Apple HomePod to Challenge Google Home and Amazon Echo

Apple’s new HomePod and the Threat to Google Home and Amazon Echo

Apple unveiled the company's long awaited competitor to the Amazon Echo smart speaker at the company's WWDC conference on Monday. Like the Echo and the Google Home, the HomePod is an always-listening speaker that plays music, answers questions and controls your smart home. 

It's due out this December in the US, UK and Australia and will cost a lofty $349. That's expensive -- the Echo's only $180 and the Home's even cheaper at $130.

Apple's upcoming HomePod has to sound better than both the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. That's the expectation the company set, and the HomePod has to follow through for it to outdo the highly competent competition. The HomePod could sell well enough just on the clout of its Apple branding, but to actually be better than either the Echo or the Home, it will need to sound great. Because I expect it'll have a hard time keeping up with either of its competitors as a smart home control point or an entertainment device.

Here are just some of the comparative features:

 

Apple HomePod

Google Home

Amazon Echo

Price USD

$349

$129

$180 / $40

Wake word

"Hey Siri"

"OK Google," or "Hey Google"

"Alexa," "Echo," "Amazon" or "Computer"

Music streaming options

Apple Music

Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn

Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others

Smart home Partners

Will likely work with Apple's established HomeKit partners: Ecobee, Honeywell, Chamberlain, D-Link, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, iDevices and more

Nest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony

Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, Big Ass Fans, Crestron, other devices via skills

Output to stereo system

Unknown

Yes, via Chromecast

Yes, via Bluetooth and Echo Dot

Personal assistant highlights

News, language translation, weather & traffic info, reminders, podcasts

Google Search, traffic, calendar, shopping lists, flight status

Calendar, news, traffic, weather, shopping lists, reminders, flight status,

 

Apple Opportunity

Neither the Amazon Echo or the Google Home fared particularly well on our sound tests during their reviews. Both devices sound fine for casually listening to music, but we heard distortion from both of them at high volume levels. Sound quality is really important to some people, but the speakers that come with the unit can always be tethered to other speaks or speak systems. Both the Echo and the Google Home allow you connect your unit to your existing sound system, either directly or via BlueTooth. Google Home allows the user to connect via Chromecast to another enabled device, but I couldn’t get it to work.

The only way the HomePod can actually justify its $350 price tag is to blow away users at the get go, and that might be so easy. Apple also has an established smart home platform called the HomeKit, which is like an SDK of a sort. It works with Siri and allows for smoother interaction for other devices and services, but I am not sure how compelling this will be for the everyday user. I think there is a decent chance that HomeKit end being more trouble than it is worth for developers since there is a strong chance most users will use HomePod like a very expensive voice controlled iPod.

What we like about Amazon Echo

I bought mine for $39 last Christmas, plugged in the speaker I already had, and connected it to my Amazon Prime account and that was it. Don’t underestimate the perceived value of simplicity. Plus Amazon Music has a pretty good selection of music for me and it sounds pretty good. And, I can order razor blades and toilet paper if I need to. I also like the fact that if something goes wrong with the WIFI connection, I can just access the device through my laptop and quickly fix it. And while I haven’t yet hooked up my lights to the Echo, I plan on doing it so I can order Alexa to shut off my house lights for me.

What we like About Google Home

Google has a cool thing called shortcuts, and the voice command is much more flexible and permitting than Alexa is. And as a result of it massive trove of information to tap into, Google Home can answers question much more accurately and more effective than Echo can. It also has excellent home entertainment capabilities with Chromecast. I would not bet again Alphabet and Google Home is the race for dominance. Just get ready for the annoying voice ads.

 

The Wide World of Web Widgets

When Kyle Ford set out to create a customized iGoogle homepage, the 30-year-old Los Angeles native decided he wanted it to show information he needs every day -- such as current weather conditions and a calendar. Lucky for him, adding these features was easy thanks to a technology called "widgets." 

In technical terms, a widget is a chunk of programming code that delivers a small amount of content to a web page. At its core, a widget is a mini software application that you can incorporate into your own web page. This is do-it-yourself programming.

Also known as gadgets, badges, flake and snippets, widgets can help to enhance your personal web site or online profiles with video, music, photos and games. So with widgets, you don't need to hire a programmer or web designer to add content to your web site or MySpace profile, explains Pam Webber, vice president of product development and marketing for Widgetbox, a widget directory.

Ford, a product development manager at Ning, a technology company that also creates social networks and widgets, adds that: "Widgets take information you want and push it to you."

If you're ready to get started using widgets, here are the basics you need to know:

What are widgets?
Widgets have become so popular on the web these days, that you might not realize that you're already using them. For example, you may have a friend who has a profile on Facebook and she may have used the site's widget library to add special features to her profile such as iLike (a list of music she likes), the Traveler IQ Challenge (an interactive quiz), or the Virtual Bookshelf (a list of favorite books). If you've seen these features, then you have witnessed a widget in action.

On Ford's own family web site, House of Kyle, he creates widgets with family snapshots and home video so that others can copy and paste them on their own blogs, web sites or social network profiles.

These snippets of code can be found at many web sites on the Internet, including Widgets Lab, which offers widgets for a variety of functions. There is one that enables you to put your photos in a slideshow. Another one helps you to create your own comic strips. You can even add the New York Times' crossword puzzle to your personal web page. Many widgets are free, while some come with a nominal cost.

Why do you need widgets?
The easy answer: because they make your web pages more entertaining and a lot more fun. Adding widgets to your social networking profile or blog is tantamount to accessorizing. You wouldn't leave the house without your lucky watch or your favorite purse, would you? So why would you leave your Facebook page without a widget?

You can also find widgets that are useful for business (such as tracking the flights of colleagues who are traveling) and finance (like signing up for news feeds about the stock market), or family life (instead of emailing family and friends the latest video of your kids, let them copy a widget from your web site and paste it on their own.) Widgets can help you save time. For example, if you already have a blog, you can use an RSS (really simple syndication) widget to import your latest musings into your Facebook profile. Same goes for your Flickr photos -- you can use a widget to display your photo albums on your Facebook profile or personal web site.

How do I install widgets?
Widgets are getting easier to install every day. On some social networking sites, it's as simple as clicking one button. Other widget providers require that you download an installer. 

If you're a more sophisticated web user, you can install widgets the traditional way -- by copying the underlying code and manually pasting it into your web site's basic code. The web site usually needs to support either Flash or JavaScript. "One-click works beautifully," says Gina Bianchini, the co-founder and CEO of Ning. But the copy and paste method allows users "a lot more freedom and flexibility," she says.

To delete a widget -- either manually or with an installer -- you would delete the code that you inserted. On MySpace, for example, go to profile edit page, locate the section where your widget is displayed and delete the code. On Facebook, it's as simple as hitting the delete key next to where the widget lives on your profile.

Do widgets pose any downsides?
The popularity and ease of use of widgets has meant that more people are developing their own games, video and other types of widgets. Many web sites that feature easily downloadable widgets warn users that they are about to install something that could possibly include malicious code and result in damage to their computer. So how do you know whether a widget is safe? One way is to review user feedback. Sites like Yahoo! and Facebook, for example, show the number of times a widget has been downloaded and include reviews from actual users. This feedback can alert you to possible dangers. So even though most sites warn that you download widgets at your own risk, your best bet is to get them from companies you trust.