Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Apple HomePod
Speech recognition technology has been around since the 50s when Bell Laboratories introduced the "Audrey" system, which recognized digits spoken by a single voice. Ten years later, IBM presented their "Shoebox" machine, which could understand 16 words in English. Back then, it probably sounded like something straight out of a sci-fi novel, but only 60 years later, that technology seems as primitive as caveman drawings. Back in 2014, Amazon blessed the world with the first smart speaker: Amazon’s Echo. Back then, Amazon hardly knew that they’ve carved out a door to a whole new species of digital products. As for the consumers, they are moving from wondering about new gadgets to realizing that smart speakers would make their life easier or at the very least, more pleasant.
Even though they’ve started out as a more convenient way to manage and listen to music, the utility of smart speakers has quickly surpassed that, and they are becoming irreplaceable smart home assistants. After all, why would you want to get up to change your thermostat setting? What is this, 2012? But all jokes aside, smart speakers are finding their use in a lot of helpful and unexpected ways. As an example take senior citizens, who might struggle to learn their way around smartphones and computers, but could easily ask their smart assistant to call their children, or turn the lights on in the hallway at night.
What Are the Options?
There are currently about a dozen companies producing smart speakers, with some offering at least a few versions of speakers at different price points. We are going to look at and compare the three main players on the market ― Amazon Echo with Alexa, Google Home, and Apple’s Home Pod.
What to Look For in a Smart Speaker?
When evaluating a smart speaker, one would look at the two main criteria: the outer look, including design and how it would fit in your home, and the functionality. Smart speakers have a few basic functions that they were made to fulfill. The original function was the music playback, the second one would be the smart assistant and his functions, and the third one ― its integration with a smart home.
It is worth noting that, when choosing a smart speaker, the decision could be as easy as picking a team. Reviews indicate that the platforms do not work with each other as well as they do with their own kind. If you are an Apple person ― Apple’s Home Pod along with the Home Kit might be the best choice for you, although both Amazon’s Echo and Google Home will work with Apple’s OS. However, if you decide to go with Apple’s Home Pod, it will not work with your Android or any non-Apple devices for that matter. Deciding what are your priorities in a smart speaker would be a crucial part of your shopping experience. Whether it is the platform, the design, sound quality, or assistant capabilities, we are going to dive a little deeper below.
Amazon’s Echo vs. Google Home vs. Apple Home Pod
Choosing a design is definitely a matter of personal preference, so we will not linger on that topic. Amazon, Google, and Apple have definitely put some thought into their smart speaker design, utilizing every thread and every millimeter of the speaker to enhance the sound quality as well as to make it easier to use.
Amazon beat everybody to the punch with their Echo smart speaker and its siblings. Amazon offers a few versions of smart speakers with different capabilities and prices. These include Echo dot ― their smallest smart speaker; Echo ― the standard size speaker; Echo Plus ― a bigger version of Echo; Echo Spot -―/a convenient small speaker with a digital screen; and Echo Show ― the biggest speaker with a 10-inch display. Designwise, Amazon made sure they have something for everyone, offering 6 different removable shells for the 2nd generation Echo.
Being the pioneer of the smart speaker movement and having a well-marketed advertising campaign, which helped Alexa become a recognizable household name, Amazon seems to have the upper hand in the game. Offering their cheapest smart speaker, Echo Dot, priced at just $39.99 and with 4.5-star reviews from customers and from PC Mag, Amazon would probably win the dollars of those customers that are just testing out the waters of the smart speaker pool.
Considering that Amazon has been in the smart speaker game for at least 2 years more than its nearest competitor, they have made a lot of connections with many tech and smart home companies, brands and apps which led to Alexa having over 15,000 skills and being able to support more smart home devices than other smart assistants.
The sound on Alexa Echo speakers is probably its weakest link, with reviews placing it close to or a bit below Google Home. Obviously, Echo Plus can’t compare to Echo Dot in sound quality, but both of them are still lagging behind.
Amazon Echo with Alexa seems to be winning the best overall reviews on the internet, having the most skills and being the most budget-friendly option, but its weak sound quality might make customers look elsewhere.
In 2016, Google launched its version of a smart speaker ― Google Home. The name itself carries the intent of the company to one day be a part of every aspect of your home. Fashionably late to the party, Google Home is the most popular kid. Even though the Amazon has two years advantage over Google, whether or not Amazon can compete with Google’s extensive knowledge base and vast international recognition is still to be seen.
Google is also offering a few choices to their customers, creating competition for Amazon’s Echo lineup at almost every level. Their standard speaker is the Google Home speaker $129.00, which comes in four different colors. Their Google Mini is a $49.99 answer to Amazon’s Dot, and Google Home Max is their biggest and highest end speaker priced at $399.00. Google has not yet created a speaker with a screen, which would compete with Echo Show.
Google’s answer to Echo Dot is Google Home mini, priced a bit higher at $49.99, with it’s cute design and a superior sound quality to Echo Dot makes for a good competition.
Google assistant doesn’t have a name like Alexa or Siri; its wake words are “Hey Google” and “Ok Google”. However, the version 7.20 of Google app is alleged to provide its users with the ability to give the Google assistant whatever custom name they want. What we love about Google search engine, we love about the assistant: it seems to be the best at understanding, so you don’t have to choose your words as thoroughly as with the other assistants. It provides fewer skills than Alexa, but that number is steadily growing.
In regards to sound quality, both Echo Dot and Google Home Mini don’t come close to their full-sized counterparts. Google Home Max has received raving reviews on its sound quality and been named the best sounding speaker by PC Mags.
Overall Google Home is getting slightly lower reviews then Amazon’s Echo, but it is definitely a worthy opponent, and we expect to see more to come from Google in the future.
Apple Home Pod
Out of the three companies, Apple joined the smart speaker party last even though they were the first ones to introduce Siri ― the first virtual assistant. Currently, Apple offers only one smart speaker ― Home Pod in two colors: Space Gray and White. Looking at the reviews, one design flaw seems to pop up: customers are seeing that the base of the smart speaker is leaving white rings of residue on different surfaces. Apple has addressed the problem and seems to be working on a solution.
The company has only one version of the Home Pod available, priced at $349.00, and they do not offer a budget version of their speaker at this time.
A remarkable thing about Apple’s assistant Siri is that, unlike Alexa or Google, it can hear your command even if you are across the room and blasting music full volume. Siri is also great at knowing which smart device you are talking to, and is better at finding the music that you are requesting. It is not as versatile and doesn’t have nearly as many skills as other smart assistants, but it is still able to help you with your smart home devices (only Apple ones of course), provide assistance with general tasks like news and weather, make and receive calls on the Home Pod.
Apple’s strategy was to market their smart speaker as one with the best sound quality ― a potentially smart move to choose one functionality and excel at it. Their slogan is to become “the ultimate music authority”. They’ve put a lot into this relatively small pod to surpass their competitors, and it did pay off. The reviews of the sound quality have been stellar, Apple’s Home Pod does have the best sound compared to other smart speakers with Google Home Max coming as a very close competitor. An important thing to keep in mind is that none of the smart speakers will compare in sound to a stereo system even under genius hands of Apple engineers.
Overall Apple’s Home Pod is getting about 3.5-star reviews praised for exceptionally great sound for a smart speaker, but Siri is unfortunately not measuring up to Alexa or Google Assistant for now.
What does the future hold for smart speakers
It’s no surprise that the smart speaker market is growing and will continue to grow for years to come. According to Canalys’ analysis of the second quarter of 2018 sales, the smart speaker shipments grew 187%. Having a much bigger presence and recognition internationally, Google leads the way with 4.5 million shipments, while Amazon follows with 4.1 million. Macrumors.com claims that Apple sales of their Home Pods have been close to 1.5 million, but it is hard to know for sure since Apple doesn’t release their exact sales figures. To boost their sales, analysts suggest that Apple would need to come out with a more budget-friendly version of a smart speaker. Amazon still holds the crown for sales in the US, holding the staggering 70% of the market, Google takes 24%, and Apple picks up the other 6%, as estimated by the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
The smart speakers have evolved from simply being a tool to easily access your music into a magic wand that helps you do things around the house or grow as an individual. Each of the speakers we have reviewed brings something to the table: Amazon’s Echo line is the favorite right now for all the fun and helpful things it can do; Google Home is the bookworm who is best at reading your mind; and Apple’s Home Pod is the cool kid with all the great sounds and tunes. With the three biggest players on the arena, it will be interesting to see what the future holds, and hopefully, we can keep up with what’s to come.