- Apple design on display
- Surprisingly mighty sound
- Walled garden could use a few doors
- So much for Siri
- Your personal iCloud account, exposed
- The unfinished symphony
Your personal iCloud account, exposed
Some of Siri’s limitations may have to do with the HomePod’s inability to detect different voices. When you set it up with your iOS device, it uses that device’s iCloud account and information. Literally anyone who talks to it is treated like the owner of that phone. As long as your phone is on the same network, anyone can send a message or create a reminder on your account. These Personal Requests, as Apple calls them, only work when your phone is home on the same network, and they can be disabled entirely. But the solution to HomePod not knowing the difference between the account owner and everyone else should not be to shut off a whole bunch of features.
Even if you turn off Personal Requests, anyone within shouting distance of your HomePod can use its music functions, thus influencing your listening preference data on Apple Music. If you have kids, their constant playing of Disney music will pollute your “For You” recommendations. This can be disabled in the Home app, but then your own HomePod use isn’t influencing your own recommendations, either. Again, Apple’s only solution to the problem is to eliminate a desirable feature.
In the case of music recommendations, I don’t feel like you’d be missing much to turn the feature off, anyway. After weeks of using Apple Music on my iPhone and many listening hours with HomePod, I still don’t feel like Apple gives me good music recommendations. I toss aside at least half of the tracks it recommends for me.
It’s not all bad news with Siri. HomePod and Siri together do a couple of very important things with aplomb. When it comes to hearing my voice commands from across the room, even with loud music playing, HomePod earns top marks. I never have to yell, and HomePod nearly always understands what I say. I couldn’t get any digital assistant to properly recognize my request to play the “Forkin’ Bullshirt” podcast, but hey, wordplay is always tough.
Siri’s voice is quite natural and welcoming, too, with both male and female options and several accents to choose from (American, Australian, and British). Alexa sounds like an 80s robot by comparison.
The unfinished symphony
The HomePod simply isn’t ready yet. All smart speakers improve over time with software updates, but even in that context, HomePod is incomplete. It doesn’t have two of the major capabilities Apple promised at its unveiling last summer: you cannot use two HomePods in the same room in a true stereo configuration, nor link up several HomePods across your house for whole-home audio. Apple says both features are coming in software updates later this year, but competing products do these things today.
And it amazes me that a company so famously concerned with privacy and security shipped a product made to live out in the open, used by everyone in your home, that treats every voice it hears as if it were your own. It even defaults to allowing access to personal information like reminders, notes, and messaging. Apple has made no mention of multiple voice detection and user accounts as a future HomePod feature, but it’s really hard to recommend the product without it, even to Apple enthusiasts.
HomePod’s hardware is lovingly crafted, its sound quality is top-notch, and its ability to clearly hear you in difficult conditions is a cut above the competition. But the music service and connection options are too restrictive, HomeKit support is relatively sparse, and Siri is miles behind its competitors as a virtual assistant. Worse, Siri on HomePod can’t even do some of the things Siri on your iPhone can.
It’s a little unusual for a major product to suffer a delay and still feel rushed to market, and even more unusual to see that from Apple. And yet, HomePod clearly needed a few more months of rehearsal before stepping out on stage.
HomePod is a delayed product that somehow still feels rushed to market. It sounds great, but it is held back by Siri's numerous problems and a lock-in policy that is heavy-handed even for Apple.
- Excellent sound quality
- Siri listens well
- Beautiful, compact design
- Siri is dumb
- Doesn't recognize different users
- Limited connectivity
- Limited music sources