Here’s an interesting review on HomePod. Don’t know if they wrote for Apple but 
it’s still interesting. Oh yeah and just to clarify something,you can actually 
ask Siri to turn up the volume by a specific percentage according to Brent’s 
audio demo Nimer sent earlier.

A Promising Work in Progress: Initial Thoughts on HomePod

By Ryan Christoffel
Feb 12, 2018 — 13:38 EST

At the start, you should know two things about me: HomePod is the first smart 
speaker I've ever owned, and I'm all-in on the Apple ecosystem.

These facts make me the HomePod's perfect customer, and they will surely color 
my comments. I'm guessing if I had more experience with other smart speakers, 
or I didn't own nearly every modern Apple product, my thoughts on HomePod would 
be different. That said, here are my early impressions.


Out of the box, my first thought was that HomePod is the perfect size – not in 
any way close to being too big, but also not abnormally small. It's deceptively 
heavy though. For now I have both white and space grey models, and they each 
look truly fantastic – simple, modern, unassuming, and attractive. And I know 
it's silly, but that power cord is nice.

Setup of HomePod is a triumph. Apple's new product setup flow for devices like 
iPhone used to be long and cumbersome, and that's started to change of late. 
HomePod nails it from the start. Hold your iOS device next to the HomePod, tap 
through a few simple setup screens, and you're done. The best part comes near 
the end, when Siri on the HomePod instructs you by voice in perfect sync with 
the instructions being displayed on your device. I could trust a HomePod to any 
tech-illiterate iPhone owner I know and feel confident they'd have no problems 
with setup. No, it isn't AirPods level one-tap simple, but it's about as good 
as I could imagine.


The main purpose of HomePod is playing music, and it does that very well. It's 
probably not fair to write a HomePod thought piece with only a single paragraph 
covering its music capabilities, but there are plenty of people better 
qualified than me to review HomePod's sound quality – I'm impressed though. 
Bass is powerful for such a small speaker, and I especially love being able to 
hear each distinct instrument in a song well. On Saturday my wife and I just 
sat together a little while doing nothing but enjoying music – we never do 
that. It wasn't just background noise; the music was our main focus. If you 
want to know how HomePod sounds, the answer is that it sounds great.

Other writers seem to universally agree that HomePod's design, setup, and sound 
quality are all stellar. There's not much more worth saying on those matters, 
so I want to focus in these first thoughts on Siri, third-party apps, and some 
miscellaneous items.

Siri


Where Siri on HomePod is an unequivocal success is in hearing its trigger 
phrase. The HomePod's array of microphones does an excellent job of picking up 
"Hey Siri" from any reasonable distance at normal speaking volume. I can speak 
fairly softly in everyday chatter, so when I heard HomePod reviewers say that 
using your normal speaking voice worked fine, I read that with an asterisk, 
wondering if it would apply to me. Well, it does – I don't have to remember I'm 
speaking to a device, I simply have to speak.

Apple has designed HomePod to detect user commands no matter how much blaring 
music's being pumped out of it. Some of the most delightful HomePod moments 
I've had were when the volume was turned way up on a song or podcast, and I 
casually, without raising my voice at all, gave a command that Siri heard 
perfectly. Siri's success in these times isn't the exception, it's the rule.

After playing with HomePod much of the day Friday, by Saturday morning my brain 
had already re-wired to expect that speaking at normal levels, even while the 
HomePod was blasting music, was perfectly fine. And this didn't just apply to 
HomePod – Saturday I was giving HomePod commands in the midst of playing music 
around 60% volume, and I began having a conversation with my wife who was one 
room over. Funnily enough, I started that conversation speaking at a normal 
volume level, expecting my wife would be able to hear me. Of course, she 
couldn't. Siri has humans beat in that department.

Hearing your request is one thing, but answering it properly is another. In 
that area, Siri performs about the same as it does everywhere else. No, it 
can't do everything that it does on other platforms, but for the things it can 
do, it does them well the vast majority of the time – there are certainly 
hiccups though. For example, on Friday I was listening to music, then asked 
HomePod to play the Accidental Tech Podcast. It responded, "Okay, Accidental 
Tech Podcast coming up." It heard me well, understood exactly what I wanted, 
and responded in kind. Except, my music kept playing afterward. I asked Siri 
again, using the same phrasing, and it gave a similar response then started the 
podcast. On the plus side, HomePod knew exactly where I'd paused the show when 
listening on my iPhone an hour beforehand.

Siri's foibles in most areas – save third-party apps, which I'll get to – have 
been rare for me, though they certainly still happen occasionally. For the most 
part, the things it can do, it does well.

One way Siri has performed consistently is in its quick responses to queries. 
"Hey Siri" followed immediately by a request, with no pause in-between, gets 
results fast. This makes using Siri for audio playback more convenient than I 
expected it to be. Saying "Hey Siri skip this," or "Hey Siri turn it up," or 
"Hey Siri I like this" gets such a quick response; unlike Siri on the Apple 
Watch, where you often face a brief, but noticeable wait before Siri takes 
action, on HomePod that wait feels non-existent. Certainly a wait does exist, 
but it's so short that I've never wondered if Siri heard me or not.

Speaking of audio controls, I've been pleasantly surprised by the experience of 
controlling volume by voice. I never got used to having Siri control volume on 
my AirPods because it felt too cumbersome – double-tap, wait, make the request, 
wait more; Apple Watch is a much better volume remote. On my first day with 
HomePod, I found myself wanting to adjust volume from my iPhone or Watch – 
which can be done, but I didn't know that at first. Since I didn't know, I gave 
Siri a legitimate shot, and after learning the "system," I quickly got hooked 
on this method of input. Key details about that system:

Siri can set volume to any specific percentage between 0 and 100. Say "Set 
volume to 100%" and you'll get a warning about how loud that is before being 
asked for confirmation.1
Saying "Turn it up (or down)" will adjust the volume either direction by 10%.
Saying "Turn it way up (or down)" adjusts volume by 20%.
You can also ask Siri what the volume's set to.
If you use the controls on top of the HomePod, a single tap adjusts the volume 
by 5%.
The only improvement I'd like to this setup is that it'd be great to be able to 
specify a certain percentage to increase or decrease volume by. Right now, if 
you ask Siri to "Increase the volume by 40%," it will go up, but only by the 
default 10%. Regardless of what percentage you ask Siri to adjust things, it 
will move 10% only. This isn't a huge problem, but it is an inconsistency.

One Siri drawback called out by many reviews is that the assistant can't set 
multiple timers on HomePod. I hope we'll see an update before the year's out to 
fix that, because the other potential substitutes aren't great. Reminders are 
probably the best alternative, since they can be named, and once they pop up, 
you can mark them complete and they disappear. Reminders still aren't ideal 
though because HomePod won't notify you about a due reminder, only your other 
devices will. Alarms can also be named, and you can set as many of them as 
you'd like, but like on the iPhone, every alarm you create gets saved 
permanently – in this case, saved HomePod alarms can be accessed in the Home 
app. Also, good luck finding out how much longer until an alarm is scheduled to 
go off. If it's the first time you've used a certain named alarm, this isn't a 
problem – simple ask, "What time is my laundry alarm set for?" But after using 
the term "Laundry alarm" more than once, every time you query its remaining 
time, Siri will ask which of your many laundry alarms you're asking about.

Finally, one question I had about HomePod initially is how it would know when 
to respond to "Hey Siri" itself rather than letting one of my other devices 
respond. The answer is that, for the most part, HomePod is the Siri alpha of 
the pack – almost all the time, HomePod is the device that actively listens to 
my requests. I've run into a few occasions where my iPhone, iPad, or Apple 
Watch did instead, but those were surprises, and according to Apple's 
documentation, it was probably after I used Raise to Wake on a separate device.

The HomePod's biggest Siri problem right now is easily its limited number of 
domains. The good news is, Apple is almost certainly hard at work to fix that. 
Since HomePod's unveiling last year, Apple Notes support was added to the 
originally announced domains, and I suspect we'll see calendar support and more 
later this year.

Once Siri on HomePod gains more of the capabilities of iOS Siri, thereby 
reducing the current fragmentation issue, it should easily offer the best Siri 
experience to date. Right now it does in some ways, but the domain limitations 
hurt.

Third-Party Apps


The first batch of HomePod reviews contained little to no information about how 
well the device handles third-party SiriKit requests. Last October, Apple 
announced that SiriKit would be supported on HomePod in three initial domains: 
Messaging, Lists, and Notes.

Along with that announcement came the news of how SiriKit support would work. 
Similar to how apps on the Apple Watch initially ran, apps for HomePod would be 
dependent on a paired iPhone in order to work at all. Apple shared:

Siri recognizes SiriKit requests made on HomePod and sends those requests to 
the user’s iOS device for processing.

On the Apple Watch, this kind of iPhone-dependent system made for frustratingly 
slow Watch apps. One major difference between HomePod and the first Apple Watch 
though is that the smart speaker relays SiriKit requests over Wi-Fi, while the 
Watch was dependent on Bluetooth. In practice, this makes a huge difference.

Over the last few days, I've used HomePod to add to-dos to my preferred task 
manager, Things, as well as OmniFocus, and I've added grocery items to AnyList 
and created new notes in Evernote. Those functions all worked well, and worked 
fast.2 I couldn't tell a difference in response time between Siri handling a 
SiriKit request and a native request like playing a song; if you were worried 
about an Apple Watch-like experience with SiriKit, those fears can be put to 
rest.

Unfortunately, that's about the only good news I have to share regarding 
SiriKit. Besides the fact that it's extremely limited to this point, with an 
embarrassingly small amount of third-party support compared to major 
competitors, there are a few other issues I've run into.

First, several apps in supported SiriKit domains that work with Siri on iPhone 
haven't worked in my testing of HomePod. Airmail uses SiriKit's messaging 
domain for sending emails with the digital assistant, but no matter what syntax 
I used, HomePod wouldn't let me send a message using the app. Several times it 
would say something like, "Mail hasn't set that up yet," while other times it 
would apologize for being unable to handle email requests. The former response 
makes it sound like perhaps Airmail needs to be updated to work on HomePod, 
while the latter demonstrates a hyper-sensitivity to requests that sound 
similar to things HomePod can't do, like send email using Apple's Mail app. 
Another failed test involved TwIM, the Twitter direct messaging app, which Siri 
provided several different failed responses to. I also couldn't get Siri to 
recognize Todoist's name in my queries, despite using approved alternate 
pronunciations.

Another problem I encountered is what appears to be an iOS bug. Whenever my 
SiriKit requests did not need any sort of additional authentication, they 
worked fine, but when HomePod would prompt me to authenticate on my iPhone 
before proceeding, Face ID would do its thing, then I'd be met with a blank 
Siri screen and nothing would happen. Related to this, if an app hadn't 
previously had Siri approved to access its data, I'd run into the same issue, 
which was circumvented by first doing a Siri request on my iPhone, then 
granting Siri access, which would enable Siri on the HomePod to proceed with 
future requests. I'm running the iOS 11.3 beta on my iPhone X, so it's entirely 
possible these issues are beta-related, and won't be a problem for anyone 
running iOS 11.2.5, but on my devices the blank Siri screen keeps appearing.

Finally, one nitpick I have with SiriKit's current implementation is that it's 
tied to what HomePod calls Personal Requests. Along with first-party Personal 
Requests regarding Messages, Reminders, and more, SiriKit requests can only be 
performed when the paired iOS device is on the same Wi-Fi network as HomePod – 
and you can only enable Personal Requests from an iPhone. I currently have two 
HomePods in the house, and my plan was to tie one of them to my iPhone, and the 
other to my iPad. This way, even when I'm away from home with my iPhone, my 
wife could still add grocery items to AnyList on the HomePod nearest the 
kitchen because my iPad would be at home. But Personal Requests can't be tied 
to an iPad, only an iPhone.


SiriKit on HomePod was already at a disadvantage compared to Amazon Echo and 
Google Home because of the huge disparity of supported domains. Out of the 
gate, that sadly isn't the only issue – bugs aside, apps that support SiriKit 
on iPhone may still need updates before supporting SiriKit on HomePod, and 
depending on how confusing an app's name is (Todoist), or how similar that name 
is to non-supported first-party domains (Airmail), you may have a really hard 
time getting HomePod to accurately interpret your SiriKit request.

Miscellany

Apple TV. I know HomePod isn't technically built as a TV speaker, but since 
it's now the best speaker I own, and all my TV watching happens through an 
Apple TV, I wanted to see how well the two devices would work together. The 
result: passably.

It's possible AirPlay 2 will improve the Apple TV's connection to HomePod when 
it launches later this year, but for now, AirPlay 1 isn't a bad option. It can 
be set up easily enough by holding the Siri Remote's Play/Pause button on the 
Home screen, or by swiping down from the top of the remote while watching a 
video to select the HomePod as your speaker.

Once HomePod is tied to the Apple TV, it will stay connected up until HomePod 
is asked to stream another audio source. This means you can ask common 
questions of HomePod regarding the weather, a movie you're watching, or other 
queries without breaking the AirPlay stream; but if you ask HomePod to play 
music or a podcast, then the next time you turn on the Apple TV you'll need to 
reconnect it.

Up Next on iPhone. While Siri works great for all things music-related, I also 
enjoy having the ability to use my iPhone to see what song is playing or manage 
playback. Thanks to the new audio playback controls introduced in iOS 11.2.5, 
this is easy to do. Switching audio sources, either from Control Center or the 
Music app, allows you detailed control of playback and a glance at what's 
currently playing on each device. If you're in Music, you and any family 
members granted Home access can even view and rearrange the Up Next queue.


The HomePod isn't yet what it will become.

Apple has a history of releasing 1.0 products that are limited in severe ways, 
but that also do a few foundational things impressively well. HomePod continues 
that tradition.

It could be argued that, since competitors like Amazon's Alexa are already so 
dominant, Apple needed to come out of the gate with a stronger 1.0. As it 
stands today, HomePod is certainly not a mass-market device like the Echo or 
Google Home. It needs improved SiriKit support, most notably for audio domains 
so that Spotify users can give it a serious look. It also needs more 
first-party Siri domains in order to provide a consistent Siri experience 
across Apple devices.

Despite what it's lacking, though, HomePod does a few things very right. In my 
mind it's clearly the best looking smart speaker on the market, the setup 
process is ridiculously easy, and yes, as a music player it sounds incredible. 
The hardware that supports Siri is also great, with HomePod's microphone array 
providing near-perfect detection of "Hey Siri," even when the music's turned up.

It's not a product for everyone yet, but I think it can get there over time. A 
few software updates, and HomePod could potentially have much wider appeal. For 
now though, despite its current limitations, the HomePod still provides an 
impressive, quality experience for Apple users like me. If you're happy with 
Apple Music, and you're already invested deeply in Apple hardware, HomePod 
offers a lot to enjoy.

I wish this prompt only happened once, but unfortunately it repeats itself. If 
I only listened to music, I likely wouldn't use max volume much; when listening 
to a podcast, however, turning the volume up happens more often because it 
means I can move around the house freely while still listening to a show. ↩︎
I have heard of other people having issues with these things that worked fine 
for me, however. ↩︎

Maria Reyes 
Owner of the Apple 411 list: 
apple411+subscr...@groups.io 
Click this link to join the Apple 411 WhatsApp group: 
https://chat.whatsapp.com/0bMtIrmqoyzJwnbRjqjPsO

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