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

Why the IoT and my smart home have me using a phone less and less

Over the past few years in various conversations, Stacey has told me she doesn’t carry her phone around at home. Ludicrous, I say! At least that’s what I used to say. It turns out that the smart home and IoT now has me doing the same thing: As I add more smart things to my home and digital assistants have moved beyond phones, I’ve been slowly shifting activities away from my phone.

What got me thinking about this was a Twitter question I received earlier this week. I had mentioned my new “hearable”, the Nuheara IQBuds, and someone asked if I’d consider getting a similar product with a built in assistant. I probably would, provided I had a choice of assistants.

In fact, the IQBuds do work with Siri today. One tap on the capacitive earbuds brings Siri into my ears as long as my Bluetooth-connected iPhone is within range. And my Apple Watch 3 with LTE provides Siri pretty much from anywhere as long as my iPhone is powered on at home.

This isn’t to suggest that every activity on a smartphone is suited for use on an alternative device or through a smart speaker. Obviously, I’m not browsing the web on my non-phone devices, nor am I playing games, using highly engaging apps or creating content such as this post.

But think about what we can now do on a non-phone device through smart speakers, digital assistants and the like.

You don’t always need a phone to place a call or send a text, for example. These functions are migrating to Google Home and Amazon Echo speakers; the latter having just gained text messaging if you have an Android phone.

Turning on lights, playing music on a Sonos or closing the garage door? We’ve gone from dedicated on-device buttons to smart home apps on the phone and then extended those functions to voice controls and watches.

Checking weather, querying the web for specific information, looking for upcoming calendar appointments or stock prices are other examples. You don’t need to unlock a phone, find and tap on the right app to get this information. You just ask your digital assistant. Heck, I can get basic crypto coin data from the colored light bulb in my office at a glance now; no phone or mobile app is needed.

The point is this: As our non-phone devices get smarter, there are specific times and places that it simply makes more sense (or is quicker) to use them in place of the phone. And as IoT continues to evolves, we might find the phone won’t be the most used smart device.

Indeed, I find it completely liberating to leave my phone at home for hours at a time and simply wear my LTE-connected smartwatch. I can take or place calls / messages, chat, get turn-by-turn directions, check weather or traffic, control my home devices, and more without worrying about dropping my phone while I’m out and about.

It took me a while to catch up to Stacey on this one, but I’m finally seeing the freedom of not having a phone with me all the time. That’s because, as time goes on, more and more functionality is being pushed away from the handset. And that adds another benefit because when I pick up the phone for one action or bit of information, I find that I end up consuming more time with other on-device distractions.

Let me know if you caught on to this quicker than I did, and if you’re using your phone less thanks to the smart home and IoT.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Podcast: Okay Google, manage my home

Port of Algeciras, Spain. Image courtesy of Maersk.

At CES, I made the decision to traumatize my family and swap out the Amazon Echo for the Google Home despite its known Wi-Fi challenges. We talk about that decision on the show, and from there, we hit the partnership between Maersk and IBM to create a digitized supply chain using the blockchain. Then we talk about a startup that might help with that effort.  Our guest takes us  to the topic of IoT networks and the future 5G holds for the internet of things. Chetan Sharma is the founder of Chetan Sharma Consulting, and he shares his views on how we should rethink competition and M&A in the digital economy.  I hope you enjoy the show.

 

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

How You Can Protect Your Smart Home Today

hacking the IoT

An article by Marc, Editor at IoT Business News.

hacking the IoTWith so many consumers buying internet-connected devices these days, hackers are focusing on gaining access to homes and networks via these products more and more. In fact, in September the BlueBorne Bluetooth vulnerability allowed hackers to infiltrate around five billion gadgets simply by using a Bluetooth connection, recent news shows that issues can still arise just from this one virus. Armis Security announced last month that an estimated 20 million Google Home and Amazon Echo devices were vulnerable to attack due to the BlueBorne issue.

While the two tech giants released patches to fix this problem very quickly on their respective devices, the news only goes to show that you need to buy devices with top security protocols in place, as well as know how to keep your gadgets secure once you get them home. Read on for some key ways you can go about protecting your home and information today.

Choose Trusted Brands and Change Security Settings

For starters, think about security when you first go to buy a smart-home system. It pays to buy trusted brands which have a reputation for taking security seriously and making their products less at risk of hacking attacks.

Next, once you bring home devices, as you set them up make sure you change the default settings on each. The information guides which come with products contain instructions on how to do this, but most people don’t read or follow the guidelines, and leave their devices vulnerable as a result. The issue is, hackers can easily look up online, or elsewhere, the details on which usernames and passwords manufacturers use when they create products, and then use this information to gain access to gadgets and networks.

It is a good idea to change the default ID name that is set up on internet-enabled items too. Again, hackers know that most manufacturers ship goods out with the same identification details for each device under their brand name. If cybercriminals run a scan in your area to look for a way to get into your network, they could see the name of your device popping up.

When this happens, they’ll realize straight away that you’re using that particular brand in your home, and will guess you probably haven’t changed any other settings either. This will make them think you’re lax on security, which may compel them to hack into your devices over someone else’s.

Secure Your Wi-Fi

Smart-home products always use the internet to complete their functions. As such, another key strategy you should take to protect your information is to secure your Wi-Fi so hackers can’t use an unsecured wireless network to gain access.

Rather than leaving your Wi-Fi open for anyone to use, protect it with a comprehensive username and password that no one would be able to guess. Your password should be between eight and 12 characters in length and made up of a mixture of symbols, letters (both upper and lower case), and numbers. Avoid making the username or the code related to your own name, or that of any information about you that hackers could find online, such as the name of your business, pets, children, or partner; your birthdate, address, and email.

Install Security Software

Next, keep in mind that hackers often try to gain access to smart-home devices via the apps you use to control these devices, which you would have downloaded to your computer, smartphone, and/or tablet. To stay safe then, always install professional security software on your devices.

Choose a product that provides protection from malware, spam, spyware, viruses, ransomware, and the like. In addition, it is helpful to have firewalls running on your devices too. These act as another line of defense against hackers, particularly when it comes to internet-based programs.

Run Regular Updates

smart home technologyLastly, you will keep your smart-home products safer if you regularly update the different software you use. For example, whenever there is an update available for one of your smart-home products, run it straight away so security holes which have opened up because you purchased the product, or since it was manufactured, get plugged.

As well, update the security software, firewalls, apps, browsers, plug-ins, and operating systems on your computers so you always have the latest editions running. Passwords need to be changed every two to three months too if you want to give yourself optimum protection. It is also wise to use different codes for different smart-home products and computers, so that if one does happen to be compromised, they won’t all be vulnerable to attack.

Although all the here-above mentionned tips may seem obvious to many of us, we know for sure that very few people, even among the “experienced” users of tech devices, do rigorously follow those security “best practices”. It is one thing to know and another thing to do! But considering the expanding number of cyberthreats, it is really time now for all of us to get serious about the security of our connected devices and take the time needed to properly lock the doors of our smart homes…

The post How You Can Protect Your Smart Home Today appeared first on IoT Business News.

IoT Business News

Yonomi smart home integration app closes $5M Series A

Yonomi, a mobile app and an enterprise cloud platform that lets users integrate their existing smart home devices raised a $ 5M Series A financing. It was led by led by Gentex, a leading supplier of connected car and digital vision features for the automotive industry.

Yonomi – Smart Home Automation Android App

The investment from Gentex is a ‘strategic’ one as the company is looking for ways to enhance its ‘connected car’ offerings by integrating them with smart products. Gentex launched HomeLink Connect, an in-vehicle home automation control. The control allows vehicle owners to trigger smart home Routines remotely from their car’s center console and/or rearview mirror. “The investment and partnership with Gentex further cements Yonomi’s position as a leading IoT platform,” said Kent Dickson, co-founder, and CEO of Yonomi.

Using Yonomi’s SaaS platform called Yonomi One, users can remotely control and integrate smart home products like Amazon Echo Dot, Sonos Play, and Philips Hue Color bulbs.

The company announced it will use the funding proceeds to expand its business and further promote its ThinCloud platform, channel partnerships, and sales and marketing.

Use the Postscapes IoT Home Guide to find and compare top Internet of Things home products and systems.


Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things