Hardware

Apple HomePod finally coming to stores: Can it win the smart speaker privacy war?

The HomePod faces tough competition from Amazon Echo and Google Home, but may have an edge when it comes to how it collects user data.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Apple's HomePod wireless speaker will arrive in stores on February 9, and is available for pre-order this week in the US, UK, and Australia.
  • The HomePod includes high-quality speakers and Siri integration, and may offer better privacy protections.

Six months after it was first announced, Apple's HomePod has finally gotten a release date: The smart speaker will be available for preorder Friday, and will ship and come to stores on February 9, Apple announced Tuesday.

The HomePod was originally meant to ship in December, in time for the holidays, but "we need a little more time," an Apple spokesperson told our sister site CNET at the time. This puts its release more than three years after the Amazon Echo, and one year after the Google Home—the two of which now account for 94% of all smart speakers in use.

However, arriving late to market is one of Apple's operating methods, as noted by our sister site ZDNet: The company has allowed competitors to come first and make mistakes, before adding their own premium product later that solves the problems. It will be important for Apple to compete in the smart speaker space, as these devices are a key way for customers to access music services, smart home devices, online shopping, and games, ZDNet noted.

SEE: IT hardware procurement policy (Tech Pro Research)

When it was first announced in June 2017 at WWDC, Apple executives touted the HomePod's sound quality and acoustic modelling capabilities in an attempt to target music lovers who are looking for a more powerful speaker. Its capabilities as a digital assistant were presented almost as an endnote during the announcement.

But in the digital assistant realm, it will be difficult for Apple to catch up to the others—specifically Amazon—in terms of skills: As of June 2017, Alexa had 15,069 skills, compared to 378 for Google Assistant and 65 for Microsoft Cortana.

HomePod's price tag may also deter some customers: It costs $349, compared to $180 for Amazon Echo and $129 for Google Home.

However, the HomePod may have one particular point of leverage over others on the market: Privacy. Until the device hears "Hey Siri," it does not send any other communication to Apple, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, said during the keynote address at WWDC 2017. When it does hear the command, it sends an anonymous Siri ID to Apple to fulfill your request, and all communication is encrypted.

This could potentially give the HomePod an edge in the enterprise, ZDNet noted, since many people are concerned with smart speakers' always-on microphones and what exactly happens to the data those microphones collect. It could also win over professionals who work from home and have to discuss sensitive work issues in front of their smart speaker.

When it comes to digital assistant usefulness, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant all offer different advantages, according to a Tom's Guide report. When considering skills in general knowledge, music, online shopping, communication, voice recognition, and more, Google ultimately ranked first, with Alexa in second and Siri in third.

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Image: James Martin/CNET

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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