I bloody love my Pixel Tablet.
I really do. And I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick, to be honest. We’ve been so used to Alexa at home (and I’ve been equally reliant on it at my studio) that I thought Google’s helpful be-screened assistant would ultimately be replaced with Amazon’s.
Nearly five months on, and it’s still in our kitchen keeping track of egg timers, playing the local radio station and, occasionally, doing a brilliant job as a regular tablet.
Apple needs to do something in this space. Leaving the HomePod as it is with a dim-witted assistant and a lack of any meaningful visual feedback is leaving both money and opportunities to expand the Apple ecosystem on the table.
The good news is, I think I’ve worked out what they need to do.
Apple’s big investment in AI
One thing is clear. For the HomePod to stand any chance of competing properly against the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant, Siri needs to up its game. Massively.
The good news is that Apple appears to be aware of this. So aware, in fact, that it is apparently committed to spending $1 billion every year developing its own generative AI tech.
Apple has, of course, invested in AI for many years; it sits at the heart of most of its devices and is baked deeply into the machine learning capabilities of its silicon. But generative AI is another matter – it’s what’s taking the world by storm and creating a brand-new era.
Tim Cook and co. have defiantly avoided mentioning the letters “AI” during any of the recent Apple events, despite the likes of Google and Microsoft blurting it out at any given opportunity. It has been, clearly, an intentional tactic on Apple’s behalf, but it’s increasingly seeming like a rather daft one.
They don’t need to be different when it comes to the march of AI. They don’t need to use silence as a way to point a disapproving, patronising finger at those who have jumped on the gravy train. They need to join it.
I’m glad they appear to be realising this.
In fairness to Apple, the reason they haven’t said “AI” eight million times already is probably because they haven’t got a single product that delivers the generative stuff we’re all gradually adopting in our professional and personal lives. However, if reports are to be believed, they are now actively working on integrating generative AI into Messages, Apple Music, Xcode, and, yes, Siri.
Assuming Apple really is hard at work getting its act together with the reliability and performance of Siri, my thoughts immediately turn to the future of the HomePod.
The argument for a HomePod with a screen
The HomePod sounds great. It looks great. It has superb integration with both the iPhone and Apple ecosystem.
What It’s missing is a display.
I can say this confidently because of my experience with the Google Pixel Tablet. The ability to see the answers to your questions and the results of your commands makes so much sense when you experience it.
Take timers, for instance. I don’t know about you, but we often have two or three timers going at once. On an audio-only home assistant, it’s nigh-on impossible to work out which timer is which. On the Pixel Tablet, you can see exactly which timers relate to which task – particularly if you decide to call out the reason you’re setting the timer.
It’s the same deal as checking the weather. Is it going to rain today? How about answering that question and showing me a more detailed forecast for the week?
Then, there’s music; seeing the album artwork of the band you’re listening to, or switching on the lyrics for a kitchen singalong is a wonderful thing. And don’t get me started on the photo carousel; I love catching a glimpse of memories as I pass from the kitchen into the living room.
The Alexa Show 10 is another great example of an assistant with a display. Amazon takes a different approach to Google in so far as the Show 10 doesn’t include tablet functionality. But it does swivel as you move around the room and it includes auto-framing to ensure you’re visible while talking to your nearest and dearest.
Adding a display to the HomePod opens a raft of exciting possibilities. It’s the obvious HomeKit accessory we don’t yet have and would play brilliantly with other smart home tech such as security cameras, doorbells, and sensors.
How will a HomePod with a screen work?
I think Apple should take the Amazon route with its HomePod-with-a-display. As much as I love the Pixel Tablet, it does, admittedly, see very little use as a tablet in our house.
I’d love to see Apple simply add a display to both the HomePod and the HomePod mini. This would provide two price points and remove any complication over adding user accounts (or a single ‘home’ account) to iPadOS for docking mode. And, yes, I know the presence of StandBy in iOS 17 might suggest a similar feature coming to the iPad, but I think that’s an entirely separate use case.
The display on this theoretical HomePod wouldn’t need to provide anywhere near as much functionality as iPadOS, either. Think about it – why weigh the thing down with what is now ostensibly a desktop operating system if all you need is music playback, FaceTime calls, messages, a rolling Photos library screensaver, and the ability to hand stuff off to – and accept from – the iPhone?
This isn’t rocket science, but the result would be one hell of a personal assistant for those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.
Oh, and could we have those beautiful drone screensavers from tvOS (and now macOS) please, Tim?
I’m going to stop moaning about Siri because I’m confident we’re going to see some significant improvements to Apple’s digital assistant next year. The emergence of a significantly updated HomePod thereafter is, I think, inevitable.
Have I got this right, though? Do you want a HomePod with a built-in display? Get involved in the comments below and tell me what you want to see next from Apple in this regard, please!