“Smart” speaker – what makes a speaker smart?

Aaron Miller:

The HomePod team set out—six years ago—to design a speaker. And not just any speaker. They wanted to make a really great speaker that only Apple could make, one with a brain that could adapt to its surroundings.

Miller pointed me to his post via Twitter and I think it’s a really good take on the disconnect I’ve been feeling regarding many HomePod reviews – “smart speaker vs smart assistant”.

I take Apple at its word that this is a “smart speaker” and I think that’s how it should be reviewed – “How does it sound/work as a speaker?” But so many are comparing it to the virtual assistants of Amazon and Google (where it justifiably pales in comparison).

After reading Miller’s piece, I think Apple may have made a marketing error in calling the HomePod a smart speaker. Reviewers are getting hung up on the “smart” part and assuming it means and is comparable to devices like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. But what if we redefine smart? Think of the things almost all the reviewers have commented on regarding the HomePod as a standalone music player. The sound quality is universally described as excellent. The design of the internals is mindboggling. The technology for “forming sound” is beyond what anyone else is doing, certainly at this price point.

So, if you think of the HomePod as a speaker leaps and bounds beyond the “intelligence” of any other speaker, then it’s an amazing device. It’s definitely a “smart speaker”. But it’s not a particularly good virtual assistant. It wasn’t designed to be – at least not yet.

Maybe if Apple had called the HomePod a “super speaker” or something else and more directly avoided the comparison to “smart” devices like the Echo and the Home, they wouldn’t be having so many tech reviewers reviewing a Ferrari as if it were a Corolla.