Can You Use Apple Homepod as an Intercom? – Everything You Need to Know

Making Calls | House to House | Hey Siri, call Dad | Alexa Drop In | Google Broadcast
HomePod and iPhone together
Updated: 20th Dec 2019
Published: 3rd Sep 2019
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By SHN Team

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The smart home market has three main voice assistants fighting for space. These are Apple’s Siri (HomePod), Amazon’s Alexa (Echo) and Google Assistant (Google Home). Amazon’s Alexa was first on the scene in 2014, with Google Home joining the bandwagon in 2016. Apple’s HomePod is the most recent arrival, having launched in February 2018.

HomePod has a lot going for it, especially as it offers the premium experience that Apple users have come to expect of the devices in its range of products. This particularly comes to the fore when you consider the sound quality of their smart speaker in comparison with the other two.

However, Apple is yet to catch up in many other respects, one of which is the possibility of using multiple HomePod speakers as an intercom system. This is one feature that has been on users’ wish lists for a while. Its main rivals both have features that make this possible. But Apple has yet to reveal its long-term play on whether or not it plans to integrate this functionality into its smart home ecosystem.

Can You Use Apple Homepod as an Intercom?

No, not in the same way as 'Google Assistant Broadcast' or 'Amazon Alexa Drop In'. 

What Can You Do With HomePod That Is Similar to an Intercom?

Making Calls

What Apple HomePod users can do is make calls on the smart speaker. Until recently, it was not possible to start a call using a voice command. Instead, you had to initiate the call from your iPhone and then switch your audio output to the HomePod. Once you did this, you could hear the other end of the conversation from the HomePod, and you could now use it like you would any other speakerphone.

But now, with the update to iOS 12, there is a new feature that makes calling easy. Not much has been said about it, but it is there nonetheless. To access it, you need to grant permission for “Personal Requests.”

  • Go to the Home app on your device

  • Press and hold the HomePod icon

  • Tap Settings

  • Select Personal Requests and toggle it on

Make sure that your iPhone and HomePod are on the same Wi-Fi network and then you can start making calls using voice commands, never having to touch the phone.

  • To initiate a call, say, “Hey Siri, call [dad]”

  • Siri will ask you to confirm your request

  • If [dad] has multiple numbers, she will ask which number to use

  • Select one and Siri will dial the number

  • When [dad] answers, you will hear him over the HomePod, much in the same way as you would on any other speakerphone

Due to its advanced audio quality, HomePod can let you wander around the room and still get top-notch clarity. When you are done, say, “Hey Siri, hang up.”

To receive calls on the HomePod, say, “Hey Siri, answer my phone.”

If someone hangs up before you figure out who they were, ask, “Hey Siri, who just called?”

If you receive a second call when you are on the phone, you can also use the HomePod to get things done. To place the first call on hold and answer the second one, tap the green light on top of the HomePod. To switch back, tap again. If you would rather ditch the first one, double-tap the green light.

This is one of the unique Apple HomePod features that is lacking on Amazon Alexa and not as refined on Google Home. We can only hope that it establishes the groundwork for the future incorporation of an intercom system.

What Might Apple HomePod Intercom Look Like if Apple Adds This Feature?

Let us find out how the intercom system works for Alexa and Google Assistant and see what Apple can learn from the two.

Amazon Alexa Drop In

The intercom system on Amazon Alexa is known as Drop In and has become a favourite for many smart home aficionados. Alexa Drop In lets you connect to other speakers instantly and communicate with other users on Alexa-enabled devices. The connection is instant, which means that the person on the other end does not have to pick up the call.

It also lets users make the same announcement to multiple Alexa devices simultaneously. This feature comes in pretty handy whenever you need to get everyone’s attention and would rather not make another trip up the stairs or shout from the hallway. Rather, all you have to do is say:

  • “Alexa, Drop In on [device name].”

To make an announcement on all Alexa devices in your home, say:

  • “Alexa, tell everyone/announce/broadcast [message].”

In response, Alexa will chime and then say “Announcement” before replaying your message.

You can even Drop In on contacts outside your home, as long as they have given you express permission to do so. For this, you need to say:

  • “Alexa, Drop In on [contact name].”

Alexa Drop In Auto-Answer

One feature that makes Alexa Drop In unique is the auto-answer feature mentioned above. This feature comes in handy when you need to check on someone, for instance, a sleeping baby or granny who lives by herself. In such cases, you can use video devices such as the Echo Show and, once you Drop In, it will automatically give you footage from the other end.

You can tell whether the baby is still sound asleep or needs you. And you can make an impromptu virtual visit to grandma to see how well she is doing and if she has taken her meds.

Privacy Concerns

Alexa can automatically connect you via audio or video to other people in your household, which means that they can do the same. While this is a neat trick, it may also raise privacy concerns.

But Amazon has incorporated several features to address any such potential concerns:

Video Off

When using a video device and you do not want to intrude on the other person’s privacy, you can say:

  • “Alexa, video off.”

Do Not Disturb

For times when you would rather not have people Drop In at will, you can set your devices to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. Simply say:

  • “Alexa, do not disturb me.”

Drop In Permissions

From your contact list, you can choose the people you want to allow to use the feature. You can either limit Drop Ins to your household or turn the feature off altogether if you do not want surprises. You can periodically check the list of ‘Others who can Drop In’ and amend it accordingly. Similarly, your contacts also have to allow you to Drop In on them.

Drop In Alerts

When someone drops in on an audio Alexa device, the light ring at the top will pulse green before connecting. In the case of a video call, consideration is made for the comparatively intrusive nature and you get a few more seconds to prepare; the device will first make an alert sound, then transition to a frosted glass video display for 10 seconds before becoming clear. This should be plenty of time to wipe the cookie crumbs from your face and set your tie straight before talking to the boss.

Alexa Drop In Compatible Devices

Several Alexa devices support the Drop In feature, including:

  • Amazon Echo

  • Echo Dot

  • Echo Plus

  • Echo Show

  • Echo Spot

  • Fire HD Tablet

  • Sonos smart speakers

Note that with the Alexa app on your phone, you can initiate Drop In calls, but you cannot receive Drop In calls. At the same time, you can receive voice calls from the Alexa app.

Alexa Drop In Limitations – Is Google Home Better?

One of the main limitations of the Alexa Drop In feature is that it does not allow for two-way conversations when you make an announcement. You can only broadcast your message; your recipients cannot respond, telling you whether they are ready for dinner or not.

Google Home Broadcast

Google Home also offers a similar feature to Alexa Drop In. On Google Home, this feature is known as Broadcast. Just like Drop In, it serves as a sort of intercom system for communicating around the house. For Google Broadcast to work, the devices you are using have to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network and the same Google account.

How Google Broadcast Works

Now that we have a general idea of what Google Broadcast is, let us explore how it works. To set up the feature, you need two or more Google Home speakers connected to the same Wi-Fi network. To activate it, simply say:

  • “Hey Google, broadcast [message].”

Alternative phrases that you could also use include:

  • “Hey Google, shout/announce/tell everyone [message].”

All the devices in your Google Home network will immediately replay the message.

In addition to traditional announcements, Google Broadcast also has what it refers to as “Delightful Sounds.” These are preset phrases or “canned commands” that convey your announcements in Google Assistant’s voice rather than your own. They are easier to use because they make use of preset commands.

Take a look at some examples:

  • When you want to wake everyone up, say, “Hey Google, it’s time to wake up.”

  • At bedtime, say, “Hey Google, sleep time.”

  • When it’s time to leave, say, “Hey Google, it’s time to leave.”

  • To announce your arrival, say,“Hey Google, I’m home.”

  • When dinner is ready, say, “Hey Google, it’s dinner time.”

Whenever you use any of these canned messages to make an announcement, it begins with sound effects related to the announcement. For instance, if you use the setup to announce movie time, the announcement will begin with movie sound effects. Similarly, a dinner time announcement will start with dinner bells.

Two-Way Conversation

Initially, Google Broadcast users could only broadcast a message from a smart speaker or phone to other speakers. But, following a software update, the feature now incorporates support for two-way conversations.

This means that when you receive a broadcast message, a message saying dinner’s ready, for instance, you can respond and say “I’m coming.” Following your response, subsequent replies will only play on the speaker you responded from and not the rest of the house.

If the broadcast comes to you via a device with a display screen, such as the Google Nest Hub, you will see a Reply function on the screen. To reply to an audio message, say:

  • “Hey Google, reply [message].”

Google Broadcast Compatible Devices

As mentioned earlier, you can use a Google Home speaker or phone to access this function. Below are some of the devices that offer the functionality:

  • Google Home

  • Google Max

  • Google Mini

  • Google Home Hub

  • Apple Phones

  • Android Phones

Can I Broadcast a Message from My Phone?

To broadcast a message from your phone to a Google Home device, all you need to do is activate Google Assistant on your phone and one or more Google Home devices. As mentioned earlier, you cannot broadcast from a smart speaker to your phone.

For an Android phone to support Broadcasts, its minimum requirements are Android version 6.0, Google app 6.13, 1.5 GB of RAM and 720p screen. An iPhone, on the other hand, will need to have iOS 9.1 and the Google Assistant app as minimum requirements.

What Privacy Features Does Google Home Broadcast Have

Though Google Broadcast is not as intrusive as Drop In, you might not always be in the mood for announcements. Whenever you need some peace and quiet, simply switch on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.

Alternatively, you could enable Downtime, a feature that automatically disables most of the settings that could interfere with your downtime. Yet another option is one known as Night Mode, which allows you to customise the settings according to your requirements.

Limitations of Google Broadcast – Is Amazon Echo Better?

Unlike Amazon Alexa Drop In, which can make calls and connect automatically to other devices within the same ecosystem, Google Broadcast only makes announcements. While this is less intrusive than Drop In, it also limits its functionality.

Broadcast is also limited to devices operating on the same Wi-Fi network and using the same Google account. To a great extent, this limits its use to a household setting as it is highly unlikely that a person outside your household would meet both criteria.

Another limitation is that you cannot use it as a baby monitor since it does not support automatic two-way communication. Though you can make an announcement to the baby’s room, they would have to choose to reply, which is only possible in science fiction. Similarly, the Home Hub, which has a display screen does not have a camera, meaning you cannot view baby room footage.

Furthermore, you cannot make an announcement on a single speaker within your ecosystem. Rather, any announcement you broadcast will transmit over all speakers connected to the same Wi-Fi and sharing a Google account.

Google Home Broadcast only works with native Google Assistant devices and not third-party appliances. This also limits its functionality.

Comparison Between Alexa Drop In and Google Home Broadcast

There are several features highlighted above that set Alexa Drop in and Google Home Broadcast apart. By way of summary, let us take a look at these features:

Feature

Alexa Drop In

Google Broadcast

Support for third-party appliances

Yes

No

Use as a baby monitor

Yes

No

Calling specific smart speaker in a multi-speaker household

Yes

No

Making calls outside the household

Yes

No

Using voice control to access the feature on a phone

No

Yes

Auto-answer

Yes

No

Reply function

No

Yes

Preset announcements

No

Yes

Video broadcasting

Yes

No

Looking at the above features, it is clear that Amazon Alexa is ahead of Google Assistant in terms of its intercom feature. This places Apple at an advantage in the sense that they can handpick the best features from both ecosystems if and when they decide to include it.

Apple’s Cautious Approach

Apple HomePod is a clear market leader when it comes to audio performance. The speaker is designed for an optimal audio experience and delivers on every count. A six-mic array on the back sonically maps any room you place the smart speaker in to optimise sound output.

Going back to the launch of Siri, Apple did not make the assistant a selling point of the iPhone. Instead, it seemed like a welcome bonus. Similarly,  Siri came much later for the Apple TV, after several software updates.

From these two examples, Apple seems to have opted for a calculated approach to smart home automation. The strategy appears to be gradually unfolding and, as is usually the case with most of its upgrades and launches, it has kept it all under wraps. Remember the launch of HomeKit, which had a focus on connected device developers and the subsequent launch of the Home app on iOS 10?

In more ways than one, Apple has shown its recognition of the fact that the smart home is the next and most important frontier of the battle of electronics giants. Its approach is, however, far from proactive.

Though the focus of competitors is on selling products through virtual assistants, Apple still maintains its age-old strategy of keeping users locked within its ecosystem. The HomePod is a win in this regard. And we can only hope that if and when they eventually launch a home intercom system, it will stay true to Apple’s lofty standards.

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