Apple Homepod is not a great example of artificial intelligence


Apple HomePod white and blackAP

Sometime later this year, Apple’s $349 smart speaker, called
HomePod, will go on sale.

The HomePod may be many things: a high-quality speaker, another
possibly overpriced Apple product, or an odd move from a company
best known for portable devices.

One thing it is not — at least, not yet — is a Trojan horse for
Apple to put artificial intelligence in your house that talks to
you and runs your house and life. 

One key to understanding Apple is that it doesn’t pursue
technologies for their own sake. It builds things that people
presumably want — the user experience, or the reason why someone
would pay for it, comes first. 

Apple thinks that people will buy the HomePod because they want a
premium stereo. Nowhere is this clearer than in comments that
Apple CEO Tim Cook
gave to Businessweek
earlier this month.

“The thing that has arguably not gotten a great level of focus is
music in the home. So we decided we would combine great sound and
an intelligent speaker,” Cook told Bloomberg’s Megan

“When I was growing up, audio was No. 1 on the list of things
that you had to have. You were jammin’ out on your stereo. Audio
is still really important in all age groups, not just for kids.
We’re hitting on something people will be delighted with. It’s
gonna blow them away. It’s gonna rock the house,” he continued.

This is completely in line with how late CEO Steve Jobs
described the company in 2010
. Apple’s philosophy is to “make
extremely advanced products from a technology point of view but
also have them be intuitive, easy to use, fun to use, so that
they really fit the users and users don’t have to come to them,
they come to the user,” Jobs said. 

Notice what Jobs didn’t say: Apple’s goal is not to have the most
drool-worthy pure technology that people in Silicon Valley see as
the future of computing — although it’s doing that a little bit
lately, particularly with its
experiments in augmented reality
, a very early emerging

Apple’s not really a tech company. As independent Apple analyst
Neil Cybart
has previously argued
, it’s a design company, and with
HomePod, it’s designed an easier way to play high-quality sound
in your home. It’s almost incidental that Apple’s using Siri as
its main control system. 

For the most part, Apple only likes to talk about tech that it’s
about to sell. As Cook told MIT Technology Review earlier this
month, a lot of technology companies “sell futures” — and you’ll
be able to buy a HomePod later this year. 

apple is selling homepod as a fantastic speaker first and foremostApple

Rock the house 

A homepodKif Leswing

I’ve personally heard the HomePod, and I can tell you, in my
brief listening experience in a controlled and simulated living
room, it does sound great. 

I heard HomePod play the same songs as the Sonos Play 3, which is
a premium speaker that you can’t talk to, as well as the Amazon
Echo, which is a cheap speaker that exists to be spoken to.

HomePod clearly sounded better than both to my ears. For someone
who wants a really good home stereo, and price isn’t a major
factor, I suspect the HomePod will have to be a

Eventually, you’ll be able to talk to Apple’s Siri on the
HomePod. But I didn’t get a chance. Apple didn’t want the story
out of its recent WWDC conference to be how impressive Siri is —
it wanted it to be that the sound is amazing. 

I buy that. Siri can still be frustrating to use. And studies
show that when people talk to their Amazon Echo, the
most common thing
they do is tell is to play music.

Someday, futurists imagine, these speakers will contain a
generalized artificial intelligence that humans can converse
with, rely on, or maybe fall in love with (ever see the movie

But that’s not what Siri is. Siri is a complicated piece of
software that uses machine learning to understand what you say
and return answers. Machine learning is a key component of
creating an AI, but it’s also used all over technology — for
example, to keep your iPhone’s battery lasting longer. It’s
merely a way of solving a problem that’s hard to define with
simple rules.

So Apple doesn’t want to be compared against “futures.” With the
HomePod, Apple’s not saying Siri will become your new virtual
friend, like the future depicted in movies like “Her.” Apple
didn’t even tell its armies of software makers how to program
simple apps for the speaker. 

Apple is simply saying it will rock the house. 

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