Google needs to strike the iron while it's hot — and before Apple HomePod launches

Everyone was expecting to see a Siri-powered version of the Amazon Echo at the end of Apple's 2017 WWDC keynote. And HomePod is exactly that, just a little more Apple-ish.

Machines in the living room that listen to you talk and do stuff are tough to get right. They have to look good and be easy to operate, but most importantly they need to give us a reason to want to put it there in the first place. Arguably, both Amazon and Google have built products that fulfill these requirements — and now, seeing a miniature cooling tower perched on the coffee table, ready for us to tell it to play a song or ask about the weather, isn't anything odd. I have both, and I'm sure plenty of the people reading this do, too.

Turning on a light or playing a song is easy and we want more than easy.

The tricky part is doing more. When the Echo first launched it was a cool way to do things that weren't hard to do. Give a simple command and get an answer — something we'd been doing on our phones since forever. As the price came down and the features grew, it turned into a thing most everyone finds useful, and it's popular. At least for a miniature cooling tower that listens to you. When Google was able to slide Google Home into the picture with a hook — something smarter that "knows" you because it's been analyzing all of your data since you first got your Gmail account — expectations and terminology changed. We started to hear about Machine Learning any time more than one developer was in the same room.

Machine Learning is a real thing, but it's not learning the way you think. A great example is a Nest Thermostat. Nest doesn't use the term Machine Learning at all even though that's exactly what is going on when it learns when you get home so it can have the house the right temperature for you. If it sees the motion at the front door often enough, it can then check the times and calculate exactly when it should turn on the furnace or the AC. It "learned" when to do it. Machine Learning is really just very creative programming that can analyze a ton of data. A good group of developers can then do some amazing stuff with that data. Amazon, Apple, and Google all have very good groups of developers.

Machine Learning is really just smart developers writing smart code.

Google has all the data. We trade it away because it offers stuff we love to use. Google Assistant is far ahead of any other product when it comes to being "smart" and personal, but things are still in their infancy and none of these personal assistants are what we envisioned when we saw the first demos. Developers need to keep tweaking the algorithms that collect and parse the data, can get new data, and find new ways to interpret the data it collects. Apple doesn't think it's ready yet. And it's right.

Apple collects most of the data a smart Siri speaker will use from Siri itself. It can cross reference anything with other Apple services we use, but really that means it's limited to Apple Music and maybe iCloud. Apple has no Gmail or search engine we can sign into and provide that juicy data so it has to depend on smarter algorithms and engineers that can create them and do things with what it collects. That means it faced a choice — how and when to introduce its own smart home device to compete with Amazon and Google.

Apple has no search engine so it depends on better programming that can do more with less. But Google has mountains of data to use right now and doesn't have to wait.

I think Apple made the right choice. HomePod has a funny name and looks like a cat scratching toy, but as a connected and "smart" speaker it can work exactly as advertised. Don't be fooled, though. You don't put an A8 processor in a speaker unless you have bigger plans. Even if you're Apple.

Right now the HomePod (I'll never get tired of saying HomePod) is a push to make us use Apple Music. That's not a bad business decision. By all hands-on accounts, it offers "premium" sound when compared to other tiny speakers in tiny enclosures, has some impressive audio modeling to try and fill the room, and can work in tandem with other HomePods to offer a full house worth of music. That's a big draw to people who want to listen to Apple Music so it's going to be instantly profitable. But when Apple can effectively leverage the data it has to make it do more, it will update it to do more.

Apple will update the HomePod to do more when it can actually do more.

People want a product to do what it's supposed to be doing well. We're automatically happy when told we're getting an update that makes it do even more, and especially so if the update works as promised. Apple doesn't want a Maps 2.0 situation where the product simply needs more time — and more data — to be effective. But it is champing at the bit to make "Hey Siri" do all the cool stuff.

In the meantime, starting slow is smart, and the first step to taking the lion's share of an emerging market's money. That's how Apple likes to operate and it sells polish the same way other companies sell features. Google can use this time to their advantage, though.

HomePod is great for Google and Amazon (and eventually Microsoft). Apple can do one thing nobody else can — grab everyone's attention and take a cool thing mainstream. Google just needs to use the time when it has a product that's more capable and less expensive and try to grab the numbers. "Put a Google Home in every home" has to be on someone's task list, and keep pushing forward with the code behind how it works. We need to see a major improvement that's not only filled with useful things but actually works as advertised. And we need to see it before HomePod launches in December. And I'm betting we will.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

96 Comments
  • Looks like a toilet paper roll to me.
    They were smart though to out their brand of marketing spin on the hardware itslef as opposed to the services of Siri knowing full well that in this early stage it will fall flat. Undoubtedly it will get better over time but that's time others who are already in the lead will have to fine tune their offerings.
    Regardless this may be the best selling toilet paper roll by the end of next year because of good marketing and a decent speaker playing decent bitrates from Apple music, none of it though truly premium.
  • Toilet​ paper lol! We call it apple paper and for the low cost of 350$ you can flush it down the drain..
  • $350 is waaay too much for this thing.
  • Their toilet paper brand would have to be iPood... "This stuff is too thin and flimsy! My fingers went through it! GROSS!" "You're holding it wrong."
  • Great comment!
  • Use toilet paper HomePod, then toss it into garbage bin Mac Pro.
  • Another useless toy the world doesn't need.
  • Dude, you're so in the wrong place. This stuff is ALL useless toys the world doesn't need.
  • Speak for yourself, buddy. If I didn't have the ability to turn a selfie into an Allo sticker set via machine learning, I would LITERALLY DIE.
  • At $350, it's going to have to do a lot of things incredibly well for me to see it outselling Google Home or the Echo. I'm not convinced the smart speaker market is obsessing over audio more than capability. The Home is the cheapest of the three, and I'd definitely say it's also the smartest.
  • Yeah...agreed. There's supposed to be support for Sonos on the Echo some time this year. Now would be a good time to get on that, Amazon. Lots of folks (myself included) have Sonos speakers and a lot of THOSE folks also have Echos. They could do a lot to keep those folks from eyeing the HomePod if they'd just make this a priority.
  • I have a Sonos as well, and would love it to be integrated with my Google Homes (two in my house so far).
  • Agree to a point. If the speaker is as good or close to what I have with Bose, it would be worth $350. Google being Google I would pay $400 if it were part of the Google WiFi, Home and a great speaker.
  • I don't know if this is actually true. People are willing to spend a lot more on Apple products than they would say a Google product or even an Amazon one. Sometimes it's marketing. Sometimes it's ecosystem, but perceived value is still value to some and a reason to spend the money. People who were on the fence about this type of device might take the plunge with this because they KNOW it will work with their devices, in a way they care comfortable with and unlike Google things, it will actually be supported a year after it comes out. With the exception of my Roku and a Harman Kardon Onyx Studio2, all of my connected devices at home are Android powered and nothing about Home has made me feel the need to buy one. Others in Apple's ecosystem may feel the same way but you can bet that when it does come out, it won't be barebones and half-asses. They know better, especially coming in so late to the party. The name Apple will sell and i wouldn't be surprised if it outpaces Google Home by a metric ton in the first year it's available.
  • I wouldn't make such these assumptions. The Apple Watch didn't sell well. You could get discounts on that piece of junk almost right away. They can absolutely price themselves out of the market. This is not an iPhone and isn't a necessity as such. Most people view their mobile phone as a necessity hence why they spend a lot of money for iPhones, but they don't consider a watch a necessity nor will they automatically think a smart speaker is a necessity especially while it has limited capability currently. Spending $350 on this is past a impulse buy unlike the Echo and Home. If I was a betting man, I would bet on this not selling as well as you are thinking.
  • The Apple Watch is the best selling smartwatch period. It has 60% of the market. I love mine, it's an extension of my iPhone. Apple has sold 25 to 30 million of them so far. More than the Echo and Google Home combined. The Apple Watch knocked FitBit out and sells in numbers as do traditional watches. So stop with your nonesense. The Homepod will be another piece of the Apple ecosystem and will seamlessly work its existing products. That's one of the reasons Apple is so successful, it products work together to give a very good user experience. By the way you don't even hear about AW anymore......
  • It will sell millions, but not because it's an amazing device... Only that's it's got the Apple logo on it... Apple could market an "Apple Toothpick" for $139.99 and Apple fans will buy it by the millions... All the time sayin' "it just works" ...
  • I think that's an amazingly shortsighted way to view it. I get that we're all Android fans here but dismissing the products that Apple put out is no better than the Apple fans on iMore crapping on Android products they will never use. Apple makes some damn good products and unlike Google, they control the entire chain, hardware and software. Anyone who thinks they're going to put out a cheap Alexa/Home competitor is kidding themselves. They're rarely first to any market but when they do enter it, other companies either have to up their game or their products collect dust on the shelf. People crap on the Apple watch but if it was compatible with Android, i know a LOT of people who would have them. Android wear just isn't there and I don't know if it ever will be. Apple sells products. Google sells devices for advertising.
  • 60% of four million isn't that much to write home about. Especially when you compare that to their phone sales.
  • Why are you here? Isn't this Android Central?
  • Yet Android Central felt the need to post an article on it.
  • While there are Apple fan exceptions, most people buying Apple products buy them because they can carry them around and show them off to people. Since this can't do that, it's going to be much more niche. This is why Apple routers and Apple TVs are much more niche than their status bestowing brethren.
  • I had both and Sold my Alexa and regret it. The stupid Google Home is USELESS compared to Echo or even the 'Assistant' on my phone. Why is my phone smarter than the damn gadget that's in my apartment? I'm not buying a 2.0 of any of this crap until it can answer a basic question like 'How far is the Ocean from xyz'. Google Home can't do that. It also is wrong 50% of the time when I ask it to play something from GPM, even though I can do it from...my phone.
  • While I agree with you on some things you said, I tried asking it how far it is to the Pacific ocean from where I am and it answered correctly.
  • Sadly (in a general sort of, "i'm sad for our society" kind of way) it will not have to do much incredibly well to sell well. It will just have to sound relatively good, be easily controlled for music playback, and have splashy ads. You can be guaranteed those 3 things will happen. Apple won't be marketing this thing as a smart assistant device that competes with Alexa and Assistant, because Siri is the weak link in this thing. No, it will be marketed as a great sounding speaker, easily controlled hands-free. I'll go ahead and write the ad now: *Black screen*
    Voice #1 says: "Hey Siri, turn on the lights."
    *Lights turn on*
    *HomePod comes into view*
    Voice #2 says, "Hey Siri, drop the beat."
    *Bass-heavy dance track starts playing.*
    *Good-looking people dance happily around the speaker.*
    Text pops up: "The party starts now. HomePod by Apple." Apple faithful will lap it up. Easily 3 million sold in the first month. It might take a while to overtake Echo sales (although we don't know how many Echos have sold), but it will probably blow right past Google Home sales. It won't be until much later that Apple will market any 'skills' that compete with the likes of Alexa / Assistant, if they ever do. They will play to the devices strengths, and the marketing will work.
  • Like I stated in another forum: the real question should be: Is 1 HomePod for $350 a better value and better listening experience than 3 Google Home devices for $327? Probably not.
  • You can only play music you have purchaced through the apple store on it. Only the apple purists would buy this, and its too expensive.
  • It can only play purchases and Apple Music natively it'll play everything else via AirPlay 2. Kinda like the Google Home and Chromecasting anything outside the six-seven supported music services.
  • its a bit different. airplay uses ur devices battery casting does not. how about people like me who uses android and an ipad. i dont want to always hunt for ipad to play music via airplay. Home is cross platform and avoid those problems
  • I'm not saying their version isn't inferior, but it is still an option.
  • Just wanted to say, the HTC U11 fully supports Airplay out the box. But I get what you're saying.
  • So unless you use Apple Music, it's a glorified bluetooth speaker. Got it.
  • Doesn't support Bluetooth
  • Yep, same as the Echo and Google Home. After the first day of trying them out by asking silly questions they too get used 99% of the time for playing music.
  • gogole home support Bluetooth and its coming soon but homepod even with dec release wont support Bluetooth. i think u will probably have to wait for 2-3 years to get that
  • Google needs to flood the market with the GH by selling them at half price. Take a loss on them if they have to - just get them into people's homes like they did with the Chromecast.
  • Only speaker that looks interesting is that essential speaker... All the rest looks dull
  • Because it has a bitten apple on it, the I sheep's are going to line up for it.
  • This is true. They can slap that emblem on a piece of toast, sell it for 799.99 and people will buy it.
  • Spot on!
  • This. The mistake this article makes is assuming that people will decide what to buy based on what the product can do. That may be true some of the time, but many folks are loyal to certain brands, and Apple is one of them. People who have Apple devices and who feel enmeshed in that ecosystem will buy this thing just because it's made by Apple. About the only way you're going to change that is if you had a competing device that's so ridiculously advanced beyond it that there's absolutely no contest.
  • The plural of sheep is sheep.
  • That bothered me too, also the apostrophe is erroneous... But if the only criticism that can be leveled is grammatical... Well, I think the point stands.
  • More importantly, the appropriate response to any comment using the word "sheep" is a vigorous eye roll.
  • No, I will not buy this. But will this make phone calls like GH ?
  • What phone calls? I have a GH & all it says is I can't do that. I literally HATE this thing and wish I never sold my Echo Alexa thingie. #Triggered
  • That's because it was only announced at Google I/O, it will he rolling out over the next few months.
  • My biggest complaint about home is "Why isn't it more speaker?". Primarily that's what I will use it for if it were. It would give it more use cases for sure.
  • Google has opened up support for the Assistant so that other OEMs (speaker makers) can have Google Assistant built in... therefore providing Google Home within a high end BT speaker.
  • See, I take the opposite approach. Why isn't their a "less speaker" option with SONOS support?
  • This! I totally would love something like this. Since GH has opened up to OEMs, SONOS should make something the size of the Boost that supports GH.
  • That's one way, and I would welcome that solution too. But an easier way would add SONOS support to Google Home and make a tiny speaker version of the GH a la the Echo Dot. Knowing SONOS, probably a cheaper solution too.
  • I just want fewer devices. So if I can have two or three in one I would spend more money. I am fine now with what GH is but I would prefer a more robust speaker.
  • Of course, there's Chromecast Audio for that.
  • I mean... as of now it costs more than twice as much and is half as capable. I'm sure it's gonna sound fantastic but ya... still crazy pricing. With the A8 im sure it will be able to be very powerful in the future but that future for Siri is not here right now. BTW that demo they had when they wanted you to pair two of them together on one table for "Stereo" sound is laughable. That's $700 before tax sitting there!
  • That's about what time paid for a Harman Kardon receiver, CD changer, and MTX home speakers when I was in college, and I'll guarantee it'll blow the HomePod out of the water in terms of volume and quality. And if I want it to play music by voice, I can get a Chromecast Audio.
  • I wonder how Apple's privacy policies will make this different? From what I hear, Apple doesn't capture everything and keep it on its servers, like Amazon and Google do, where you can do some serious data crunching.
  • Don't know much about Amazon as I don't own one but I do know that Google doesn't transmit any voice data to its servers until the hotword. #beinformed
  • Jazzman isn't talking about voice data, but about data related to our use of the internet as a whole... You know, the kinds of data that Google and Amazon have amassed tons of since we started surfing the web and shopping online +/-20 years ago?
  • Yeah, that's the stuff of Big Data. I don't think Apple has that resource to mine. After all Amazon always has the "People who bought this also liked this!" stuff which often does indeed interest me (OH NO I'M AVERAGE) The thing is, in Amazon world, everything exists to get you to buy more stuff from Amazon. In Google world, it's to target you with ads. In Apple world, what are they going to do? Just make a useful product, and make their money on the hardware??
  • Doesn't Amazon use the Bing search engine? If so there is nothing to stop Apple using it too. I don't think it will be long before Google is paying Apple to put it's own search engine on these, like they do on the iPhone.
  • Been really wanting a Google home, but my wife keeps saying no. She keeps saying that it doesn't do anything my phone can't do.
  • It does a few things that phones currently do not do... But not many
  • Your phone does whole home audio?
  • Her response would be something like "my Bluetooth headphones do." And if she wanted the whole house to hear it she'd say, "the Bluetooth speaker does that just fine." Believe me, I want one.
  • If getting it cheaper will help your case, keep checking craigslist. I just picked up brand new sealed in box for $50. More and more are popping up for sale since they were free with the LG phones. I had an echo and my wife hated the idea until she started using it. Now I have an Echo and two Google Homes.
  • Put on your big boy pants and buy one.
  • That may work for you, but in my house hold purchases more than just a couple bucks are discussed with each other. If I had my own discretionary money, then I'd purchase it without asking permission.
  • Pretty much the same here. Not that we NEED each other's permission to buy something we want, but we ask for it anyway. It's the polite thing to do, and talking about purchases makes us consider whether we really need that thing or just want it, and if we even want it that badly.
  • Guess I have to give you credit...my fiance gave mine to me for XMas
  • She's right other than some silly games. I got mine free and hate it. I hope Samsung fixes Bixby and makes a Samsung Bixby Box.
  • Just get an Echo Dot for $50.
  • My better 1/2 was receptive to getting a GH, but skeptical about its usefulness, until she started using it. Now she uses it every day. I hooked up some Wemo outlets, and she was initially po'd I spent that much $$ on those. Until I said, "Hey Google, turn on the lights." And then she smiles and says, "Woah, that's cool."
  • Do they make those that don't go in the wall. Can't really put those in rentals...
  • Wemo outlets just plug into your existing outlets. Plug n play. They don't replace your existing outlets. They are in fact perfect for rentals.
  • That's what mine said until I got one. She just sends out verbal commands without having to pick up and unlock her iPhone, open the proper app (I know, how lazy has out society become?) ... Controls music play, the thermostats, the lights ... answers questions ... I even bought another for the bedroom, which she complained about at first, but just like the first one, she loves having.
  • Google tried to get GH users to sign up for their "premium" music subscriptions, and there's a thread on their support forums over 400 posts long with over 9500 views of people complaining about it. Folks have returned the device over being unable to play music added to their Google Music libraries without shelling out another $10 a month to Google. If you're already paying someone for music, you're going to stick with them. If you're buying a device because you drank the Kool-Aid, and it doesn't work with your preferred music service, you're more likely to ignore it than to change services.
  • I do like the fact that Apple has presented an offering, but it's a bit of a shortcoming for me. Most people already have really good speaker equipment in their homes if they are audiophiles at all. So I think asking them to saturate their homes with yet another speaker that's primary purpose is audio i think is redundant. I don't see it doing much else right now, i.e. call an uber or order a pizza type things. If they don't get Siri developed to be more meaningful, i just don't see the point of their offering.
  • Great article as always Jerry. If Google wants to be a dominant player in hardware they really need to step up their game, and not just in the Home department. The Pixel availability problem is very bad, so is the fact that Android apps on a Chromebook are still in beta after all this time. And i still think Google should have launched and properly marketed a Pixel Watch when AW 2.0 came out.
  • Agree. Can do Android apps on my Chromebook R13, but only on beta channel and it thinks my Chromebook is a phone so I get phone version of apps.
  • Google's AI should catch on fairly well... basically​ I mean adopt over time. Patterns - is what it will probably key on. With different recognizable accounts - different repeatable patterns that are personal - and 'wa la' - a personalized assistant for the home. The options are pretty much limitless... Which will probably scare the **** out of people - once this gets 'right'. I'm excited - but I'm sure it's going to take awhile to get the interface and backend to work correctly...
  • No they don't
  • They will sell good, even at that price just because it is Apple. Just look at all the people wearing the Apple Watch, ugliest but one of the most expensive smartwatches and get I see a ton of them!
  • True!
  • Google already wins because it's half the price of HomePod.
  • But 3 times the price of an Echo Dot.
  • Nope, only twice a Dot (sale for $109).
  • *Makes whipping sound*
  • That last time Pods became popular it didn't go well for the human race... Ambulance Driver: We had to dig him out from under the most peculiar things I ever saw.
    Dr. Hill: [i]What things?
    Ambulance Driver: Well, I don't know what they are; I never saw them before. They looked like great big seed pods. I know Apple wants to take over the world but to make you pay for the privilege of becoming a soulless Siri drone I just perverse.
  • Yes, apple did the right thing here, not putting in speaker in as an after thought, but making it an outstanding speaker that will do your command and making it a soft stylish object not another piece of 'hard' ware...
  • How does Apple get a pass for a six month lead time on a product?! I don't think that's ever been done and it's one more big difference between Cook and Jobs. Jobs would've said this is available by end of month, not end of year! And the fact it's being spun as a home "speaker" instead of a full assistant should be ripped by columnists! Instead Jerry is coddling Apple like everyone else, WTH?! Hell, all these columns are little more than PR puff pieces for Apple, jeezus.
  • I just don't understand why more people aren't just buying a decent receiver with a decent set of bookshelf speakers if they want to listen to their music? Am I missing something? Hell for the price of two of these speakers you can build a really nice 5.1 surround sound system. As it stands, I don't own a GH but I can still say "okay google, turn the lights on" and my phone will work properly with my hue system and I don't have to be in front of any standalone speaker, just my phone with is usually close by. And no, don't give me any of this "but it's apple" nonsense. Apple is selling a Sonos that's kind of like Echo and GH. Be smart and built your own sound system.
  • Might as well add WiFi extender capabilities to it as well.
  • Buy the HomePod and be eternally locked to Apple Music?
  • I use my Google Home every night to listen to my Old Time Radio Shows on 630CHED out of Edmonton - I can yell at it to play that station and it has no issue finding it, only recently have I had that sort of luck with Echo, I used to have to open up Tune-in and then do a search for the right station. Both of them work with my iPad, Samsung S7 Edge and or my Windows 10 PC. If I was going to purchase anything else it would be the Echo Show not something else from Apple. Currently listening to Amazon Prime Music 70's Rock on Echo.
  • Can people carry around Apple's HomePod and put cases on it that still show the Apple logo? No? Then it won't be successful. Apple's only successful with products that people can show off as status items. I'm not saying no one will buy it, but few will.