How can Apple's HomePod stake space in the enterprise?

Apple's HomePod is an outstanding smart speaker for the home, and it has some potential as an enterprise product.

Apple, HomePod, iOS, enterprise, enterprise IT, collaboration

Apple’s HomePod ships today. If you have one, I believe you will be thrilled at the presence and sound stage delivered by the diminutive device. But the product also has some potential as an enterprise product, as business tech migrates to iOS.

Collaboration is complicated

Collaboration is a big word. It spans everything from email to presencing systems, conferencing and document sharing, team management, scheduling, secure messaging and more.

Markets and Markets expects collaborative software spending to hit $49.5 billion by 2021.

When it comes to HomePod, the question has to be how the HomePod’s iOS integration, built-in intelligence, Siri access, beam-forming tech, and microphone array can be useful to the enterprise. It’s an intelligent and connected system that doesn’t only need to be defined by music.

HomePod in the conference room

Businesses already deploy sophisticated telephone systems in their conferencing rooms. Capable of hearing sound in 360-degrees, these systems can sync to different telephone numbers, feature built-in call-handling tools, and have the capacity to record conversations to the cloud.

There’s not one of these features that can’t be emulated within some form of iOS-based conferencing system. Developers can use SiriKit to create solutions to access iOS apps that support Messaging, Lists, and Notes via HomePod. SiriKit requests made on HomePod are processed on an iOS device.

The HomePod videoconferencing system

Apple TV is already seeing some use within the enterprise. Companies like to use the system for presentations, digital signage, hotel rooms, lobby displays, etc. The potential to use the system as a multi-point video chat device hasn’t truly been explored by enterprise collaborative software developers (at least, I’ve not been shown anything), but when combined with the intelligence, high-quality sound, and built-in mics of HomePod, it’s hard to avoid the potential of such systems in collaborative enterprise.

Siri in the meeting room

Siri has lots of talents. One of these talents is translation. Introduced in iOS 11, it will translate words and phrases into English. This capability is going to expand over time, and it seems inevitable that at some point, you’ll be able to engage in real-time conversations using Siri as a real-time translation service.

Another talent iOS offers is dictation. Tap the microphone icon on the iOS keyboard, and you can dictate your messages. (Dictation also works on an Apple Watch.) Imagine iCloud conferencing as a service: Not only might this in future support real-time language translation, but it could also provide documentation and transcription services. After the meeting, all participants could securely receive transcripts of the conversation. Siri is already smart, no matter what the critics claim.

iCloud conference management

One thing enterprise collaboration systems are becoming better at doing is automating the management of the sessions. That’s not just about ensuring everyone who should be there has the chance to be there, but it’s also about recognizing future project deadlines, commitments, key calendar dates and so on.

There has to be an opportunity for iOS here; it is already smart enough to spot things such as calendar dates, contact names, scheduling and so on. Think how these technologies could be applied in conferencing. Siri as an intelligent assistant could even distribute electronic documents to attendees and after meetings and nag for project completion deadlines.

Works well with others

Apple doesn’t need to do all the heavy lifting to put HomePod at the center of enterprise collaboration. Cisco Spark is a widely used collaboration system, and Apple and Cisco already have a growing business relationship. There must surely be some opportunity for a partnership in which Apple and others work to develop highly secure collaborative systems using Apple’s (highly secure) platforms.

Apple and Cisco already agree that the two company’s joint solutions are more secure than others in the space. Microsoft Office integration within such systems (and the addition of Lync/Skype support) also seems logical. Why shouldn’t all meeting participants be able to jointly edit an Excel spreadsheet on their iPads while communicating face to face, verbally, in real time in the conference room?

Things in the way

HomePod’s big fault is that when you set the system up, it syncs up to the iOS device used to set the device up. The problem with this is that its capacity to handle what Apple calls “Personal Requests” means that all the calendaring, messaging, call management and notes writing tasks you can do with a HomePod sync only to that device. This limits the use of those services to trusted homes and not shared flats, offices, or conference rooms.

I think developing friction-free support for multiple users (iOS devices) for HomePod will be a tough task, but I also think that achieving such support is necessary. Once that target is achieved, logged-in meeting participants will become able to auto schedule target dates and follow up on meetings, while families can truly share diaries and send messages using their own phones, rather than mom or dad’s iPhone.

Ready for business?

While the list of possibilities Apple could embrace by tweaking HomePod for the enterprise market seems interesting, the company isn’t really aiming HomePod at that market. However, as iOS deployment in the enterprise continues to expand, it seems inevitable someone will figure out how to use it to replace existing conference audio systems. HomePod is a connected audio system, so cloud service provision through it seems too tempting an opportunity for enterprise developers exploring the highly secure (and lucrative) iOS enterprise space to ignore for very long.

And don’t even get me started talking about how good a smart audio system based on Apple’s proprietary HomePod technologies (CarPod?) would sound in your car.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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