Living with HomePod
We've had a HomePod since they were released a few weeks ago. It's a neat little device, but the software for it feels a little unfinished.
The sound quality is astounding. It's clear, it's rich, it's loud. There are dozens of reviews that detail the sound quality out there and I'm no audiophile but we spent an evening throwing all kinds of music at it and we could not find a fault in the reproduction. As remarkable as the AirPod hardware is, it's the ease of use and software potential that I want to talk a little about.
Setup is super easy. It's a little like the AirPods, if you're familiar; you turn it on, hold your iOS device nearby and it walks you through a couple of steps and you're done. It integrates with the Home app, which is where your HomeKit Home Automation stuff lives if you've got any smart devices. The integration is a little clumsy, though. There are a number of settings available, but they're in a couple of different places. Some are available through device details, some are available through the master settings for your home. It's somewhat clumsy.
I can't really imagine anyone having a particularly great experience without an Apple Music subscription. You can AirPlay audio to it from any iOS device or Mac but the AirPod interface is essentially Siri. While there are buttons and touch controls you are expected to just ask for whatever it is you want, and having to fumble with an additional device as a remote to get music playing seems contrary to the whole design. Maybe other streaming services will get to integrate eventually, but at the moment it's Apple Music or the second class service of streaming from another device.
Siri however is not always entirely cooperative. She's usually pretty good but occasionally she's unresponsive or misunderstands or is intercepted by another device (most often my Apple Watch). In spite of the clever array of beam forming microphones unfortunately Siri stumbles just often enough to be annoying. It is however pretty great having her listen for home automation commands. We both have Apple Watches and iPhones which of course have "Hey Siri" built in but having an ambient ear ready to act on your commands to alter the lighting, start a timer, or boil the kettle is more convenient.
It feels like there's a lot more they want to do with the HomePod but software features weren't ready in time to ship. AirPlay 2 has been delayed again, for example, and Siri needs to improve in a few fundamental ways. This thing is a computer, and the hardware is solid so the software will improve given time. That might be enough to cause many interested would be buyers to delay their purchase.