Apple defines the home of the future with the HomePod

For the health-conscious and those keen to show off the latest gear, Apple's announcements this week might make you think you're living in the future.

We speak, of course, of a new smart home audio speaker, HomePod, a range of intuitive improvements to Apple Watch, and a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro that could put many laptops in the ground.

First up, let's talk about HomePod. Put simply, it's more than a wireless audio speaker, and more than a smart speaker – it's both.

'What the hell is a smart speaker', you ask? You're not alone.

Sounds smart

It's a combination wireless speaker and microphone that is controlled by vocal commands and interacts with other connected devices. You may have heard of similar products: Amazon Echo and Google Home – neither of which are fully functional in Australia due to region restrictions. You can bet this last point is a factor Apple will leverage to its advantage.

Using HomePod, a user can not only play music from their Apple Music service, just as you would on any normal wireless speaker, but also control a number of Apple services using Siri commands, like Apple TV and Home Kit (Internet of Things), as well as apps like Messages, Weather and more – this is the 'smart' part of the device.

Imagine heading back to yours after a lovely night out. You slip your key into the door, kick off your shoes and head for the fridge to grab a bottle as your date freshens up.

'Hey Siri, can you play something jazzy and smooth? Maybe some Coltrane? And dim the lights in the living room too. While you're at it, play that open fireplace video on the TV.'

With a few voice commands, you've set the mood without ever lifting a finger.


Home run

When it comes to home audio, many of you have likely invested a Sonos system. Considered the leader in wireless home audio for many years now, Sonos offer a growing range of products for homes large and small, including TV soundbars and multi-room audio solutions.

In a side-by-side listening session between a Sonos Play3 audio speaker, Amazon Echo smart speaker and HomePod, Apple's new smart audio speaker delivered the richest sound quality of all; the room filled with warm vocals, punchy percussion and deep bass.

Putting Siri into your living room would only ever get Apple halfway to living room dominance. To succeed, HomePod will have to be a stand-out music speaker as well. By many accounts, it appears this has been accomplished.

If you're thinking of taking the plunge, beware that HomePod does have a few shortcomings. At present, it will only work with Apple Music, Apple TV, Home Kit, and Apple's native apps means you'll have to wait until Apple loosens the collar and allows interaction with third-party apps and services, such as Whatsapp and Spotify.

HomePod will be available in Australia in December. Pricing is yet to be announced.

Watch out

The range of improvements coming to Apple Watch now mean you'll now spend less time tapping buttons and more time exercising.

During your selected workout, you can now swipe on the watch face to reveal an option to add a new workout immediately, then simply continue exercising. Watch will now calculate this as a single workout and determine stats accordingly.

This is great news for triathlon training, or anyone who likes to run or cycle to the gym and transition straight into their workout or the pool.

Speaking of the gym; Watch will now communicate with selected gym equipment to automatically start and end workouts. All you need to do is step onto your equipment – be it a treadmill, rowing machine or stationary bike– swipe Watch over the control panel and start your workout. 

Swimmers will also notice improvements to lap tracking. Watch now determines different swim strokes, breaking down your entire session into blocks and calculating stats for each, along with the total. 

Pushing the Pro

For those who travel a lot for business, the new iPad Pro could be a game changer. Lugging a laptop and charger around is not the most glamorous of jobs, so finding a suitable alternative is always desirable.

With a powerful new processor and ProMotion Retina display, plus some flexibility improvements coming with iOS 11, the iPad Pro may be close to solving this dilemma.

Multitasking has also been vastly improved, along with the app switcher, and iPad now behaves more than ever like a conventional laptop or desktop.

Apple's road ahead

Tim Cook has worked hard to brand this era of Apple as his own, rather than follow in the footsteps of Apple's late CEO, Steve Jobs. More than ever, Apple is focussing hard on enterprise solutions and helping businesses small and large accomplish day-to-day tasks with ease and little compromise.

Apple Watch has also been a defining product of Cook's tenure, quickly becoming the top selling smartwatch in the world. 

But now we see Cook developing a product that Jobs said was not going to happen: the touchscreen laptop. "It doesn't work. It's ergonomically terrible," said Jobs in a 2010 Keynote address.

Yet, here we are, some seven years later, and the new iPad Pro could well prove an ideal laptop replacement for many highly mobile users. Even now, you're likely weighing it up.

That said, iPad is competing with other convertible laptops and tablets that have developed more in a shorter timeframe, like Microsoft's Surface Book – a device that Windows users have taken to eagerly.

Considering the gap between laptop and tablet features, hardware specs and price is rapidly closing, we'll soon know if the laptop's days are numbered.

The author travelled to WWDC, San Jose, as a guest of Apple.