Last week, Apple provided one more reason not to buy its smart speakers. This is because you can now stream Apple Music not only through your Alexa speakers, but your Nest speakers as well. Unless you are truly married to the Apple ecosystem or the smart home platform, there is no reason to buy a HomePod or the new HomePod mini.
Do not misunderstand Apple HomePod and HomePod mini sounds great, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a smart speaker either. That’s because the value of a smart speaker is half audio quality and half intelligence, and Apple products lack the latter.
Let’s start with the choice. With Apple, you’re limited to just two devices: the $ 99 HomePod Mini and the $ 299 HomePod. Amazon, by contrast, has the new Echo Dot ($ 50), the Echo Dot with Clock, the Echo Show 5 ($ 45), the Echo Show 8 ($ 79), the Echo ($ 99), the Echo Show ($ 149) and the new Echo Show 10 ($ 249), not to mention the Echo Auto, the third-gen Echo Dot, and the Echo Flex.
While not that numerous, Google also has more options than Apple, including Nest Mini ($ 50), the Nest Audio ($ 99), Nest Hub ($ 89), Nest Hub Max ($ 229), and the Google Home Max ($ 179).
My favorite smart speaker is the $ 149 Sonos One, which has proven to be the best when it comes to audio (and can be used with Alexa or the Google Assistant).
Next, there are the music streaming services. On a HomePod or HomePod mini, you can choose from Apple Music, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Pandora, but that’s it. The Alexa and Google / Nest smart speakers don’t offer much else, but they both have Spotify. And Sonos One has hundreds of services.
So we have smart home intelligence. Here, Apple’s smart speakers have an advantage over Google in that it can create more sophisticated smart home routines, but it falls short of Alexa in terms of how it can control your smart home devices, such as lights and locks.
However, after that, the HomePod’s abilities lag behind the others. When it launched the HomePod mini, Apple touted its intercom feature, which allows you to broadcast a message to other HomePods or Apple devices. However, all you are doing is sending a prerecorded message. Alexa and Google devices, in comparison, allow you to have full conversations.
Both Google and Amazon also have much stronger parental controls. Although I am reluctant to give my son a smart speaker in his bedroom, if he had one, he would have a lot more control over what he hears if it were an Alexa speaker.
Perhaps the only unique feature of the HomePod and HomePod Mini is that you can start playing music on your phone and then simply tap on the phone’s speaker to transfer the music. It’s a cool feature, but it’s one that I rarely use. It’s much easier to tell Siri to start playing something rather than walking around a room.
The fact that Apple is allowing its music streaming service on other devices is perhaps a tacit admission that it is not going to dominate the market for smart speakers as it has done for smartphones and tablets. But the company has now revealed the best reason to buy a HomePod or HomePod Mini from the competition.