a different business model and have no interest in tracking me. Apple says your Siri commands are encrypted and not tied to you (which could explain why Siri has issues with follow-up commands and can't distinguish between different users in the same household). If that's the compromise for privacy, that's a price I'm willing to pay.


I should also mention that I am not (yet) an Apple Music subscriber and I don't do iTunes Match. I'm currently just listening to my purchased iTunes tracks (about 800) and HomePod seems fine with that. I have a feeling I *will* subscribe to Apple Music at some point. I've put off doing it as I wasn't listening to enough music to justify it, but with HomePod, I think I will. (I'm hoping to be more productive working at home listening to music instead of having the TV on and distracting me. So HomePod is an investment, ha ha!)



Marc Zeedar
Publisher, xDev Magazine and xDevLibrary
www.xdevmag.com | www.xdevlibrary.com







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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Rodney

On Feb 13, 2018, at 11:15, Zeedar Marc <[hidden email]> wrote:

What impresses me the most (as a non-audiophile) is that the detail in the sound is still there at every volume level. I've never had high-end speakers, but I know in the past I used to have to crank up music really loud in order to hear subtle items in the background.

DISCLAIMER: I did once have a serious interest in audio equipment, and I’ve spent a fair amount of money on it over the years. I learned a bit about psychoacoustics while writing software to simulate and evaluate digital transmission systems. However, that was over 40 years ago. I was never into super high end audio, I haven’t upgraded my stereo system in 25 years, and my hearing ain’t what it used to be. Therefore, if I get my facts wrong, it won’t hurt my feelings if anybody corrects me.

For your previous experience, there might be a bit of psychoacoustics at work. The human ear’s ability to hear high frequencies, and subtle differences, drops off at lower volume levels. The speakers should sound a bit better if you increase the volume, and this is especially true if they were mediocre to begin with. In days of old, some integrated amps and preamps had a “loudness’ switch that would boost the highs at lower volume levels. The purists would never use it, and they’d never use “tone controls”, and for good reason. If you change the frequency response characteristics, then you change the propagation delay for different parts of the spectrum by different amounts, and you introduce phase distortion. The better preamps had a tone control bypass switch, if they had tone controls at all.

Also in days of old, the less ethical stereo equipment dealers would demo at a slightly higher volume level during A/B demos the stuff they were pushing because the average consumer would think it sounded better than the alternative.

Wading through all the megapixel and GHz specs is trivial compared to audio equipment specs. The real serious audiophiles can sound like wine snobs. One review I once read described a very expensive power amp as having “pellucid clarity”. Yes, I had to look up “pellucid”. When you get into tens of thousands of dollars (or the equivalent in your local currency) for one piece of equipment, “better” starts becoming very subjective. I do pay some attention to specs, but not a lot (and no, I’ve never paid tens of thousands of dollars for one piece of equipment).

Since this stuff is highly subjective, I pay some attention to reviewers, but only the ones who share my personal tastes. Until I was 16, I was constantly exposed to live music, especially piano, so I pay attention to reviewers who also have listened to a lot of live music. Serenity Caldwell said in her review that her parents were musicians, so she grew up listening to live music. David Pogue also likes the sound of the HomePod. He has a bachelor’s degree in music, and worked some as a conductor and arranger on Broadway, so his opinions on sound quality carry some weight with me.

The best thing to do is exactly what you did, which is to listen for yourself. Whichever speaker has the combination of sound and features that you prefer, you’re not wrong. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the HomePod, but it won’t be available here until sometime this spring.



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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

adamengst
Administrator
In reply to this post by Marc Zeedar-2
> Why would anyone buy a HomePod over one of the more mature and radically cheaper devices from Amazon or Google?


I can't believe you didn't mention *privacy* as one of the key selling points. While I'm less opposed to Amazon's voice thing (I'm a huge Prime user and Amazon already knows more about me than I do) than Google's, I frankly don't trust either company and wouldn't have either device in my house if you gave them to me for free.

A good point — I was writing that all day yesterday, and didn’t think of everything. I should have said something about it, for sure.

That said, privacy really didn’t rank among my first impressions, and the popularity of the other devices suggests that most people don’t care much either. I suspect that’s also why there are well over 1 billion Gmail users and 2.2 billion active Facebook users, despite the constant drumbeat of warnings from privacy mavens.

The real problem is that almost no one can point to anything bad that has every happened to them, or even anyone they know, because of these supposed privacy concerns.
 
I'm not saying Apple is perfect or benign, but they have a different business model and have no interest in tracking me. Apple says your Siri commands are encrypted and not tied to you (which could explain why Siri has issues with follow-up commands and can't distinguish between different users in the same household). If that's the compromise for privacy, that's a price I'm willing to pay.

People who see this as a differentiating factor might be interested to read the actual privacy policies from all three companies:

Apple
https://www.apple.com/privacy/approach-to-privacy/ (Doesn’t yet mention the HomePod)

Google

Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602230

cheers... -Adam





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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Josh Centers
Zac Cichy had a great rant on the latest episode of his podcast about how Google has even more incentive than Apple to maintain user privacy. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but it made me think. http://www.themenu.bar/show/2018/2/9/the-menu-bar-episode-03-the-solution-of-no-solution-with-dan-masters

---
Josh Centers
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> On Feb 13, 2018, at 9:01 AM, Adam Engst <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> That said, privacy really didn’t rank among my first impressions, and the popularity of the other devices suggests that most people don’t care much either. I suspect that’s also why there are well over 1 billion Gmail users and 2.2 billion active Facebook users, despite the constant drumbeat of warnings from privacy mavens.
>
> The real problem is that almost no one can point to anything bad that has every happened to them, or even anyone they know, because of these supposed privacy concerns.




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Josh Centers
In reply to this post by @lbutlr
I’ve seen a few reviews that put the Google Home Max on par with or above the HomePod. Of course, it’s also larger and more expensive than the HomePod. I’ve also heard favorable comparisons with the Sonos One.

---
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> On Feb 12, 2018, at 11:43 PM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> Comparing to the Echo or Google Home speakers is simply not relevant. This is primarily a speaker with some voice integration laid on top (that will likely continue to be improved).
>
> None fo the other products have even decent audio, and are literally decades behind the audio that the HomePod is able to produce.




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

@lbutlr
On 13 Feb 2018, at 09:13, Josh Centers <[hidden email]> wrote:
> I’ve seen a few reviews that put the Google Home Max on par with or above the HomePod. Of course, it’s also larger and more expensive than the HomePod. I’ve also heard favorable comparisons with the Sonos One.

Well, I have a stereo pair of Sono Ones and no, they do not compare favorably to the single HomePod which is a much better, clearer, and more room-filling sound than the Sonos. It is also much easier to control. Don’t get me wrong, the Sonos are not bad by any means, but the HomePod sounds like an entirely different generation.

The HomePod sounds good as I move around the (large) space it is in. I don’t get those odd areas I have with stereo speakers where I hear one channel much stronger than the other channel, or where some odd sound wave cancelling dips the volume in one spot just enough to be annoying.

Related, as I move to the extremes of the room, the sound sounds closer from the HomePod. Yes, the volume drops with the distance, of course, but it sounds like it’s coming from a closer speaker than it is.

As for the Google speaker, I haven’t heard that, but comparison from a couple of people who have don’t fill me with any indication it is comparable.

(It’s been two decades since I felt I could trust Consumer Reports on anything, and I’ve never found them reliable on tech at all).

--
I AM ZOMBOR! (kelly) ZOMBOR!




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Josh Centers
I don't trust Consumer Reports on Apple stuff — they've had an axe to grind since Antennagate. But David Pogue did a blind test and the HomePod was bested by both the Sonos and the Google Home Max. https://mjtsai.com/blog/2018/02/13/a-blind-homepod-test/

I think there are so many variables involved that it's practically impossible to compare the three. But I think it's safe to say that the HomePod sounds better than any of the Echoes or the smaller Google Home devices.

Josh Centers
Managing Editor - TidBITS

On Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 1:43 PM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
On 13 Feb 2018, at 09:13, Josh Centers <[hidden email]> wrote:
> I’ve seen a few reviews that put the Google Home Max on par with or above the HomePod. Of course, it’s also larger and more expensive than the HomePod. I’ve also heard favorable comparisons with the Sonos One.

Well, I have a stereo pair of Sono Ones and no, they do not compare favorably to the single HomePod which is a much better, clearer, and more room-filling sound than the Sonos. It is also much easier to control. Don’t get me wrong, the Sonos are not bad by any means, but the HomePod sounds like an entirely different generation.

The HomePod sounds good as I move around the (large) space it is in. I don’t get those odd areas I have with stereo speakers where I hear one channel much stronger than the other channel, or where some odd sound wave cancelling dips the volume in one spot just enough to be annoying.

Related, as I move to the extremes of the room, the sound sounds closer from the HomePod. Yes, the volume drops with the distance, of course, but it sounds like it’s coming from a closer speaker than it is.

As for the Google speaker, I haven’t heard that, but comparison from a couple of people who have don’t fill me with any indication it is comparable.

(It’s been two decades since I felt I could trust Consumer Reports on anything, and I’ve never found them reliable on tech at all).

--
I AM ZOMBOR! (kelly) ZOMBOR!




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Rodney

On Feb 14, 2018, at 01:49, Josh Centers <[hidden email]> wrote:

I think there are so many variables involved that it's practically impossible to compare the three. But I think it's safe to say that the HomePod sounds better than any of the Echoes or the smaller Google Home devices.

It is absolutely critical that the three speakers be played at the same volume level. If not, then (if the speakers are fairly close in sound quality) the louder speaker will sound “better”. Shady audio dealers have known this since the 1960s at least.

Volume level is not something you can adjust by ear. You need to send white noise, or pink noise, to each speaker and tweak the volume while looking at a VU meter in the listening position.

Also, I trust David Pogue’s ears. He does have a degree in music and has worked as a musical arranger and conductor on broadway. However, the article didn’t say anything about the people he used for his tests, and “better” can be very subjective.



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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Roger Caldwell-2
In reply to this post by TidBITS Articles
In the months after the announcement of the HomePod, we tried a couple smart speakers/Bluetooth speakers and read a lot of reviews. So when pre-orders opened up we took the plunge. Since getting the HomePod last Friday, we’ve put it through it’s paces and on the whole been very pleased. I did give a listen to all of the Sonos models at our local big box retailer and found them to be “muddy”. None were terrible, but none were great as many reviewers have said. 

During the Holiday season we took advantage of a great sale on a Google Home Mini since the net cost was $19.00 and I recently was given some Phillips Hue bulbs for a review. For the most part, the Mini was nice to control the bulbs. But it lacked the ability to use the scenes that I setup in Home(kit). But in using that, I also acquired a trial subscription with Google Play and quickly became spoiled with the ability to tell Google to play some obscure track (or just some of the lyrics) and it served it right up. Of course the sound quality was not on par with even most BlueTooth speakers, but the functionality was good.

I wasn’t previously a subscriber to Apple Music. I don’t generally like the idea of most subscription services, but I knew that to really get the most of the HomePod and to enjoy the convenience features it was necessary.

So when I unpacked and setup the HomePod I was very eager to try it all. Setup was easy, although it did not auto-detect my phone. I had to launch the Home app but from there setup was easy and painless. My first trial was using the HomeKit integration. Since it was already setup on my iPhone, every command I gave Siri was carried out exactly as expected. 

The sound? Ok, well, that’s very subjective. Every persons’ needs and abilities are different. Our HomePod is located in our living room. A 19’ x 28’ room with cathedral ceilings that open to a loft. The HomePod has delivered “room filling” sound with very good response across the spectrum. But the results do vary. Some tracks are reproduce with incredible clarity. But others are a bit weak on the midrange and still others are a bit bass heavy. But on the whole I’m very pleased.

I know that my comparison between the HomePod and the Sonos are a bit Apples to Oranges since my Sonos listening was done in a big box store and the HomePod in my home. But from what I’ve heard, coupled with the streaming from Apple Music and the HomeKit integration it’s a no brainer. HomePod clearly wins in my home!

My wishlist is a long one. I would love to see Apple open things up a bit and add more functionality. Recognizing different family members, IFTTT integration, 3rd party app support are at the top of my list. For me it doesn’t detract from the Apple services, but enhances them.


On Feb 12, 2018, at 6:57 PM, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

This article was just published by TidBITS and sent to you at your request.

HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

By Adam C. Engst 
http://tidbits.com/article/17790

My HomePod arrived on Friday, February 9th, and I wasted no time in extracting the surprisingly dense HomePod from Apple’s elegant, almost artistic packaging, and setting it up on the dining room table. I call this photo “Still Life with HomePod.”





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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

@lbutlr
On 2018-02-14 (04:31 MST), Roger Caldwell <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> My wishlist is a long one. I would love to see Apple open things up a bit and add more functionality. Recognizing different family members, IFTTT integration, 3rd party app support are at the top of my list. For me it doesn’t detract from the Apple services, but enhances them.

I certainly hope some more integration with other services and some improvements to make HomePod usable by multiple people come in future OS updates. I wouldn't hold my breath for IFTTT support, but maybe integration with Workflow?

That said, if it just does what it does right now, I will not be too disappointed. I do wish that I could setup the HomePod to do reminders without setting it up to also send and read my messages. I consider these two things wildly different levels of personal and I would never want my messages read aloud unless I was the only person in the house, just on general principles.

--
What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you,
and to hear the lamentation of the women




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Josh Centers
In reply to this post by Roger Caldwell-2
I’ve been experimenting with Google services lately and have considered a Google Home Mini, so thanks for the mini review. One thing that shocks me about Alexa and Google Home’s automation is how rudimentary they are compared to HomeKit.

---
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> On Feb 14, 2018, at 5:31 AM, Roger Caldwell <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> During the Holiday season we took advantage of a great sale on a Google Home Mini since the net cost was $19.00 and I recently was given some Phillips Hue bulbs for a review. For the most part, the Mini was nice to control the bulbs. But it lacked the ability to use the scenes that I setup in Home(kit). But in using that, I also acquired a trial subscription with Google Play and quickly became spoiled with the ability to tell Google to play some obscure track (or just some of the lyrics) and it served it right up. Of course the sound quality was not on par with even most BlueTooth speakers, but the functionality was good.
>




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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Marilyn Matty
In reply to this post by TidBITS Articles

On Feb 12, 2018, at 7:57 PM, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

Why would anyone buy a HomePod over one of the more mature and radically cheaper devices from Amazon or Google? Audio quality, perhaps, but the big one is complete integration with the Apple ecosystem. The Amazon and Google devices won’t work with Apple Music, just Spotify, so if you don’t have a Spotify account, the HomePod gets a lot more attractive right off.

An interesting bit of news last week that coincides with the release of HomePod:

Apple Music may finally have the muscle to knock off Spotify

(Conversely, if you do use Spotify, the HomePod is a lot less interesting.) Having the HomePod appear as an audio output device for any iOS device or Apple TV is similarly a big deal. Similarly, if you want to use voice control to interact with your task lists, text messaging, and so on, you’ll need a HomePod. Support could be deeper — you can’t access calendars or contacts via the HomePod yet — but it’s a safe bet you’d never be able to do via competing devices that can’t access iCloud.

I think that Apple is also betting that there is a significant market of people who already own Amazon or Google smart speakers that would also want another speaker that has great sound and works with Apple Music, and in the future, will integrate even more with their iOS devices and Macs. Even among the most advanced audiophiles there will be some that will want a HomePod to listen to Apple Music in a room that doesn't have super duper, very expensive speakers, and a cute little speaker that sounds OK that you can move around the house is a selling point.

You might not be happy about this, but it’s entirely rational for Apple to force users into this choice because “Apple everywhere” is the path of least resistance for those with Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Apple has no incentive to help Spotify in any way, and that’s all that opening the HomePod up would do at this point. Even if Apple does decide to open the HomePod up to the wider world in the future, it’s more important for it to work well within the Apple ecosystem first.

It's no secret that Apple is aggressively spending the $1 billion it has allocated to develop original video content for the year, and Tim Cook keeps dropping hints about a big augmented reality play. 

Apple’s greatest resource, in many ways, is its installed base. The fact that the company is making radically more money than ever before in its Services category (including Apple Music) and the Other category (which includes accessories like the AirPods and Apple Watch) shows that Apple thinks its best bet going forward is to entice current users into spending more on Apple services and accessories that will enhance their overall experience. The HomePod fits right into this strategy.


I agree, and I suspect HomePod is a component that could add a lot of value to an Apple oriented media system, especially if HomePod will work really well together with Apple TV, and if Music will be part of augmented reality experiences, etc.

Marilyn





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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Marilyn Matty
In reply to this post by @lbutlr


> On Feb 13, 2018, at 12:43 AM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
>
> Comparing to the Echo or Google Home speakers is simply not relevant. This is primarily a speaker with some voice integration laid on top (that will likely continue to be improved).
>
>

I didn't think I would want a HomePod before I read this post, but now I definitely do.

Marilyn



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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Marilyn Matty
In reply to this post by @lbutlr

>> On Feb 14, 2018, at 11:13 AM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>
>> On 2018-02-14 (04:31 MST), Roger Caldwell <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>
>> My wishlist is a long one. I would love to see Apple open things up a bit and add more functionality. Recognizing different family members, IFTTT integration, 3rd party app support are at the top of my list. For me it doesn’t detract from the Apple services, but enhances them.

This is just HomePod 1, and I think Apple did a good job delivering a smart speaker that's differentiated from the competition, like it did with iPod, iPhone, etc.

Android was first to market with touch recognition, but initially it really sucked. Android has offered facial recognition for a while, but it sucks bigtime. It's been proven to be very insecure. It doesn't work well. Apple releases iPhone X awhile later with face recognition that doesn't suck and is extremely secure. I'll bet Apple is hard at work on building voice recognition and voice services that do not suck.

Marilyn





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Re: TidBITS: HomePod First Impressions: Let the (Apple) Music Play

Marilyn Matty
In reply to this post by Marilyn Matty

On Feb 15, 2018, at 10:37 AM, Marilyn Matty <[hidden email]> wrote:


On Feb 12, 2018, at 7:57 PM, TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

Why would anyone buy a HomePod over one of the more mature and radically cheaper devices from Amazon or Google? Audio quality, perhaps, but the big one is complete integration with the Apple ecosystem. The Amazon and Google devices won’t work with Apple Music, just Spotify, so if you don’t have a Spotify account, the HomePod gets a lot more attractive right off.

An interesting bit of news last week that coincides with the release of HomePod:

Apple Music may finally have the muscle to knock off Spotify



Two very interesting articles in the New York Times today. Though they don't mention HomePod, it's clearly integral to an "Apple everywhere" strategy:

As the Streaming Wars Heat Up, Ryan Murphy Cashes In


What I think is really interesting about this one is Walmart has Vudu, a free streaming video movie service that's funded by commercials that I don't think anyone's paying much attention to. When Redbox was something of a thing, the launched a competing service that was an almost immediate failure. So maybe Walmart wants to get in to the streaming media act too?

Sam’s Club Makes E-Commerce Push With Amazon Prime Competitor


I did a quick search and there's an Apple TV app for Vudu:


Marilyn



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