A HomePod Intervention

Since wrapping up HomePod vs. iPod Hi-Fi video, my HomePod has been in our kitchen, sitting where our Amazon Echo has been for the last year and a half. I unplugged the Echo and put it away, leading to many questions about where Alexa went, voiced by our three year old son.

That was about three weeks ago, and in those three weeks, the entire family has gotten acquainted with HomePod and this iteration of Siri.

We used our Echo for music listening, checking the weather and news, setting multiple timers while cooking and controlling the handful of smart lights in the house.

Obviously the HomePod blows away the Echo in terms of audio quality. I really like how the HomePod sounds, and as we already pay for Apple Music, we were good to go there.

The Echo’s “Flash Briefing” ability can be adjusted. We have ours read NPR news, play the most recent episode of Subnet then share the weather. This all happens automatically if we ask Alexa to play the news. Siri can do these things as well, but each item has to be requested independently. Annoyingly, Siri constantly reminds us that its source can be changed from NPR to Fox News, CNN or The Washington Post. This reminder should be played one time then never again, with the setting visible in the Home app.1

As a result of this, we’re asking Siri for the news far less than we were Alexa.

Siri’s lack of multiple timer support has been well documented. It is bonkers that Apple products — the iPhone included — can only handle one timer at a time.

On the smart home front, all of our tech can be controlled via HomeKit or Alexa, sans our Nest thermostat. There’s been no real change in our usage when it comes to turning lights on and off with our voices.

Hardware wise, the HomePod may sound amazing but its physical controls aren’t as good as the Echo’s. Our first-gen Echo has a big ring that spins around to control the volume that works perfectly; the HomePod’s touch buttons can be finicky and slow to respond.

Even more annoying is the HomePod’s resumption of music playback if you touch the top of the unit. Our smart speakers have always been under a counter in the kitchen, and we brush the top of them a lot more than we realized after the HomePod would start blaring music after any accidental touch. Apple should have an option to disable it.

All in all, I thought the move to the HomePod was going well right until my family staged an intervention. Their annoyance with Siri misunderstanding or misinterpreting has grown over the last few weeks, and the clumsiness with which Siri handles — or doesn’t handle — some requests has become bothersome.

I’ve overheard several interactions with the HomePod that entail a family member asking for a song or album that ends in getting upset with the device when it starts playing something else. The Echo — coupled with Amazon Music — had a much higher hit rate when it came to accurately playing what was desired.

In short, the increase in sound quality doesn’t make up for the frustration of using Siri. The HomePod is going to live in my studio; the Echo is back in its rightful place in the kitchen.

  1. The Amazon Echo App may have its problems, but cramming the HomePod’s settings into Home.app has proved clumsy at best. I don’t want yet another first-party Apple app on my iPhone, but I think a lot of the HomePod’s software controls need to be revisited.