By Kirk Miller / January 23, 2018 9:00 am

Looks like Apple’s playing catch up.

While Alexa is now an available embedding option for seemingly everything, Apple’s foray into the smart speaker world finally starts next month, with the intro of the HomePod. Delayed from last fall, the HomePod is a chubby, 7” wireless speaker that hopes “better sound” is a selling point — that’s the claim from Apple, which is touting its home-baked A8 chip, Apple-designed woofer and seven beam-forming tweeters as proof.

As for the perks: Deep integration with Apple Music (no word on other streaming services). Using Siri to perform “skills” a la Alexa (set timers, get the news, hear the weather, control your smart home, etc.). Perhaps the best and/or most annoying skill? Pairing your iPhone with HomePod and turning your expensive new toy into an unnecessarily large and high-fidelity speakerphone.

For now, the HomePod doesn’t feature multi-room or multi-HomePod stereo playback. This will certainly change.

The HomePod arrives in stores February 9th, with pre-orders at $349 beginning Friday. We’ll know soon if it stacks up to the great-sounding, slightly cheaper, Alexa-powered Sonos smart speaker.