5 People to Ask for Free Advice on Paying for College

If you have a question about how to pay for college, the internet has an answer. You might not even have to search very long if you know where to look on the federal student aid website or what’s offered here at Student Loan Hero. But sometimes you need a living, breathing human who can […]

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Apple is Paying the Price for Being Late to the Smart Speaker Party

Amazon recently announced that it’s Echo speakers would soon support Apple Music. This is great news for Echo users, but it makes us wonder, why on Earth would you buy a HomePod?

The HomePod, in case you’re not familiar (which isn’t surprising) is Apple’s rival to the Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers. The HomePod was unveiled in June 2017, and originally slated for release in December 2017. However, multiple delays saw Apple begin taking orders on January 26 2018, and releasing the HomePods on February 9.

This was two years after the Google Home debuted, and a full four years after the first Amazon Echo was released. And Apple is paying the price for its tardiness to market.

Why Would You Buy the HomePod?

Compared to the competition, mainly the Amazon Echo and Google Home, there seems to be precious little reason to buy the HomePod.

For a start, the Apple smart speaker is more expensive than its Google and Amazon counterparts. The HomePod starts at $349, whereas the regular Google Home starts at $129 and the regular Amazon Echo is cheaper still at $99.

Amazon Echo Small

The Amazon Echo

You might argue that the HomePod’s main rivals are the Google Home Max (similar to the above but with significantly better sound quality) and the Amazon Echo Plus or Sonos One with Alexa which cost $399, $165 and $179, respectively. However, this is missing the point, as Google and Amazon offer cheaper devices as well.

Google Home Hub Max Small

The music-focused Google Home Max

The HomePod is also less useful and more inflexible than its rivals. Siri is noticeably more dim-witted than Google Assistant, and the HomePod only works with Apple devices whereas both Google and Amazon’s smart speakers work with iOS, Android, Chrome OS and Windows devices.

Sure, the HomePod might sound good but you can get speakers that sound better for less, and you can hook a Google Home up to them and make them smart. There’s really no reason to buy a HomePod.

Why Was Apple so Late to the Party?

There’s no clear reason why it took Apple four years to come up with the HomePod. It might have been caught on-the-hop by Amazon, without expecting a smart speaker from the retail giant, though this seems a bit unlikely.

It might simply be due to a lengthy development process. In fact, when Apple delayed the HomePod’s release, it claimed it needed “a little more time before it [would be] ready for… customers.”

Apple delays HomePod until 2018. Statement: “We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”

— John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) November 17, 2017

Alternatively, Apple might not have wanted to be seen to be jumping on Amazon’s bandwagon. The Cupertino-based company often likes to differentiate itself from other companies, and rarely contextualizes the performance of its products in relation to its competitors. Launching a smart speaker shortly after Amazon would have validated the Echo concept while ignoring it made it seem more gimmicky.

How Can Apple Improve the HomePod?

Beyond opening-up the HomePod’s connectivity options (which will never happen) there are a couple of ways Apple could make the HomePod a more enticing device.

We must stress though, the HomePod hasn’t been a complete sales flop — despite its high price and connectivity issues, analysts reckon Apple has managed to shift between 1.3-3 million HomePods meaning that it has certainly impressed core Apple fans.

Apple could release a cheaper version. This would bring it into much sharper competition with Amazon and Google and would give Apple fans a proper choice of smart speaker. However, it seems unlikely that Apple would do this, given that much of the original HomePod hype revolved around sound quality. Apple could improve Siri. Of course, Apple is probably improving Siri all the time, whether we notice it or not. However, getting Siri up to par with Google Assistant seems unlikely, given Google’s headstart and the company’s enormous pool of potential data and its ability to analyse it all.

Without being too pessimistic though, it seems Apple is content to persevere with the HomePod and maintain its aloof image, despite remaining in the shadow of Google and Amazon’s smart home success.

Read all about the latest Apple news and product reviews on Tech.co

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Everything You Need to Know About the Arrest of Huawei’s CFO

You’ve probably heard lots of noise about a top-ranking Huawei executive being arrested in the past week. Since the incident, matters have escalated even further, with potential fallout between the governments of China, Canada and the US. We tell you everything you need to know about this ongoing story, and why you should care.

Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested by Canadian authorities on December 1 at the request of the US government. She has been charged with misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran. This put the banks at risk of violating US economic sanctions against Iran.

China responded, demanding Meng’s immediate release and criticized her arrest and detention in Canada. As it stands, Meng is currently awaiting the verdict of a bail hearing, which would delay her extradition to the US to face charges.

Update 12/12 – Meng was granted bail by a Canadian court at C$10 million ($7.5 million USD). China, meanwhile, has arrested former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, as he many have violated China’s NGO laws while working for the International Crisis Group think tank.

So, how did we get here? And what does it mean for Huawei, China’s relationship with the US and you?

What Do We Know About The Huawei Allegations?

According to CNN, Meng is alleged to have worked to circumvent US sanctions on Iran by telling financial institutions that a Huawei subsidiary was a separate company. This would allow Huawei to sell more goods or services in the Middle Eastern country than permitted by the US sanctions.

The subsidiary company was a little-known telecoms equipment seller called Skycom. According Crown Attorney John Gibb-Carsley, “Huawei used… Skycom to transact business in Iran for Iranian telecommunication companies.”

According to Bloomberg sources, there was little tangible distinction between Skycom and Huawei, with the former simply acting as a sub-brand of the Chinese tech giant.

Paraphrasing sources, Bloomberg stated that “Skycom was part of Huawei’s company in Iran that worked on a contract with mobile operator MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services Co.” It also reported that “Former employees of Skycom have stated that it was not distinct from Huawei, and that Skycom employees had Huawei email addresses and badges.”

Currently, Canadian government prosecutors have to make the case on behalf of the US that Meng should be extradited to face charges south of the border.

Why is There Such a Fuss About This Arrest?

Meng’s arrest has caused a stir for a number of reasons. But at the heart of it all are tensions between China and the US, plus growing suspicions around the security of Huawei itself.

China, being a superpower on the rise, is seen as a threat to US political and economic influence. As one of the largest tech names in China, Huawei is being eyed with growing suspicion by the US and other western powers.

Governments around the world, including the UK, Australia, Germany, Japan and the US have all issued bans or restrictions on the use of Huawei devices by government employees. They’ve also blocked Huawei components from being used in infrastructure projects, claiming that Huawei is a vehicle for Chinese espionage.

Importantly, there’s been no tangible evidence that Huawei is involved in spying for the Chinese government. However, there’s a growing weight of opinion that it is the case – it’s something we’ve covered in depth on Tech.co previously.

Meng’s Family Connection to Huawei

There’s a further sensitivity to the arrest, as Meng is the daughter of Huawei CEO, Ren Zhengfei. While we couldn’t possibly comment on how his daughter got her job as CFO, Ren himself is a controversial figure with a powerful grip over the Huawei brand.

He was a senior figure in China’s military prior to setting up Huawei, and some have claimed that the ties between the company and the People’s Liberation Army have never been severed. Others have claimed that Huawei’s confusing corporate structure is actually designed to hide the fact that it’s controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

However, the US doesn’t come out of this affair looking squeaky-clean, either. Asking Canada to arrest someone is perfectly legal, as long as there is good evidence to justify the arrest.

But, arresting the CFO of one of China’s National Champion companies, and the daughter of its CEO – just before trade talks with China to hopefully quell the brewing trade war – looks, well, a bit suspect.

Huawei Arrest: What Happens Next?

Meng has been granted bail but is still awaiting a court verdict which would grant her extradition to face charges in the US.

Huawei has said it has “been provided with very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng.” A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a press briefing in Beijing “We have made solemn representations to Canada and the US, demanding that both parties immediately clarify the reasons for the detention, and immediately release the detainee to protect the person’s legal rights.”

China has also arrested a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, as it is investigating whether he broke China’s NGO laws for failing to register his activities for think tank International Crisis Group. It’s unclear whether the two arrests are related.

Michael Kovrig small

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig. Credit: Reuters

Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see how bad the fallout gets.

Rear more about China, tech and the West on Tech.co

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