HomePod is no match for Alexa. Is Apple losing the smart speaker plot?

HomePod isn’t really a smart speaker – not yet at least. Siri currently can’t deliver on one of the three most critical abilities

 

The war for your digital home is waging. Apple has finally followed Amazon, Google and Microsoft by launching a smart speaker with a voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistant. Yet even though the “ Apple HomePod ” is another technological marvel, there’s a chance Apple is already losing the battle.

The competition isn’t just through the sound quality of the speaker – but the other things that users can do with it. The most common requests to AI personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri are reportedly to play music, read the weather forecast and set timers or reminders.

But the capabilities of these assistants are increasing at lightning speed. This doesn’t just rely on the sophistication of the artificial intelligence involved but also what other technology the assistant can link to. And given Apple’s tendency to reject open connections to other company’s systems, it may find it has some serious catching up to do.

Apple’s HomePod is entering an already busy marketplace. Probably the most famous smart speaker is Amazon’s Echo, which runs the AI assistant Alexa. Because Amazon opened up its system for anyone to write software programs for it, Alexa now has over 25,000 specific capabilities or “skills” in its US version alone, up from 5,000 just over a year ago. It can now read out recipes, order a pizza, turn on the lights or tell jokes. Partly because it was the first major smart speaker released, Echo has a greater depth of capabilities than any of its rivals.

Google Home, which features the creatively named Google Assistant, can link to multiple Google accounts so you can check your calendar or manage reminders. But it also links to your Android phone so you can make calls through the speaker or view on a screen the results of internet searches you ask it to make.

Microsoft has partnered with electronics manufacturer Harman Kardon to create a speaker called Invoke powered by Microsoft’s Cortana assistant. It also allows you to check your calendar and reminders, as well as make Skype calls, but only for one Microsoft account. Its AI capabilities are also not nearly as developed as either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.

Apple is taking a different approach to its rivals, hoping to corner the higher end of the smart speaker market and encourage consumers to part with more money, as it has done very successfully with its other products. The HomePod delivers high quality sound using seven physical speakers arranged in a circle to create a virtual stereo effect, directing different parts of the sound in different directions.

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