HomePod review: Sounds great but limited information and home control

Based on the early reviews, Apple’s HomePod sounds amazing. It’s so good according to some that it rivals audio equipment priced nearly three times the $ 349 you’ll pay Apple for a  HomePod. And in my testing, I agree: Apple has engineered an excellent sonic experience from a single unit. Plus the microphones are nearly flawless at hearing your voice commands regardless of how loud you’re playing music.

Is the speaker worth $ 349 when you can spend a similar amount on other smart speakers? That’s a difficult question to answer for a few reasons. Generally speaking, if you’re all in on iOS and Apple Music, plus you don’t mind waiting for Siri to get smarter, you’ll be happy with a HomePod. I qualify on the first part of that equation, but not the second. And to be honest, I’m not sure the HomePod sounds that much better than some other speakers that have more smarts.

By that I mean most of the “smarts” in the HomePod are in the sound experience. The device automatically configures itself for optimal sound when you first set it up. And HomePod repeats that algorithmic optimization whenever you move it. That’s smart. Does it really solve a problem though?

Credit: Apple

Yes, the intelligent configuration is impressive. It’s also easier than the process used on my Sonos One speakers: The Trueplay Tuning requires you to walk around your room as the Sonos app listens to tones from the speakers. This manual effort takes about a minute and, just like the HomePod setup process, it only works on Apple iOS devices.

Here’s the thing though: How often do you physically move speakers that plug into an outlet? Not that often, if at all after the initial setup. While Apple has made this process “magical”, it’s not something you do daily. HomePod will also dynamically adjust music in real time too, although I haven’t heard much of a difference with this feature.

Additionally, I did a bit of a blind listening test with my family and one of my tech-savvy friends, mainly because I didn’t really prefer the HomePod audio over a pair of Sonos One speakers in most cases. That may seem like an unfair comparison because the HomePod is a single unit, while a pair of speakers are obviously two units. So why the comparison from an audio standpoint? Because both setups cost the same: Sonos dropped the price of a Sonos One pair to $ 349 for a limited time.

I set up the listening tests using the same songs in various genres directly from Apple Music and at the same sound levels. More often than not, the Sonos Ones were the preferred option. Note that I’m not saying the Sonos “won” for a specific reason. While the HomePod may technically be the better device for accurate sound reproduction, it’s more important which speakers deliver the sound the listeners prefer. It’s subjective based on taste and hearing capabilities. David Pogue performed a similar blind test on video and nobody chose the HomePod as the overall winner either, further illustrating this subjectiveness.

To my ears, the HomePod is better in the lower, bass frequencies and is impressively good at bouncing sound off walls with its seven tweeters to create an immersive stage. One HomePod is surely better than one Sonos One. Add a second Sonos One though, and the stereo separation is clear, plus the mid-range and high frequencies are more nuanced to me. Again, this is subjective to my ears; I recommend testing any speaker with your preferred music genres.

Unfortunately, most of the “smarts” end there for HomePod and for that you can blame Siri. The best way I can put it is: Siri is fragmented between iOS devices and HomePod. You’d think everything Siri can do on an iPhone or iPad could be done on the HomePod. It’s not even close.

Sure, the HomePod has the basics. Obviously, Siri is super for voice control of specific music or for suggesting playback based on an activity. As I’m writing this review, I asked Siri to “play music for studying” and she was up to the task: I have some easy listening and acoustic hits playing. She knows the weather, the time, can set reminders, and can tell when my soccer team (technically, my English football club) plays next. And of course, she can control any HomeKit device in the home. This all works great.

Want to know your next Calendar appointment or want to create one? Nope. Need to set two timers with Siri? Sorry, she can only handle one at a time. Oh, and although HomePod works for speakerphone calls initiated from your phone, you can’t start a call from HomePod.

Perhaps the most baffling omission though is in regards to HomeKit. In the iOS Home app you can create routines to group different HomeKit devices together and make them do things with a single Siri command. HomePod appears as a device in the Home app but you can’t include the speaker in a routine. I do this with my Google Home by telling it I want Relaxation Mode and it turns the lights on at 25% in my office while also firing up an acoustic playlist on the Sonos One. That can’t be replicated on HomePod, at least not yet.

Apple says that more features such as multi-room audio and stereo pairing of HomePods is coming later this year. I suspect Siri will be improved as well for things like calendar access and the ability to recognize multiple users. The latter is another big omission for me because HomePod is tied to a single iCloud account, meaning even if the calendar features were available, they would only work with my calendar account. My family would be out of luck, unless of course each person had their own HomePod. (That’s not happening.)

Circling back to the beginning, I do think iOS users with Apple Music and HomeKit devices will be thrilled with the sound and home control of HomePod, provided they can wait for Apple to address some of the gaps in Siri’s smarts. Just remember that HomePod only works with Apple Music (for now) and that it doesn’t work at all with Android phones even though it has a Bluetooth 5 radio inside and there’s an Android version of Apple Music. I wouldn’t be surprised if HomePod stays iOS only for a long time, or for good. So you’d better be sure you won’t switch away from iOS if buying a HomePod.

For me (and my ears), a pair of Sonos One speakers sounds very comparable to HomePod at the same price. They also work with dozens of streaming music services and have the more capable Alexa built in now with Google Assistant coming later this year. My HomePod was purchased out of pocket with our site reimbursing me; if I was spending my own money, I’d pass on HomePod for now with a wait-and-see attitude as Apple improves the smarts of its smart speaker.

We’ll keep using the HomePod over time to assess new features and functions as they become available. In the meantime, comment below or call in on our IoT Podcast Listener Hotline at 512-623-7424 if you have HomePod questions. 

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

How Rogue Ales Makes a Great Beer from Wet Hops, Clean Water and Innovation

Rogue beers

The challenge is local and global. The world has a major perishables problem. A full 30 percent of all perishable produce and products never make it all the way from the farm to the table. For Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., that means that some of their hops can’t be used in the best way possible, which means they can’t produce the best beer possible.

Intel has become a key ingredient in delivering fresh goods through more efficient supply chain tracking tools and management.

For the US and the world, that means less theft, less rotting and better food. For Rogue, that means fresher hops and better beer.

Hoppy Hazards

Fresh goods and efficient supply chain

Rogue produces hops meant to be used in brewing “fresh hop” or “wet hop” beers. In other words, the hops are not dried in the field but are shipped quickly for immediate use in breweries. In fact, these hops have to be dropped into a vat of beer within 12 hours of harvest, or they start to go bad.

And fresh hops can be more hazardous than you might expect. If they overheat, the volatile oils with which the brewer infuses them can infiltrate the beer and produce an “off” flavor. Think about how lovely compost smells as it decomposes. Who’d want to drink that?

Connected Reporting

Hops being shipped

Enter the Intel Connected Logistics Platform. Rogue learned that this platform is used in the shipping of 1.1 billion units of products to 24 warehouses in 68 countries worldwide. Logistics experts rely on Intel technology because the platform brings clear visibility on each shipment, helping them see exactly where the freight is and what condition it’s in.

Intel’s multifaceted tracking strategy empowers shippers to look at data on each shipment, immediately react to that data, and optimize around that data, helping future shipments arrive on time with minimal losses. All these insights are driven by Edge Intelligence, powered by a quad core processor inside of each gateway, which can deliver data whether it’s connected or not.

Saving the Hops

Using the Intel Connected Logistics Platform, Rogue set out to collect temperature and humidity data on its shipments of hops, at every stage between the hop yard and the brewery. Intel’s sensors tracked each shipment’s location via GPS and noted whether temperature or humidity rose above or below acceptable boundaries.

With the help of nearly real-time data on each step of the transit process, Intel Connected Logistics Platform has given Rogue the power to take diligent care of each shipment of wet hops. After the hop harvest process, each shipment gateway is tagged with three tags per bin – one at the top, one in the middle, and one at the bottom – to ensure comprehensive tracking from the harvest all the way to the brewing vat.

As a result of Intel’s in-depth tracking, Rogue’s shipments of hops now stay more consistently fresh. The proof is in the hops: Take a taste, and see for yourself.

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IoT@Intel

Great Ideas Are Getting Harder to Find

There’s been ongoing dialogue in the past few years about whether tech innovations have plateaued. While some say that we’re still in a golden age of innovation, a 2016 headline in The Wall Street Journal declared, “The Economy’s Hidden Problem: We’re Out of Big Ideas.” The article cited slower gains in science, medicine, and technology that hold back economic growth and posited that U.S. businesses may be too risk averse.

At the MIT symposium in November 2017, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy Erik Brynjolfsson answered the question, “Are we running out of inventions?” with a definitive “no.” He spoke about improvements in machine learning, from neural networks to voice recognition, and noted that there has been “a flood of research” in artificial intelligence in recent years that will likely lead to new breakthroughs.

What’s going on? Are we so jaded by technological breakthroughs that incremental innovation is discounted? Or are we facing a more serious problem?

Our latest research shows encouraging signs that new concepts have not been depleted. However, unique, original, and untapped ideas are getting more expensive to find — and that’s a problem.

A Research Productivity Gap

A range of evidence from various industries, products, and companies shows that U.S. research efforts are rising substantially while research productivity is sharply declining. Optimists hope for a fourth industrial revolution that will raise the bar again, while pessimists lament that most potential productivity growth has already occurred.

We believe that these differing views revolve around resource allocation. To maintain a given rate of economic growth, resources devoted to research must increase over time — but in many areas that’s not happening fast enough. Aggregate evidence as well as measures of research and development (R&D) productivity in specific industries — especially computers, agriculture, and medicine — illustrate this.

Take Moore’s Law, for example, which Wikipedia defines as “the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.” Although this translates into an impressive increase in technical progress of 35% per year, our research finds that the effective number of semiconductor researchers has increased by around 18 times since 1971, which implies that research productivity on computer chips has in fact declined at an average annual rate of 6.8%. This is significant, not only because of the high expectations that technology has set for fast-paced, awe-inspiring innovation and growth but also because the two are extrinsically linked: Economic growth arises from people creating ideas and innovation. The greater the research investment, the greater the rate of growth.

The High Cost of Mining for Ideas

Geologists have been forecasting “peak oil” for decades, only to be surprised by deep-sea discoveries and shale oil. Likewise, we see a continuing stream of innovations — but, just as newer oil sources are increasingly costly to extract, coming up with new ideas is getting more expensive. The issue is not just how many ideas for productivity growth are left but what it would cost to get them out of the ground — and, crucially, how much we’re prepared to spend to do it.

Our recent study shows that these costs have increased sharply over time and that research productivity, or the innovation bang for the R&D buck, has declined. In an accounting sense, low productivity growth in the economy is a direct consequence of research efforts failing to increase quickly enough to offset declining research productivity. If we want to restore economic growth, we need to pay for it.

Research productivity in the U.S. has fallen 5.3% per year on average, according to our estimates. In order to offset the increased difficulty of finding new ideas, the level of research looking for new ideas must be doubled in the United States every 13 years, just to sustain constant GDP growth per person — and that’s a tall order.

It may be that part of the drop in research productivity is that more R&D is devoted to defending market share rather than expanding the market. One example is “me too” drugs that are only slightly better than existing treatments but can tip the market to a new pharmaceutical company. Another issue may be that basic research is a smaller fraction of overall R&D in part because of government cutbacks.

We find similar trends whether we look at crop yields for corn and soybeans or at medical innovations that reduce mortality from heart disease and breast cancer. Although there have been technological improvements, they require the devotion of ever-growing amounts of resources to the research process to maintain steady rates of improvement. We also find a similar pattern using company-level data. While there was substantial heterogeneity across companies, we found that research productivity declined for more than four-fifths of our sample.

To our minds, all of this points to the conclusion that ideas are becoming more expensive to find. Unless research inputs continue to rise — at the university, government, and individual business levels — economic growth will continue to slow in advanced nations such as the United States. Only top-level commitment and resources will stem the tide.


MIT Sloan Management Review

Remote Care! The Great Healthcare Disruptor

In late October in Boston, Mass., the top minds in healthcare and technology came together at the Connected Health Conference to envision how connected healthcare will transform patient care and the systems used to deliver it, making remote care the standard of care. And right after the conference, as if on cue, Medicare published new reimbursement rules for 2018 that promise to greatly accelerate adoption of effective remote care models.

An increasingly connected world is fueling industries from manufacturing to entertainment with the enormous benefits of merging data with technology, thus enabling end-user interaction in better and more personal ways than ever before. Healthcare is no exception. What the Connected Health Conference demonstrated is that we are at a rare inflection point. Healthcare stakeholders are aligned, aided by the indisputable evidence in efficacy, and with technological breakthrough already underway, the remote care revolution is imminent, set to improve patient access and patient outcomes, while creating efficiencies and lowering costs.

A human checks their blood pressure during a connected health conference in 2017.

Distributing the Delivery of Care

Similar to the sea change that occurred in care delivery with the establishment of the institutional hospital system in the 1800s, the path to transformation today lies in taking patient care from the most expensive place, the hospital, to the least expensive, like a person’s residence. In fact, today’s most dramatic improvements in outcomes—both for the patient and for the system at large—result from the use of some form of remote care, the need and benefit for which has already been widely researched and documented in the industry.

One of the biggest problems we face in healthcare today—aside from prohibitive costs and lack of universal access—is the absence of a cohesive data ecosystem that fuses insights seamlessly into assisting the clinician workflow. Healthcare data today flows through numerous disparate channels that don’t speak to each other. As many industry experts agree, we need to build a dataflow ecosystem into the collaborative workflow of care teams, patients and family simultaneously. Giving people this greater access to their care group through clear, efficient data gathered by the devices they already use will not only improve the quality of care, but it can eliminate unnecessary hospital readmissions and provide a reliable, proactive, and connected continuum of care. This will truly rival the revolutionary changes brought about by the first hospital system two centuries ago.

IoT-enabled devices can help keep humans healthy.

A Vision for Remote Care

Intel Health Application Platform (HAP) is a new category of technology architected to aid the transformation to remote care. When coupled with the Intel-architecture-based design specification implemented by Flex, this software can help enable healthcare solution providers to securely and reliably deliver distributed healthcare services across an always-connected and ever-expanding healthcare edge and to any cloud. When combined with the Flex IoT Compute Engine, the Intel HAP can empower the healthcare industry to develop novel and exciting products and services at the edge with enterprise-grade stability, security, and longevity.

With Intel HAP, solution providers are working to usher in this new age where devices and data are connected regardless of the environment or records that are used, information can be delivered privately and securely to patient and provider, and adverse health events can be avoided rather than responded to.

At the conference, I was also delighted to once again spend some time with Dr. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor and one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth, in discussion of the shared belief that technology and healthcare will merge but only when innovators create the new business models that enable remote patient care in the first place.

Indeed, in order to overcome the barriers to remote care adoption, we need a shift in provider and consumer behavior, a change in the economic model, and to ensure access to technology. Hospitals are already innovating and deploying new models, and better business and health outcomes are happening, helping more people live healthier lives. The road ahead will require not just technologies like IoT, but also new legislation and reimbursement frameworks, so that the technological progress can be sustained by a business model that enables doctors and patients to embrace remote care as a new medical standard of care.

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IoT@Intel

5 IoT applications to make our planet great again!

The US have left Paris climate agreement against the will of most citizens. We list here 5 IoT applications that will help to decrease the CO2 emissions on top of providing a financial incentive to the stakeholders.

Connected dumpster

Connecting bins and dumpsters with an ultrasonic sensor to monitor their level of waste helps to optimize waste collection, making it less systematic. Data shows that this approach reduces waste collection by 30% in average.

In practice, this application comes with a route optimization algorithm that reduces travel times and distances, therefore, reducing CO2 emissions.

 

Connected dumpster

Solution providers: OnePlus Systems, Sayme…

 

Gas tank remote monitoring

Like connected dumpsters, LPG, fuel & oil tanks can benefit from connected ultrasonic sensors. The supplier knows when to arrange delivery or pick up and can optimize its delivery route.

Solution providers: Silicon Controls, Ijinus…

 

Street lighting

More and more cities are considering smart lighting as it can decrease their energy bills. Street light dimming systems have a break-even after 4 to 8 years depending on the cost of electricity in the country. The principle is to reduce light intensity when there are no pedestrian or cars. This approach can lead to 80% of energy savings for cities.

Another option is to use Street lighting systems which embed a light intensity schedule where light intensity is only based on the time.

 

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Solution providers: Kawantech, Sayme

 

Smart parking

In dense areas, it can sometimes be challenging to find a parking place. More and more cities are adding sensors connected to a smartphone application so that drivers can be routed to a vacant parking place directly.

This helps reduce driving time by 10 minutes and CO2 emissions by 20% on average.

 

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Solution providers: IoTMalta, Libelium, Sterela…

 

Risk management

A lot of physical tests and measurements can be replaced by connected sensors: regular actions that can be assessed remotely are causing pollution which could be avoided.

This is the case with legionella monitoring. We can now remotely assess the risk of the legionella bacteria developing by just monitoring the water temperature and linking it to a smart algorithm.

Another example is the temperature monitoring of railway tracks. For safety reasons, railway companies physically monitor the temperature of their tracks at many different points to understand train speeds because as the temperature goes up, the rails bend…

Solution providers: Spica Technologies (healthy water), Intesens (railway)…

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