Apple's HomePod Is Not The Smartest Of The Smart Speakers

Apple is launching shipments of its HomePod smart speaker Friday, but by all accounts, the emphasis with HomePod is much more on the speaker than on the smarts.

The CRN Test Center was not offered a tryout unit of the $349 HomePod, but multiple reviews confirm that Siri on the HomePod lacks some basic voice assistant capabilities, such as managing your calendar (not even your Apple calendar).

[Related: 10 Cool Smart Home Assistants At CES 2018]

The HomePod version of Siri reportedly cannot read out calendar entries or add new ones—something that the iPhone version of Siri can do just fine.

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By contrast, the assistants in three other smart speakers that we've tried at the CRN Test Center—Alexa in the Amazon Echo, Google Assistant in the Google Home, and Cortana in the Harman Kardon Invoke—are adept at managing calendars.

Amazon's Echo supports all of the major calendar apps—Google, Microsoft (Outlook/Office 365/Exchange) and Apple. Google Home only supports the Google calendar, while the Invoke supports both Google and Microsoft calendars.

In terms of business uses for voice assistants, Apple's lack of support in HomePod for even basic features that businesspeople would appreciate—such as calendars—doesn't bode well for Apple's future in the B2B voice assistant space.

"Apple's not that strong in enterprise, other than on BYOD," said Michael Oh, CTO of Cambridge, Mass.-based solution provider TSP. "Clearly, there are a lot of Siri devices out there, but they've barely been able to leverage Siri in the home environment, much less in business. I think it's between Google and Amazon."

A few other typical smart speaker tasks that the HomePod reportedly can't do: find a recipe, make a phone call or summon an Uber (although Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed the HomePod works with Uber during an earnings call last week).

"Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it," wrote Brian Chen in his review of HomePod for The New York Times. "Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Siri doesn’t even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone."

What does the HomePod do, then? Its chief selling point appears to be a high-quality speaker for using the Apple Music service--but not any other rival services. By contrast, Google Home and Amazon Echo each support both Spotify and Pandora, in addition to their own respective music services (though they reportedly fall far short of HomePod on audio quality).

Even when handling interactions with Apple Music, Siri is far from a joy to use on the HomePod, according to Chen. "Whenever I asked HomePod to 'play some music,' it never played music that was relevant to my preferences or listening history," he wrote, even though Apple has claimed that HomePod will excel at learning user's musical tastes.

From the look of it, Apple sees HomePod mainly as a way to extend the reach of its Apple Music service, not Siri.

After failing to capitalize on the lead it had on voice assistants by launching Siri back in 2011, Apple appears to have missed a big opportunity with Siri yet again with HomePod.