The battle for the smart home has been warring on for some time already, but Apple has just entered the fray with the introduction of its new HomePod. The HomePod was unveiled during the company’s WWDC 2017 keynote, and the smart home speaker is clearly designed to take on the likes of Google Home and the market leading Amazon Echo. So here’s how the devices stack up against one another.
For starters, there’s a big difference in the price between these three products. We’re all used to Apple charging a premium for its products, but at $349 the HomePod is almost twice the price of Amazon’s $179.99 Echo and considerably more expensive than the $129 Google Home. One of the key differentiators, from Apple’s perspective, is that the HomePod offers up a superior looking speaker setup to its competitors, while still aiming to offer many of the same smart features as its rivals.
|Amazon Echo||Apple HomePod||Google Home|
|Music support||Amazon Music, Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify Premium, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Audible||Apple Music||Google Play Music, Spotify Premium, YouTube Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn|
|Multi-room||Not currently||Yes with AirPlay 2||Yes with Chromecast Audio|
|Smart Home & third-party support||Yes||HomeKit only||Yes|
|Microphones||7 far-field||6 far-field + |
1 low-frequency calibration microphone
|Speakers||2.0-inch tweeter + 2.5-inch woofer||7x tweeter + woofer||2-inch driver + 2x 2-inch passive radiators
|Connectivity||Bluetooth & Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi|
(Bluetooth currently unknown)
|Bluetooth & Wi-Fi|
|Dimensions and weight||235 x 84 mm|
|172 x 142 mm|
|142.8 x 96.4 mm
The HomePod comes with seven tweeter speakers and a dedicated woofer setup, each with a “custom amplifier” configuration. This is clearly a more substantial and expensive setup than the single tweeter and woofer combination offered by the Echo and the single speaker, dual passive radiator configuration touted by the Google Home. This makes the HomePod considerably bulkier than its competitors too, coming in at 5.5 lbs and 172 x 142 mm. The Google Home weighs 1.05 lbs and has 142.8 x 96.4 mm dimensions, and the slim Echo is 2.34 lbs and 235 x 84 mm.
Apple's HomePod is being marketed primarily as a high-end home speaker with extra smart assistant capabilities. This is much different compared to the angle taken by Amazon and Google.
Apple also made mention of transparent dynamic processing and audio beamforming capabilities to improve its audio input. The six far-field microphones and additional low frequency microphone stack up nicely against the Echo’s seven far-field mic setup, while Google’s technology only required two far-field microphones. None of them should have any problems picking up commands though, even in a bustling living room.
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how much better the sound is, if at all, and if it’s worth the price tag. Apple’s premium audio offering may be a tough sell in this market which has proven itself to be quite price sensitive too. There’s always the option to connect a $50 Amazon Echo Dot up to a more premium Hi-Fi setup. Furthermore, we may see partner speakers from more renowned audio brands that support Alexa and Google Assistant appear in the not too distant future as well.
On the software and features side, in true Apple form, the HomePod system and third-party support is completely locked down, therefore offering a lot less choice than the established models. This may well change with time, but at launch the Amazon Echo and Google Home offer substantially more choice for both music streaming services and compatible smart home products.
Despite the audio focus, the HomePod doesn't support any third party streaming services at the moment. You'll have to make do with Apple Music.
The HomePod only currently supports Apple Music, which will be a disappointment to fans of other popular services, such as Spotify or Pandora which are supported on Amazon and Google’s platforms. It’s a similar situation if you’re looking to stream to using a multi-room setup. The HomePod supports the more limited new AirPlay 2 Wi-Fi standard, which again doesn’t support these third-party services, while Chromecast Audio does. However, Apple’s Craig Federighi has suggested that third-party apps may be supported by AirPlay 2 at some point.
This all ties into Apple’s proprietary play for the smart home market through its HomeKit product range. If you’re looking to integrate the HomePod with some other smart home products, then you’re limited to manufacturers that comply with Apple’s HomeKit standard. Amazon’s Echo range has taken a much more open approach here, opening up support for almost anything third party manufacturer through its Alexa Skills voice-driven platform.
Of course, then there are the capabilities of the smart assistants to consider. We won’t go too deep here, but Google’s Assistant has proven highly capable when it comes to understanding more complex requests, contextual awareness, and the ability to ask follow-up questions. Alexa not so much on the contextual side but it does support a huge range of commands, while Siri sits somewhere in between not quite matching the intelligence of Google nor Alexa’s huge third-party catalogue.
Echo and Home are clearly being publicized as connected smart speakers, with the assistants taking a key role when marketing the products. Apple is focusing more on the high-end home speaker angle, with Siri’s capabilities taking a little more of a backseat. Furthermore, it look like the HomePod is aimed more at those who are already sold on Apple’s ecosystem rather than those who use third-party services. This might not be a bad place to start in order to grab a share of the smart home market, but it might prevent the HomePod from being a breakthrough product.
If you’re tempted by Apple’s proposition then you’ll be in for a wait. The HomePod isn’t going to land in consumer hands until December, and a lot could change by then, as could the competition.
Further reading: What’s the best smart hub for your needs?