HomePod: What you need to know about Apple’s smart speaker lineup
Apple's smart speaker is here.
By Macworld staff
Apple’s 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’s more expensive.Revealedduring Apple’s 2017 WWDC keynote, Apple’s senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller boasted about 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, HomePod is very similar to Echo devices and Google Home, but with a few notable differences. Here are the must-know HomePod features, specs, and sales info for the HomePod and its smaller version, the HomePod mini.
The latest: Apple releases HomePod software update with Intercom support, Siri updates
Apple has released the 14.1 update for HomePod. Here are the release notes, which details what’s in the update:
• Setup and automatically transfer your Apple ID, Apple Music, Siri and Wi-Fi settings to HomePod mini
• Siri suggestions appear in Maps when you ask HomePod for information about a location • Web search requests to HomePod can be sent from HomePod to your iPhone • Siri can now stop alarms, timers, and media across HomePod speakers • Voice recognition support for Podcasts for multiple users in the home
• Ask HomePod to make announcements to other HomePod speakers throughout your home • Intercom to all HomePod speakers • Intercom to a HomePod in a specific room or zone
Other improvements and fixes
• Add music to your alarms and wake up to your personal song, playlist, or radio station from Apple Music • Fixes an issue where stereo pairs can sometimes play out of sync • Improves reliability when using Siri to control multiple speakers • Optimizes Siri performance
We’ll have a full review of the HomePod mini when it becomes available.
When are HomePod and HomePod mini available?
After a slight delay from its original December 2017 ship date, Apple started shipping the HomePod in February 2018, initially in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
At its October 13 online event, Apple revealed the HomePod mini, a smaller version of the HomePod. With the HomePod mini, Apple is better suited to take on Google and Amazon in the smart speaker market.
3.3 inches high, 3.9 inches wide, and weighs 0.76 pound
360-degree audio processed by the S5 chip, using a “full-range driver and dual passive radiators”
Support for Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and radio stations from TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Radio.com. Support for Pandora and Amazon Music coming soon
New Intercom feature lets you broadcast announcements over connected HomePod minis, HomePods, and AirPods, with alerts on your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and CarPlay
Ultra-wideband support allows for U1-equipped iPhones to hand off and control music
$99, available in space gray and white. Orders can be made starting on November 6, with shipments starting on November 13
How much do the HomePod and HomePod mini cost?
When HomePod was released, it was priced at $349. Apple lowered the price and it’s currently at $299 and is available in two colors: white and space grey. By comparison, Amazon’s high-end Echo Studio sells for $199.99 and Google Home Max sells for $299. You can buy the HomePod now at any Apple store, or you can order it online from Apple. Keep an eye out for sales at BestBuy, Amazon, and other retailers. They sometimes put the HomePod on sale for as low as $249.
Apple set the price for the HomePod mini at $99. We don’t know if there will be special deals on the device, but if there are deals, don’t expect a huge price reduction.
What iOS devices are HomePod and HomePod mini compatible with?
iPhone 6s or later
iPad (5th generation or later)
iPad Air 2 or later with the latest iPadOS
iPad mini 4 or later with the latest iPadOS
iPod touch (7th generation) with the latest iOS
The HomePod mini has features that use its built-in ultra-wideband through its U1 chip. In order to use these features, your device also has to have a U1 chip. As of this writing, that means only the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 are compatible with the HomePod mini’s ultra-sideband features.
Is HomePod just as smart and easy to set up as AirPods?
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. The HomePod mini doesn’t list its main processor.
Like AirPods (which sport an A1 chip), setting up HomePod is just as easy and intuitive. All you have to do is hold your iPhone next to HomePod and it’ll be ready to start playing music in seconds.
The initial setup screen is much like that for the AirPods, and the subsequent setup process is similar to setting up a new iOS device. Confirmation of Apple ID accounts will need to be done in order for HomePod to access Apple Music and iCloud.
Users can set up multiple HomePods in one house, and that settings for one can be saved across all HomePods. Users can also set the accent and gender for Siri, just as you can on an iOS device.
Can I use multiple HomePods?
With the HomePod and HomePod mini there are two useful scenarios for using multiple devices in your home. In one, you have two HomePods in the same room, and they will configure themselves so that one is a left speaker and one is a right speaker, giving more stereo separation than a single HomePod can manage by bouncing sound off your walls with its array of tweeters.
In the other, you could have multiple HomePods in different rooms and have them all precisely sync’d up to play the same music all over.
You can still have multiple HomePods in your home, but they’ll be treated as separate audio devices rather than intelligently working together.
How do you activate it?
HomePod and HomePod mini can be activated verbally using the “Hey Siri” voice command. You can also tap the touchscreen at that top of each device.
What does it sound like?
From an early release of the HomePod firmware, developer Avery Magnotti was able to dig out the custom sounds Apple designed for it. Below you can listen to how 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 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?”
Will it support third-party apps?
Initially at its launch, HomePod did not have support for third -party apps. This already puts 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 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 HomePod 1GB of RAM suggests that it’s future-proofing the device for more-elaborate capabilities later on.
With the announcement of the HomePod mini, Apple revealed that the device can be used with Pandora and Amazon Music, though availability won’t happen at shipping. Other third-party service could become available with Pandora and Amazon Music, but we’re not so sure Spotify will join the bandwagon—the company has been engaged in a battle with Apple over Apple’s business practices.
Does it have a touch screen?
Well, that depends. What’s your definition of “touch screen”? Technically, yes. HomePod has an array of LEDs at the top that pulse when Siri is listening, but they can’t display arbitrary images or text. You can tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or adjust the volume. But unlike the Amazon Echo Show, HomePod screen is not a video screen.
You’ll also be able to control HomePod by tapping the screen. Apple has released a list of commands that will be available at launch:
Double-tap: Next track
Triple-tap: Previous track
Tap or hold plus: Volume up
Tap or hold minus: Volume down
Touch and hold: Siri
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 is compatible with connected devices from Ecobee, Honeywell, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, and more.
What about audio specs?
With HomePod, Apple wanted to create a speaker that delivered state-of-the-art sound that “rocks the house.” 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.”
If you use your HomePod with a Apple TV 4K, you’ll soon be getting Dolby Atmos support, as well as 5.1 and 7.1 support. You only need one HomePod to use these new features, but Apple recommends a pair for best results. Look out for a software update in the near future.
With the HomePod mini, Apple uses an S5 chip to process the sound, which is delivered by full‑range driver that uses a neodymium magnet, and force‑cancelling passive radiators.
Does it support multi-room audio?
Apple uses its AirPlay 2 tech to allow users to control multiple HomePods in different rooms and sync audio playback.
What if I buy two?
If you put two HomePods in the same room, Apple says they will “automatically detect and balance each other” to mimic surround sound.
Does it work with Spotify?
At first, the only music streaming service that HomePod supported was Apple Music (act surprised). With iOS 13.1 Siri support for Spotify was added, so you could tell Siri on your iPhone to play Spotify music, so long as you say “on Spotify.” This feature, however, wasn’t added immediately to the HomePod. When or if it will be added is anyone’s guess.
What if I am an Apple Music member?
If you’re an Apple Music member, 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 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.
What’s this about rings?
First noticed by Wirecutter and Pocket-Lint, it appears as though the HomePod’s circular silicone base can leave rings on some wooden surfaces. We’ve tested on several wooden tables and shelves and haven’t seen the issue, but it all depends on what kind of wood finish you’ve got.
Apple confirmed the problem to those publications, saying that it was “not unusual” for a speaker with a silicone base to leave a “mild mark” when placed on certain oil or wax based wood finished surfaces. However, users that see this problem are experiencing it on surfaces that do not exhibit issues with other speakers.
In short, be careful what surface you place HomePod on, and if in doubt, place something sturdy under it.
Will it be listening in to all my conversations?
Privacy is also being touted as a vital component of 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 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’s the story behind HomePod?
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that HomePod started several years ago as a side project by Apple audio engineers, and that the release of Amazon’s Echo was a complete surprise. HomePod project was shelved and revived several times,with the focus on music playback; Siri implementation was almost an afterthought. It took two years as a side project before Apple decided to make it a priority. Read Bloomberg’s report to get the full story.
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