The latest update aims to bring more features to user devices – and make it worth the money.
In the home virtual assistant sphere, Amazon’s Echo has pretty much barreled through the gates and managed to stay in the lead, at least in terms of consumer response and brand recognition. Much like the words “kleenex,” “band-aid,” and “coke,” the product name itself is fast becoming the universal term for the category of device, with phrases like “Ask Alexa,” becoming pretty standard regardless of the VA you use.
Part of this instant adoption can be attributed to the ever-increasing functionality of the device: Echo/Alexa went from a voice-activated music player and note taker, to helping you order products, find movie listings, change the channel on the television, and dim the lights, all within the space of weeks following its launch.
Apple released its HomePod competitor after the Echo, but has so far struggled to play catch-up when it comes to both its usefulness and price. For roughly the price of a car payment, you too can own a speaker that plays songs on command… as long as they’re stored through a supported platform. But some new features are headed to users’ devices, ones that might make the device a little more bang-for-the-buck worthy.
The first highly anticipated change will be Siri support for any other speakers users connect to their HomePod, even if you’re connecting non-Apple smart speakers. This type of connectivity can let you set up tiny speaker access points in other rooms of your house, which Alexa has already been capable of through its pairing option.
For those who want two HomePod speakers for stereo sound, stereo pairing is available in the latest software update. Amazon has allowed users to setup multi-room music play for quite some time, meaning that if you own more than one Echo or Dot, you can create groups to have the same music playing in different rooms. It might seem like a waste of a good device, but it’s handy for hosting an event, working out of two rooms in your house, tackling annoying Saturday chores, and more. HomePods will now be able to repeat that capability with additional HomePod speakers.
So what makes it different?
For both Echo and HomePod, the first question might be, “How is this an improvement over simply using the Amazon Music or AirPlay apps (or other music streaming services like Spotify, for example) on your phone to feed to any Bluetooth speaker?” Basically, you’re not tying up your phone or killing your battery to turn on music at home or work. The function occurs through the virtual assistant instead.
Speaking of AirPlay, the bigger news in Apple’s update to HomePod is the support for AirPlay 2, something that was supposed to happen quite a while ago. The delays are over, and AirPlay 2 is included in the iOS 11.4 update with support for a wide variety of Apple products. If you have a Spotify account, you can use it from your phone or MacBook to your HomePod.
However, one key difference is that HomePod was never intended to be and therefore still isn’t a catch-all device like Echo. Instead, it’s a rather high-end speaker that happens to let you Siri your music preferences. It’s safe to say that HomePod doesn’t so much compete with Echo as it does do one of Echo’s jobs really, really well.