What you should know about HomePod, before you buy, on The CultCast

X-ray view of HomePod
The HomePod reviews are in!
Photo: Apple

The HomePod reviews have been coming out hot and heavy, and they’re surprising. This week on The CultCast, we’ll tell you what people like, love and hate about Apple’s new speaker. If you’re planning on buying one, don’t miss our discussion. Plus: Something strange is happening at Apple HQ … we elaborate; 150 new kickass emojis are coming to your iPhone; and we pitch you the movies, gadgets and food we can’t get enough of in all-new What We’re Into!

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CultCast #322 – What you need to know about HomePod

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This week’s stories

HomePod meta review: Superb sound, stupid Siri

  • Apple seeded a few review units to major outlets ahead of this Friday’s HomePod launch. The embargo lifted Tuesday morning, and the early reviews reveal a few surprising tidbits about the HomePod.

HomePod sound quality is amazing

  • TechCrunch: “Apple’s HomePod is easily the best sounding mainstream smart speaker ever. It’s got better separation and bass response than anything else in its size and boasts a nuance and subtlety of sound that pays off the 7 years Apple has been working on it.”

HomePod sounds better than expensive speakers

  • WSJ: “The HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve testedApple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.

HomePod sucks at music recommendations

  • Apple frames the ability to tell Siri to play your favorite music, and immediately hear soothing tones blasted out of the speaker, as one of the HomePod’s main draws. Cupertino promises that Siri will learn your musical tastes over time, but based on The New York Times’ review, that’s not what actually happens.

Not a very good assistant

  • Siri is limited and doesn’t compete with Alexa or Google intelligence.
    • TechCrunch: Siri doesn’t do a lot of “other” stuff that isn’t about audio content. Apple says this is because the vast majority of people use these speakers for basic commands like playing music and setting timers. But it does offer best-in-class voice recognition, vastly outstripping the ability of other smart speakers to hear you trying to trigger a command at a distance or while music is playing, but its overall flexibility is stymied by the limited command sets that the Siri protocol offers.
  • Siri can’t even set more than one timer
  • Siri can’t recognize multiple voices (someone could ask it to read your texts, or even send an iMessage)

You can use Spotify via AirPlay, but you can’t control it with your voice

The smarts are in the music tech

  • When plugged in, HomePod goes through a series of aural exercises you first plug it in to determine how best to structure its sound.
  • It also includes an accelerometer, so if you move the speaker, it will retune itself.
  • Eddie Cue revealed recently that HomePod will adjust how it sounds to each song you play based on Apple’s analytics.

Redheads and superheroes included in 150+ new emojis for 2018

  • The Unicode Consortium has approved more than 150 new emoji characters that will likely be headed to iOS and macOS later this year.

Apple hiring spree means something big is on the way

  • Apple has been busy hiring a record number of engineers over the last few months. The move comes after the company also went on a designer hiring spree, indicating a major new product or two could be in the works.
  • Job openings for engineering jobs at Apple rose 80% from the period starting in September until just last week. The company’s listings went from 665 open hardware engineering positions to 1,198 last week.
  • What exactly Apple is working on is anyone’s best guess right now, but check out these job listings:
  • Analog Layout Designer, Advanced Material Scientist (Electrolyte Development), 3D Perception/Computer Vision Algorithm Engineer, Sensor Design Engineer, Motion Sensing Hardware Engineer: Magnetics, and even a Flexible Display Technologist.
  • There are hundreds of other titles up for grabs though so probably only a few people at Apple really know the full picture

What we’re INTO
The Shape of Water
iPhone X and its incredible camera

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