Smart homes are all the rage right now, and the HomePod was Apple’s ticket to joining the ranks. Though it has to contend with stalwart players like Alexa, Google Assistant and even Microsoft’s Cortana, it makes a compelling case that you might want to hear out.
How does Apple’s HomePad work? What does it have to offer? And how does it stack up against competitors? Let’s get started.
Introduction to Apple HomePod, HomeKit and Siri
In 2017, Apple announced the launch of the HomePod, a smart speaker with virtual assistant capabilities for the smart home. Like other Apple products, this speaker was quite unlike its main rivals in the market. Featuring a specially engineered audio system, it is one of the most amazing sound systems you can find in a 7” tall package. But that’s not all there is to it.
HomePod supports Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, letting users access Apple music and other convenient features via voice control. Furthermore, the smart speaker acts as a hub for the Apple range of HomeKit-enabled devices.
HomePod, like all things Apple, sports an elegant design with a mesh-like grille surrounding most of its body. It has a nice, cushiony feel to it and has a glossy top that features touch controls. As mentioned before, the audio system is the highlight of the speaker, consisting of six microphones, a 4” woofer and seven twitters (beam-forming).
With Apple’s A8 chip on the inside as well, it has what it takes to deliver room-filling sound. Thanks to the computerized system, advanced algorithms continuously analyze music being played and automatically adapt the acoustics for optimal performance. To take it a notch higher, it also adjusts the sound depending on the room, readjusting settings to suit every location.
One of the best things about HomePod is that you don’t have to talk to it when you don’t feel like. Rather, you can control it from your iOS or Mac device using the Home app. This feature comes in handy when you don’t want to disturb the people around you by shouting commands.
If you are an Apple fan, you must be well acquainted with Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled virtual assistant. She first came into the limelight during the launch of iPhone 4S but is now available on HomePos, iPod touch, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac (MacOS Sierra and later). She offers a seamless way of interacting with your devices and helping get things done as we will see in greater detail below. Her wake word is “Hey Siri.”
Unlike most other ecosystems, HomeKit is primarily a smart home framework with voice control as a feature, rather than a voice control framework with smart home features. HomeKit essentially refers to a platform that offers support for home automation on the Apple ecosystem. To operate accessories that work with HomeKit, users need to add them to the Home app, a default app on all iOS devices (from iOS 8 and later). The Home app kit is a remarkably comprehensive interface that offers full, independent control over smart home features. But with the HomePod in your possession, you get to choose between controlling HomeKit devices using taps on the app or with your voice, courtesy of Siri.
Now that we have an idea of what HomeKit, HomePod and Siri are, you might want to know how they work together to make your home intelligent. But first, let us take a closer look at the HomePod’s design and features.
Apple HomeKit/HomePod Compatible Devices - A Quick Guide
In order to enjoy the most functionality from your HomePod and HomeKit ecosystem, you need to incorporate compatible accessories in the network. Such accessories sport an official badge “Works with Apple HomeKit” on their packaging. The number of devices that can work in the ecosystem is consistently increasing. Take a look at some of the most important ones that you should not miss:
Apple TV 4K
The latest arrival on the Apple TV line is a great way to take charge of your smart home remotely. It provides remote access to devices on your HomeKit network with support for Bluetooth 5.0. As a bonus, it is a top-of-the-range streamer for 4K TV.
Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat
The Ecobee series is a line of Wi-Fi thermostats that work together with HomeKit. Unlike most other thermostats, it features remote sensors, taking automation to the next level. You can use it to check temperatures in other rooms besides where it is installed thanks to the sensors. This offers a higher level of control as well as energy efficiency for your smart home. You can control it via Siri on the HomePod, using any iOS device, Apple TV and Apple Watch.
Philips Hue is one of the most popular lighting options for smart home enthusiasts and thanks to a compatibility bridge, it works with HomeKit. You can change lighting colors, brightness, set mood lighting, all with a simple Siri command. With ‘Scene’ features, you can take the fun a notch higher using a single command like “Bedtime” to adjust bedroom light settings and turn off downstairs lights. And the best part is that you don’t have to rewire the house as the bulbs crew right on to the existing framework.
Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt
As one of the first smart locks in the market with HomeKit support, Schlage Sense Deadbolt is a highly popular choice for Apple smart homeowners. It comes in two different styles that make it suitable for use with a wide range of related products. You can operate it from Home App or via Siri and can add it to scenes, rooms and triggers. Featuring a keyhole, numeric keypad and smartphone support, it ensures that you never have to lock yourself out of your home ever again.
Logitech Circle 2
When it comes to smart security cameras for HomeKit, Logitech Circle 2 offers a compelling set of features. The highly versatile choice is weatherproofed to work both indoors and out and can attach to any kind of surface. Though it has wired and wireless options, only the wired one is compatible with HomeKit. You can control it from your Apple Watch or tell Siri what you want to see.
Eve Room, Eve Energy, Eve Flare, Eve Aqua Eve Door & Window, Eve Energy Plug
Eve offers a vast and fast-growing ecosystem of devices suited to Apple smart home use. It includes a lighting system, smart plug, power meter, security system and air quality monitor among other things. The air quality monitor system, Eve Room, is especially handy as it allows users to take conscious actions to maintain optimal conditions at all times. Eve Flare is a great choice for ambient lighting while Eve Aqua prepares you for summer by automating the garden sprinkler. The Door and Window sensors offer automated security and Eve Energy Plug lets you switch connected devices on and off via Siri and keep track of energy consumption.
August Smart Lock Pro
Smart Lock Pro by August connects with the Bluetooth on your iPhone to unlock the door as you approach. Additionally, it lets you lock or unlock from anywhere and if your phone runs out of battery, it can also work with a key. Since it is compatible with Siri, you can issue voice commands too to control your lock. A new feature known as DoorSense checks if the door is closed and then automatically locks it.
OneLink Safe & Sound by First Alert
Safe & Sound is your smart replacement for the traditional wired smoke and CO detector system. In case of carbon monoxide or fire emergency, it sends you alert notifications. Bonus features include night lighting and a loudspeaker on which you can play music.
How to Set Up Your Apple Smart Home
Apple devices typically feature a simple setup process, and the HomePad is no exception. Follow these easy steps to set it up within minutes:
Step 1: Plug it into a power outlet and wait until a flashing white circle appears.
Step 2: Bring an iPhone into close proximity and unlock it. A HomePod notification will automatically appear on the screen.
Step 3: Tap ‘Set Up’ and follow the instructions that appear.
During the setup process, your iCloud and Apple account details will be sent to the HomePod from your iPhone, together with Wi-Fi details. Moreover, you will get a quick lesson on Siri commands to get you started. You will also need to give HomePod access to apps on your iPhone so as to take notes or send messages among other things.
To customize HomePod to suit personal preferences, go to your Home app which is a default program on all iOS devices. Tap on ‘Settings’ and you will get an overview of the HomeKit including all smart devices on its ecosystem.
If you have multiple HomePods, you might want to assign device names to each one. Under ‘Room’ you can group devices in any given room to allow for easy control over the space. You can also select the people you want to access have to it and use the smart speaker under ‘Allow Speaker Access.’ With this feature in place, it is also possible to choose whether or not to use a password.
Tips and Tricks for Using HomePod, HomeKit and Siri
Homepod and HomeKit
Primarily, HomePod operates as a hub for HomeKit, letting you control compatible appliances using your voice via Siri. HomeKit compatible accessories come with a setup code sticker which you need in order to complete the setup process. You will need to open the accessory’s app and point your camera to the code to scan it.
Assigning Siri Device Names
To control devices on HomeKit via Siri, you need to assign names. Most HomeKit accessories can use their product names, but you can change this by assigning them Siri names. Such names should be unique and unambiguous so that Siri will recognize it and not mistake it for something else. As an example, naming the Hue Go light “Hue Go” could lead to ambiguity, possibly prompting Siri to search the web for Hugo.
Assigning Siri Device Functions
In addition to naming devices, you can also assign them functions, making it easier to control them via Siri. A combination of device names and functions ensures that Siri knows precisely what you are talking about when you give a command.
Assigning Siri Third Party Device Types
An alternative to grouping devices by location is grouping them by type. For example, you could put all desk lamps or outlets under one category. If you do this, Siri will understand commands like “Turn off all outlets.”
Creating Zones for Siri
Another option is to group locations such as rooms into zones. With this feature, you can create a group consisting of all bedrooms or all downstairs rooms to ease control over them. For example, you can tell Siri to switch off all downstairs lights with one command.
Setting Scenes for Siri
Take your automation possibilities to the next level by creating scenes. Scenes let you group several accessories under one category. This is a great feature for creating routines. At bedtime, for instance, a single scene can allow you to turn off all lights, lock all doors and bring down the shades with a single command.
Creating Triggers for Siri
Though triggers automate device functions, they don’t work with Siri. If you like to turn on all the lights at sunset, you can create a trigger for that. Such triggers can incorporate several scenes and can be set to repeat daily or one-off.
By virtue of the HomePod’s advanced audio features, Siri can hear the wake word, “Hey Siri,” even when music is playing at full volume. The virtual assistant brings tons of functionality to the smart speaker system, letting you control your smart home and get answers to all manner of questions.
Siri can by default perform numerous tasks such as:
- Currency conversions
- Simple mathematics
- Set reminders, timers and alarms
- Preview your calendar
- Give you directions, suggest shortcuts and offer traffic information
- Play music and suggest playlists
- Run your smart home
- Conduct advanced searches
With time, the AI-based system learns and becomes smarter, capable of adapting to your personal and family needs. You can teach her countless new skills, like identifying family members among other things.
Siri Remote Control for TV
For any smart homeowner who has a third generation Apple TV or later, you can control your HomeKit on an iOS device even when you’re not home. The system works by conveying your voice commands to your Apple TV via iCloud remote access. And then the streaming box conveys the command to the relevant accessory.
What You Can Do with Apple HomePod
Apple Music Support
For Apple Music users, HomePod is one of the most versatile smart speakers available since it comes with built-in support. In fact, thanks to Siri, you don’t need your iPhone to control the music. Ask her for any artist, song or playlist or even lyrics (only available on iOS 12) and she will play it. To improve the recommendation feature and train Siri, simply tell her “I like/don’t like this.”
Placing and Answering Calls
If you use iOS 12 or later, you can access the contact list on your iPhone and make or receive calls via HomePod. For this to work, you need to have your iPhone on and connect to the same Wi-Fi network as the smart speaker. Use any of the following commands to automate the process:
“Hey Siri, call (contact),” “answer the phone,” “who just called?” “check my voicemail.”
Hands-free Voice Controlled Text Messaging
Use your voice and Siri to automate messaging via HomePod. Just tell Siri the person you want to text and what you want to say. You can also ask Siri to read out your messages.
Translation Services With Siri
Siri can also translate a number of languages. All you have to do is ask. These include Mandarin, Spanish, French, German and Italian and the list is consistently growing.
Creating HomePod Studio Pairs
For a more immersive audio experience, you can opt to pair up two HomePods. This would give you a stereo, surround-sound feel, but you need first to update to iOS 11.4. After you’re done, follow these easy steps:
If you already have one operational HomePod and want to set up a second one, add the second one to the same room. You will get a prompt asking whether you want to create a stereo pair.
But if you already have two HomePods in a room, go to the Home app and then press and hold the HomePod icon. Select “Details” and then “Create Stereo Pair” after which you will choose the speakers you wish to include.
Configure the two to identify the left and right speaker, switching them using the orange button if they are wrongly assigned in the app.
HomeKit makes use of iOS and iCloud security features to sync and protect personal data, ensuring that it does not leak to Apple or any third parties. This applies whether you are using Siri to control the ecosystem or doing so via the Home app, and works even when you are away from home.
Furthermore, all accessories come with an 8-digit security code that facilitates authentication and encryption of communication between the accessory and iOS device. Similarly, when you add a new user to your home network, communication with their devices and accessories is also encrypted.
Apple HomePod and HomeKit Competitors
Admittedly, the Apple smart home ecosystem has to operate in a highly competitive industry. But by virtue of the fact that it incorporates a highly innovative design, it gives competitors a run for their money. Let us take a look at how it stacks up against other key players in the market.
Apple HomePod vs. Alexa
Amazon’s Alexa is one of the most popular virtual assistants. But that is not to say that her ecosystem cannot borrow a leaf or two from Apple’s platform. HomeKit offers a high level of versatility for its users. They can access and control the platform both using the HomePod smart speaker and Home app on their devices. Moreover, they can use the advantage of GPS to automate scenes, for instance, having the doors automatically unlock when you get home. Another key advantage is the ease of setup which automatically syncs the HomePod to your iPhone. HomePod’s sound system is also far ahead of Amazon’s echo as it operates on a computerized framework with self-adjusting capability.
Nevertheless, Amazon’s ecosystem holds the main advantage of extensive product support giving smart home users tons of options. It also offers more customization options than HomeKit, enhancing user experience. With access to the vast Amazon network, Alexa presents a more robust platform than HomeKit.
Apple HomePod vs. Google Assistant
The Apple smart home framework offers a number of noteworthy merits over Google Home/Assistant. To start with, Apple’s combination of HomePod, HomeKit and Siri, is extremely hard to beat. When it comes to audio quality, Apple’s HomePod is miles ahead of Google Home smart speakers. At the same time, HomeKit is a complete ecosystem that can work by itself without the other two components. But Google’s ecosystem is highly interdependent.
Google Assistant, however, has the advantage of compatibility with a wide range of devices and platforms. It is accessible on Android as well as iOS devices and can work with countless third -party accessories. The AI-assistant is also a top performer with regards to answering web-based questions. This is by virtue of her access to the massive pool of resources at Google’s disposal. Siri seems to lag behind Assistant in answering accuracy and capability.
All in all, both ecosystems have their strengths and weaknesses, and only time can tell which one will emerge victorious.
Apple HomePod vs. Cortana
Microsoft’s Cortana is yet another contender to the best virtual assistant title. Apple is way ahead of Microsoft in this race. For starters, Microsoft is yet to launch its own smart speaker to work with its virtual assistant Cortana. Presently, it uses a third-party speaker, Harman Kardon Invoke. But Apple boasts the best smart speaker in the entire smart home platform market. It also has much wider product support for both native and third-party accessories.
Cortana has access to Microsoft Bing search engine, enhancing her capability at answering questions. Microsoft seeks to make her the preferred virtual assistant for business operators and professionals. While this might in the future make her a great competitor to Siri in the enterprise space, Apple currently holds a more dominant role in the smart home front.