Report: HomePod will only be available in limited quantities at launch

Does Apple’s HomePod have enough advanced features to compete against Amazon Echo and Google Home?

Editor’s note: We’ve updated this story to include a full FAQ, plus new information from a report in Nikkei Asian Review published on Monday, August 14.

The HomePod (originally rumored to be called Siri Speaker) is a smart speaker with Wi-Fi capabilities intended to compete against Amazon Echo devices and Google Home—although it will be significantly more expensive. Revealed during Apple’s WWDC keynote, Apple’s senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller boasted about the HomePod’s audio quality, its built-in room sensors, and the integration with Apple Music. 

With its always-on voice assistant and ability to control connected devices, the HomePod is very similar to Echo devices and Google Home, but with a few notable differences. (We were able to get a closer look after the keynote, and you can check out our first eyes-on impressions here.) Here are the must-know HomePod features, specs, and sales info showcased during WWDC.

homepod white shelf Apple

When’s the HomePod release date?

The HomePod will be available for sale starting in December, initially in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. So it will only support English-language voice commands during the initial rollout. It will then be available in other countries starting in 2018.

The HomePod will only be available in limited quantities when its first released, according to the Apple supplier that will be manufacturing it. The president of Inventec Appliances, David Ho, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the HomePod will ship in “fairly limited” quantities, with production ramping up in 2018.

Next year, Inventec, which also manufacturers the AirPods, will start splitting orders of the HomePod with rival supplier Foxconn, in an effort to meet faster demand. According to analysts, only 500,000 HomePods will be available at the end of this year.

How much will it cost?

The HomePod costs $349 and will be available in two colors: white and space grey. By comparison, Amazon Echo is $180 and Google Home retails for $129.

Is the HomePod just as smart as the iPhone?

The HomePod comes with an A8 Fusion chip, the same one that powers the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. That definitely puts it up at the top when it comes to “smart” speakers.

Like the AirPods (which sport an A1 chip), setting up the HomePod is just as easy and intuitive. All you have to do is hold your iPhone next to the HomePod and it’ll be ready to start playing music in seconds. In addition, the firmware confirms that the HomePod will run iOS, just like an iPhone. 

apple homepod specs Apple

Will it support third-party apps?

According to the firmware, HomePod will run iOS but there is nothing in the code to suggest that Apple is offering a framework for developing third-party apps and extensions. This already puts the HomePod at a disadvantage against Google Home and Amazon Echo devices, as both rivals offer development tools to third-parties.

It can very well be the case that Apple wants to have more control over what type of apps and extensions get integrated into the HomePod and will eventually open up the platform to third-parties, as it did with Apple TV and Siri extensions. Plus, the fact that Apple has given the HomePod 1GB of RAM suggests that it’s future-proofing the device for more-elaborate capabilities later on.

How do you activate it?

The HomePod has six microphones so that it can be activated verbally using the “Hey Siri” voice command. We’re not sure what happens if you have “Hey Siri” activated on your nearby iPhone as well. Hopefully, Apple implements a way for you to customize which device responds and fulfills the voice commands, or for the iPhone and the HomePod to communicate with each other and figure it out. We’ll let you know once we do our full review.

What will it sound like?

From the HomePod firmware, developer Avery Magnotti was able to dig out the custom sounds Apple designed for it. Below you can listen to how the HomePod alarm will wake you up in the morning, plus other system sounds.

What can you ask Siri to do?

You can ask Siri to send a text message to your friend, start playing the latest episode of your favorite podcast, and get the latest updates in news, sports, traffic, and weather. You can also use voice commands to set alarms, timers, and reminders. In addition, Siri on the HomePod can help you answer some of your most burning questions like, “What’s the best Korean barbecue restaurant nearby?” or “Did the Warriors win last night?”

Does it have a touchscreen?

Well, that depends. What’s your definition of “touchscreen”? Technically, yes. The HomePod has a 272x340 “screen” at the top that will respond to touch controls. You can tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or adjust the volume. But unlike the Amazon Echo Show, the HomePod screen is not a video screen, but an LED matrix. It animates with an LED waveform to indicate whenever Siri is listening, and it might be able to display other shapes or symbols.

homepod wwdc 02 Roman Loyola

Can it control HomeKit devices?

Yes! You can ask Siri to turn on the lights, close the shades, or activate a scene that you’ve pre-set in the Home app. HomePod can even control these devices when you’re not home via the Home app, giving you the power to remotely control your devices from anywhere. So far, HomeKit compatible with connected devices from Ecobee, Honeywell, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, and more.

What about audio specs?

Apple wanted to create a speaker that delivered state-of-the-art sound that “rocks the house.” The HomePod includes an Apple-designed four-inch woofer for a deeper bass and seven beam-forming tweeters for high frequency acoustics. All of this was designed to “preserve the richness and intent of the original recordings.” Of course, we won’t be able to vouch for this until we get to listen to it later this year.

Does it support multi-room audio?

Thanks to the new AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi speakers are now part of the HomeKit family so you can get multi-room audio controls from a single iPhone. This gives you the option to use the Home app to control multiple HomePods in different rooms and sync audio playback. Furthermore, AirPlay 2 is also compatible with Wi-Fi speakers from other manufacturers, including Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Libratone, Devialet, Bowers & Wilkins, and Apple’s own Beats.

Does it work with Spotify?

Unfortunately, the only music streaming service that the HomePod supports is... Apple Music (act surprised). In fact, Apple claims the smart speaker was designed to be deeply tied to Apple Music, which costs $10 a month. And we don’t foresee Apple bringing another other services to the fold anytime soon (or ever).

apple homepod sensors Apple

What if I am an Apple Music member?

If you’re an Apple Music member, the HomePod can access Apple Music’s full catalog, as well as tap into machine learning to learn about your music preferences and suggest songs and artists you might like. Apple refers to the HomePod as the perfect musicologist. In addition, you can create a shared Up Next queue with other nearby iOS devices so that everyone in the house can participate in picking music.

Does it have any other new technology?

Not every room is the same, so the HomePod has learned about spatial awareness. Its built-in sensors can determine the size and layout of its surroundings to automatically deliver the volume and acoustic output that best fills the room. Think of it as virtual surround sound. When two paired HomePods are in the room, they’ll be able to sense each other to deliver actual surround sound.

Will it be listening in to all my conversations?

Privacy is also being touted as a vital component of the HomePod. According to Apple, the smart speaker will only start collecting information after the “Hey Siri” voice command is activated. This means that you shouldn’t be afraid that the HomePod is secretly recording your conversations in order to sell you stuff. All information is recorded locally on the device and sent to Apple servers encrypted using an anonymous Siri ID.

What iOS devices is it compatible with?

HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running the latest iOS 11.

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