HomePod can wait: Three reasons we depend on Alexa

With HomePod on the horizon, some Amazon Echo users are getting Pod-curious. But if you're looking at the HomePod, first consider what you might be giving up if you dump your Alexa devices.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Make the most of Amazon Alexa calling with these simple steps

Apple's HomePod is coming soon. Google's Home has been available for a while. Because I'm not as intrigued by these options as I would expect to be, I realized I'm pretty heavily invested in my Alexa devices, at least emotionally. I only own two Alexa devices, so in theory, replacing them with another smart assistant wouldn't be cost prohibitive. But the fact is: We know Alexa, we like Alexa, and it works for us.

HomePod, though, is supposed to have spectacular music quality, but at a relatively hefty per-unit price. Would it make sense, I thought, to get a HomePod for music, but still use our Alexa devices for other stuff?

The fact is I don't use Alexa for music very much. While Alexa allows multiple profiles, the Spotify implementation on Alexa is spotty. We have a family Spotify account, with one primary account holder (my wife) and secondary users with their own playlists (me). Alexa can't yet play music from secondary account holders, so even if I switch Alexa to my profile, I can't get it to play my tunes.

The thing is, if we got a HomePod, it still wouldn't play my Spotify tunes. HomePod is going to be welded to Apple Music. I don't really want to buy another music service. I've already uploaded a backup of all the CDs I've ever purchased to Amazon Music. I've spent a reasonable amount of time curating albums I like to listen to in Spotify.

If Alexa gets confused by multiple users, can you imagine how Apple -- which has never allowed multiple iOS users to play on the same device, and it doesn't play well with Amazon services -- will work under these conditions on the HomePod? I think not.

I gave some thought to where Alexa really does fit into our lives. It turns out we use it for three main things. First, it's our home control hub. It turns on our lights throughout the house. We currently have 27 bulbs and switches powered by Alexa. Some are Philips Hue bulbs, and some are Belkin WeMo devices.

At first, it seemed silly to use an AI assistant to turn on and off lights. But if you've ever come into a dark room holding a wet, squirming puppy, and you're not sure where the toy traps are all along the floor, the benefit of being able to command the lights on becomes vividly apparent. I've found there are many times -- like when my hands are full -- that it's nice having voice control over home, office, and workshop lighting.

The second most common thing we use Alexa for is operating our media center. I wrote about how Alexa integrates with the Harmony puck, and it's become tremendously helpful. We're always switching back and forth between the Apple TV, the PC, the PlayStation 4, and the Roku. Alexa can make the switch, as well as turn on and off the entire rack, and adjust the lighting in the room for optimum viewing conditions. It's quite valuable. No more fighting over remote controls or even trying to figure out where they went.

The third thing we use Alexa for is timers, reminders, and alarms. It's interesting how much more often we set timers now that it's possible to initiate one with voice control. I use them for managing my writing time, reminding myself when to make a phone call, to wake up in the morning, and so much more.

Beyond that, we use Alexa to do basic math. When we got Alexa, I thought this was a dumb feature. It's not. Rather than having to dig out a calculator or launch a calculator app, the many times a day I need to do a simple math calculation is made far more efficient by just asking Alexa to run the numbers. We also use Alexa to settle questions about movie actors, make random Wikipedia requests, play a few tunes from Pandora, and more.

Since Alexa is such a good friend in the house, and Amazon is updating the service so actively, it might just be easier to wait until Spotify profiles work smoothly. The only downside is that the speaker on the Pringles-can Alexa is meh, and the speaker on the Dot is considerably sub-meh. The speaker on the HomePod is supposed to be remarkable, but if it doesn't play well with our services, it's a moot point.

For now, we mostly listen to music the way we always have: We use my big, bangin' speakers connected to my old-school amp. It works, but it won't listen to voice commands. Sadly, neither does my puppy.

I've told you my three top uses for Alexa. What about you? What are your three main uses for Alexa? Are you considering getting a HomePod? Let me know in the comments below.

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