At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple concluded a marathon two-hour keynote presentation by announcing a brand-new product: A $349 smart home speaker called HomePod. The speaker, which is expected to be released in December, is a direct response to similar devices made by Amazon, Google and Sonos.
On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, The Vergeâ€™s Nilay Patel talked with Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode about his long list of concerns for HomePod. First and foremost: Price.
â€œThe Amazon â€˜puckâ€™ [the Echo Dot], they often discount it to $40,â€ Patel said. â€œYou can see [Jeff] Bezos being like, â€˜Iâ€™m going to throw away one for free. Youâ€™re a Prime Member? Hereâ€™s an Echo.â€™â€
Apple is justifying that $349 price tag by appealing to audio quality. But Patel said that, too, is a dubious value proposition.
â€œI am a huge nerd for speakers, I spend thousands of dollars on stereo equipment,â€ he said. â€œI love things that sound great. But I donâ€™t think everybody is like me. I think most people pick convenience and price over sound quality.â€
â€œApple built an empire, with iTunes, selling low-bitrate audio files to play over cheap white headphones,â€ he added. â€œAnd everyone loved it! Now saying, â€˜Weâ€™re going to sell you a more expensive speaker because it sounds better,â€™ it doesnâ€™t line up with their history.â€
On the new podcast, the trio also talked about how Siri, the virtual assistant that powers the HomePod, stacks up against its competitors, Alexa and the Google Assistant (Sonos currently has no assistant in its speakers).
â€œAt the start of the event, not knowing yet that this speaker was coming, there was a song by Foals playing,â€ Goode said. â€œI went to ask Siri, â€˜Who are Foals?â€™ And it responded with â€˜Philz Coffee.â€™ And then I said, â€˜What are Foals?â€™ And it said, â€˜The Falls.â€™â€
Alexa and Google sometimes screw up too, and Goode noted that this impromptu Siri test was in a noisy room. And even though Apple did not mention any improvements to the AI in this yearâ€™s keynote, it has something with Siri that Amazon and Google wish they had: Reach.
â€œApple has the great advantage of having Siri everywhere you are,â€ Patel said. â€œIf they just do little improvements to Siri over time, itâ€™s happening in your pocket. Google doesnâ€™t have that kind of space: Theyâ€™ve got to convince you to buy an Android phone or a Pixel or the Google Home that has Assistant on it. Amazon has to convince you to open the Amazon app on your phone to use Alexa, or buy an Echo device. Siri can be worse, but itâ€™s going to have a higher install base for a long time.â€
Have questions about WWDC that we didnâ€™t get to in this episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to TooEmbarrassed@recode.net.
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