HomePod will “reinvent home audio.” Apple confidently announced their new smart speaker this week, which aims to deliver the audio quality of Sonos with the listening skills of Amazon Echo. Usually when Apple steps into your ring you get scared, but Sonos didn’t become the kings of wireless whole home audio by resting on their laurels. So how will a house full of HomePods stack up to a Sonos abode? Here are the major considerations…
With Apple acquiring Bowers & Wilkins talent to develop AirPods, it’s clear they are taking audio more seriously. HomePod packs seven tweeters and a four inch woofer capable of moving a lot of air (a good work-around for getting big sound out of a small form factor) into a mere 7″ tall cylinder. The similarly sized Sonos PLAY:1 only packs one tweeter, which it rounds out with two amps and a mid-woofer. Both tune themselves to the room they’re in, but HomePod’s video illustrates a more complex approach to tuning versus the Sonos Trueplay App. Our guess is that HomePod’s “beam forming” and “acoustic modeling” are marketing speak, and that while HomePod might outplay PLAY:1, Apple clearly can’t compete in the next category.
Apple is just getting started in home audio, whereas Sonos already has three refined versions of the all-in-one speaker, two ways to upgrade your existing speakers, a standalone sub and two great home theater speakers. With HomePod being priced well above Sonos’ PLAY:1, form factor goes to Sonos for sheer variety. We do anticipate HomePod’s waveform light up display to offer more useful controls than Sonos’ simple hard button volume and play/pause control… but then again the idea is that you shouldn’t have to walk over to your speaker to control it.
Apple’s biggest edge here is with built-in Siri, and we’re all waiting to see Sonos’ next move. We know Sonos has been building mics into their speaker for a while now, which have remained dormant. Those mics will come alive with a software update in one of two ways: 1) An Alexa integration that will allow every Sonos owner to control their music via voice and perform other Alexa tasks, or 2) Sonos’ own voice recognition attempt, exclusively for music control but ideally with a more thoughtful control experience. The first is the most likely.
Apple products are great at working with Apple products. The HomePod announcement focused on how easy it will be to control your Apple Music collection. Sonos however has proven their ability to play well with others. Universal search via the Sonos App is incredibly smooth, and now you can stream to Sonos from directly within the Spotify App. That being said, within the Apple ecosystem control will be fantastic, and the option for party guests to throw a song into the queue without downloading a separate App is a killer feature.
It’s certainly interesting to see another company take a serious swing at connected wireless speakers. If Sonos stays innovative and can pull off a solid voice control solution, we’re putting our money on Sonos staying on top.