Apple kicked off the grand unveiling of the HomePod in June by showing a Sonos Play:3 and Amazon Echo, with Philip Schiller saying Apple wants to combine the two to create a “breakthrough home speaker”, claiming that the company has been hard at work for many years creating a device that will 1) Rock the House, 2) Have spatial awareness and 3) Be a musicologist.
The small cylinder Mac Pro shaped HomePod features a large Apple-designed woofer for deep, clean bass, a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters that provide pure high frequency acoustics and powerful technologies built into the inners of the speaker to preserve the richness of the audio it is playing. Siri has been integrated deeply into the HomePod, with the device allowing users to use voice to ask the speaker to perform a range of tasks from controlling their HomeKit connected home automation devices to playing a song or reading out the latest news.
Personally speaking, I’m a big fan of the Sonos line-up; I use their products both at home and at work and adore the audio quality their speakers produce. Hearing that Apple is practically building on from the success of Sonos by creating a new, similarly priced speaker that has Siri integrated into the core, and that also acts as a base for my HomeKit devices is big news. Although Apple has the high hopes of wiping out all other smart speakers, I wanted to find out if Apple’s new HomePod is a true Sonos competitor.
Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes. – Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.
Audio: Firstly and with design aside, the most important part of a speaker is the audio quality it produces. As mentioned above, Apple’s new HomePod will use a large Apple-designed woofer and a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters which in comparison to Sonos who use one tweeter and two mid-woofers on their Sonos Play:3 isn’t that bad. Apple has the advantage of using advanced automatic room-sensing technology that allows HomePod to quickly learn its position in a room, whether it’s in a corner, on a table or in a bookshelf. The automatic room-sensing technology means that their new wireless speaker will automatically adapt and enhance the audio is its playing so that it is optimised for the local surroundings.
Design: The design of the HomePod mimics the cylinder Mac Pro, with the speaker measuring in at under 7 inches tall. Available in both white and space grey, similar to the Sonos Play:3 which is available in black and white, Apple’s new wireless home speaker is almost entirely covered in a “seamless 3D mesh fabric,” just leaving enough space at the top for a touch-sensitive display used to control the speaker and show a Siri waveform when the personal assistant is hard at work. – Sonos is shaped how you would expect a speaker to be shaped, with a front facing grill and play/pause controls and volume up/down buttons on the top. Unlike the HomePod, the Sonos Play:3 can be used both vertically and horizontally, meaning it’s easier to place around the home. The Sonos Play:3 doesn’t have a display but in the speakers defence it doesn’t need one; it’s not a smart speaker and all controls are made using the Sonos app on either iPhone, iPad or the Mac.
Price/Features: Full international HomePod pricing hasn’t been shared by Apple yet however, we do know the speaker will be priced at $349 in the US. Sonos has a range of speakers, from a Play:1 which is priced at £199/$199 all the way up to the Sonos PlayBase which costs £699/$699. Throughout this feature I’ve compared Apple’s speaker to the Play:3, my favourite Sonos speaker priced at £299/$299. For price, Sonos wins as the cheapest option however, the Apple HomePod offers much more than just a way to play audio. Apple still has a lot to tell us about the HomePod, however from the details shared in the official press release show that the speaker can be set up very similarly to how a user pairs a set of AirPods, with Bluetooth automatically pairing the speaker to an iPhone when put in close proximity. HomePod will act as a HomeKit base, allowing users to control their homes from anywhere in the world, something currently offered on select Apple TV and iPad models. For Siri usage the HomePod uses six powerful microphones with echo cancellation features so it can easily hear when a user says “Hey Siri” to awaken the speaker.