The device I really was looking forward to getting for Christmas was a new Apple HomePod smart speaker. I wanted it even though we have already invested in the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. When I say that we have invested in the Echo smart speakers, what I really mean is that we’ve spent money on few devices that let us do things like turn on lights, set timers, and play music out of an annoyingly poor sounding speaker. We really bought them to do stuff and they introduced us to the whole idea of just saying the name of a song or artist and getting instant gratification, even if the sound was inferior to what we have historically been accustomed to. I wanted the HomePod because it could do the smart home stuff, but is targeted as a “real” speaker and I have been missing real speakers since we moved to Chicago two and half years ago.
We’ve always had great speakers in our homes because we value listening to music. With the new place, there just hasn’t been a place, or frankly a desire, to put out real speakers connected to a real stereo. The Echo completely reinforced the idea for my wife and I that we did not want the complexity of a physical stereo system in the main part of our home. I also was not interested in spending tons of money on hiding systems in closets, getting in-wall speakers, and managing it all with multi-room gear. That just feels so last generation, especially now that I can simply say, “Alexa, play some Nora Jones” and it just happens. The problem is with the Echo it sounds less than satisfying when it magically starts playing.
Enter the HomePod. Apple promised it by Christmas and I had visions of pairing two to make a stereo front stage in the family room … yes, at $350 per speaker I wasn’t looking forward to the cost, but I’ve paid more for speakers in the past. I was ready to go and then they delayed it until sometime in early 2018.
I have been toying with the idea of entering into the world of Sonos for years. Ever since a great friend of ours showed it to me years ago in State College I was really intrigued, but I never pulled the trigger. It seemed limiting having to control it from your phone and the streaming services weren’t quite there, so I watched from the sideline. When Sonos and Amazon announced that there was a growing number of integrations between the Echo and what could be played via voice control I started to really do my research. At the end of the day, I dropped $300 on two Songs Play 1 speakers so they are paired as a stereo set and I couldn’t be happier. I have an Echo Dot in the family room that can voice control playback on the Sonos speakers and they sound very good. I compared them across the line and found the Play 1 to be better suited to what we needed (and was easier on the wallet) than getting the larger Play models.
The reality is that while Amazon is now one of the largest installed base of speaker manufacturers in the World, their speakers sort of stink at being speakers. Apple had a great opportunity to steal some thunder from Amazon this Holiday season and they let that opportunity slip by while Amazon sold tens of millions of Echos of all flavors (especially the Dot). Now that Sonos has integrated Echo into its new, One speaker, there is a very high quality smart speaker on the market from an audio company. Have I mentioned that Google has a couple of nice products as well? I am upset I couldn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas, but I am very happy with my Sonos setup. It leaves me wondering if there will be a chance for Apple to catch up in this space? I will be hard pressed to go back and buy a HomePod now, but I have learned over the last few years to not bet against Apple. Right now I am more likely to expand my Sonos collection than spend on the HomePod. Time will tell and your milage may vary when it comes to Sonos, Echo, Google, and eventually the HomePod … it is an interesting space to be watching at the moment and it sounds like it is just getting started.