Tuesday, June 13, 2017

HomePod: Why I'll be buying one in December

The most exciting announcement in last Monday's keynote of WWDC was the introduction of HomePod, Apple's new home speaker with integrated Siri.

For a little while, I've been considering a new voice device, a la Amazon Echo, or Google Home. I do a lot of cooking, so setting timers easily will be great. And checking on the weather. And how traffic is looking on the way into the city. Also, since I have young kids, I want need to interact without using my hands. Voice interaction isn't everything, but for some subset of computing tasks, it is easily the quickest form of input. (See the number of times the crew of the Enterprise says "Computer, ...")

However, I'm a little paranoid about the security and privacy of my personal data, including what is said in my house. That has prevented me from getting a Google Home or an Amazon Echo. The "always listening" aspect of the devices—integral to functionality—is terrifying for privacy.

Google especially has a business model that benefits from leaking personal data, in a way that supports their advertising products. I'm not saying that I won't use any Google products. I love their search and their e-mail and I'm comfortable with the trade-off of privacy versus functionality, in those products, but I don't want to go so far as putting an always-listening Google device in my home.

Amazon is a little better, and has fought the release of an echo recording in an Arkansas murder case, but I don't trust that Amazon will protect my privacy at the expense of their business. (As a short aside, as an Arkansawyer, can't we aim a little higher when it comes to articles about technology in Arkansas? A murder case [or a neo-nazi hacker] shouldn't be the only time I see Arkansas show up on ArsTechnica.)

In contrast to Google and Amazon, Apple has specifically made privacy a centerpiece of their business, even in a way that negatively affects it. They fought very publicly with the FBI so that they wouldn't need to unlock an encrypted iPhone, and internally they safeguard customer data in a way that makes it difficult to use it for internal data analysis. The privacy stance that the company takes internally is probably one of the reasons why Siri hasn't kept pace with other voice assistants.

However, this is the perfect trade-off for me, since I am paranoid about my data, and about what is said in my house.

One small blemish on the HomePod (for me, at least) is the focus on music. I know that music is important to lots of people, and that online services (like Apple Music) are growing significantly for the company, so it makes a lot of sense to make music a centerpiece of the HomePod. However, music is not important to me: I don't care to listen to it. I'm counting on the fact that the HomePod will be good at everything else (including audiobooks.)

Another small thing is the price. I wish Apple would work a little harder to pull the HomePod down under $300. Ideally, it would be around $199 or maybe $249. However, the $349 won't stop me. That is why come December, I'll be ordering a HomePod. 

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