HomePod: Everything you need to know about Apple's smart speaker

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV
Apple's HomePod is finally available to preorder this Friday, January 26th, and arriving in stores starting Friday, February 9th. AppleInsider delves into the device pre-release, and tells you everything you need to know before you drop $349 on it.





The HomePod is Apple's iteration of a smart home speaker, made to compete with Amazon's Echo and Google's Home speakers. The only difference is that it carries a much higher price tag than the starting prices from Amazon or Google.

While some critics contend that Apple is late to the game, fans should also remember that you don't have to be first to win. The first iPod was far from the first MP3 player on the market, and smartphones existed long before the iPhone. Even Apple's AirPods, which are still a huge success, came after other wireless headphones were available.

With a $350 price tag, Apple has to justify the HomePod coming in at a cost much higher than the competition. So what will your hard-earned money get you?


Audio quality

Apple says the HomePod speaker quality should blow the smart home speaker competition out of the water, particularly cheap alternatives from Google and Amazon.

HomePod has an array of seven tweeters, each with their own individual drivers, custom amplifiers and transducers. Each tweeter comes custom-designed with a precision acoustic horn that directionally focuses sound.

For comparison, the $130 Google Home has a single speaker, with Amazon's $100 Echo having two speakers. The $50-and-under Echo Dot also has just the single speaker in a very small space.

Unless you opt for Google's high-end $400 Home Max speaker, the competition doesn't feature any subwoofers.

The HomePod also has advanced sensors that analyze the space, so the speaker knows when it's next to a wall or in a corner. The device then uses audio beam-forming to focus the sound towards the center of the room while minimizing sound projected towards any walls.




Vocals and direct sound can be beamed them to the middle of the room, or bounced off the walls to create an ambient audio feel. It can even create stereo sound by splitting audio channels between the multiple tweeters. Later this year, you'll be able to add another HomePod in the same room and they'll automatically detect each other to create true stereo sound, while tuning their audio to project towards the center of the room instead of towards each other.

The HomePod also gets a dedicated high-excursion subwoofer, which means the woofer diaphragm has high travel of 20mm, which Apple says is remarkable for a woofer that size. Higher travel means more air is being moved, creating more bass.

The subwoofer is four inches, which, on its own, is larger than the entire Amazon Echo Dot.

The HomePod even has a built-in low-frequency calibration microphone that listens to the bass, so the smart speaker can automatically tune and correct it. Because of this, Apple has greatly reduced or eliminated distortion, which is common with subwoofers.

Physical presence

The HomePod comes in either White or Space Gray color options, but the Space Gray is closer to black than gray. In terms of size, the speaker is 6.8 inches tall and 5.6 inches wide. For comparison, a standard bottle of water is 8 inches tall, and Amazon's Echo is 9.3 inches tall.

An acoustic mesh fabric is used to wrap the HomePod, which Apple says helps the HomePod's impressive six microphones do a better job of hearing your commands from across the room, even when loud music is playing. The HomePod's competition, meanwhile, have microphones packed onto circuit boards instead of freely isolated near the outside of the device.


Beefy processor

The HomePod is controlled by Apple's Apple's A8 processor, the same chip found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

While it may seem like the A8 processor is overkill for the HomePod, the CPU is in charge of quite a bit of tech, like real-time software modeling of the woofer mechanics, upmixing of both direct and ambient audio, real-time buffering, audio beam-forming, and multi-channel echo cancellation.

The A8 is also in charge of Siri, which works with "Hey Siri" and can be used to do anything from checking the weather, converting units of measurements, playing a podcast, checking nearby traffic, setting a timer or reminder, and even sending a text message.

In contrast, an iFixit teardown revealed that the Google Home's processor, flash memory, and RAM are the exact same chips found in the second-generation Chromecast, a product that sells for just $35.

Setup and connectivity

Setting up the HomePod will be easy -- simply plug it in and your iOS device will detect it, as long as it's one of the devices on this list running iOS 11.2.5 or later.

The HomePod supports the latest and greatest Bluetooth 5.0, as well as 802.11AC Wi-Fi with MIMO technology, which uses multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer more data at the same time.

Newly discussed, users can use the wireless connectivity of the HomePod to hand off a phone call on an iPhone to the HomePod for hands-free conversations. It doesn't appear at this time that the HomePod can "ring" to alert you of a call, but after answering on an iPhone, the call can be routed to the HomePod.




When AirPlay 2 is released, you'll be able to have HomePods in multiple rooms, and they'll communicate with each other so they can either sync and play the same music together. They'll also play different songs in different rooms, all controlled through HomeKit.

HomePod also works with HomeKit, letting users ask Siri to turn on the lights, set the thermostat, turn on the sprinklers, or any other task compatible with Apple's smart home platform.

Critics contend that Siri is far behind competing voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa. But, Apple has packed the HomePod with future-proofed hardware that will support years and years of updated software, giving Siri plenty of room to grow.

Controlling the HomePod manually




For those who don't want voice control, or can't use it, the HomePod also comes with a touch-screen display right on top of the device.

Tapping or holding plus or minus icons on the screen will adjust the volume. Users can also tap the center to play and pause, double-tap to skip to the next track, and triple-tap to go back to the previous track.

The screen also lets users also touch and hold the center to talk to Siri. You'll know Siri is listening by the LED waveform that animates with your every word.

Playing music

The HomePod is built with the Apple Music subscription service in mind, unlocking access to over 45 million streaming songs. Siri can add songs to a playlist, or save a list of liked songs. Over time Apple Music will learn your taste in music and fine-tune what it plays for you.

If you don't have Apple Music yet, you can start a free three-month trial and cancel anytime. If you enjoy it, pricing is $10 a month for an individual plan, $15 for a family plan, and $5 for a college student.

However, a subscription to Apple Music isn't required, so you can still stream music from your iTunes music library. You can also stream music from any app that supports AirPlay, like Spotify or Pandora for example, though those services won't offer convenient Siri integration at launch.
The HomePod also supports a wide variety of audio formats, including MP3 and WAV.

Been here before...

This obviously isn't Apple's first go-around with high-quality audio. In 2006, Apple released the iPod Hi-Fi. It wasn't well received at the time, was considered too pricey for what it delivered, and was discontinued in 2007. It was certainly slain for good with the advent of the Lightning connector. Right now, a decade later, we don't know for sure if Apple learned any lessons from that.

But, our early impressions are good. We've had one shot already at listening to the HomePod when it was announced at the 2017 WWDC, but we won't know how Apple's $349 HomePod will perform in the real world until we get our hands on one.
StrangeDayslolliver
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    kozchris
  • Reply 2 of 52
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    I was hoping it would do this with an Apple TV. I’ve been holding out on a sound bar so I could just have a few of these in my bedroom for decent sound. 
    But Apple doesn’t even have Stereo sound support on these at launch and multi room audio is delayed yet again. 
    I’m really hoping to have these ready by summer. Last year I had multiple Airport Expresses connected to 2 Marshall Woburn speakers and a Behringer Sub and PA system for my pool in the backyard. I wanted to replace the Marshalls with these. Only requires 1 power cable and they were supposed to do multi room audio. Currently I have to use my MacBook to run synced audio and it’s not as convenient as running off my phone. 
    This whole HomePod launch is disappointing. In the meantime, I was gifted an Echo and for the Alexa stuff, it’s really good at controlling the smart home stuff. Things that Siri can’t do yet. 

    Seems like Amazon is taking the lead and it pains me because I have an all Apple ecosystem that is substandard to what Alexa can do. 
    JWSCzroger73
  • Reply 3 of 52
    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
  • Reply 4 of 52
    larryalarrya Posts: 550member
    4” “subwoofer”
    bonobobking editor the grateraulcristiancgWerks
  • Reply 5 of 52
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    This whole HomePod launch is disappointing. In the meantime, I was gifted an Echo and for the Alexa stuff, it’s really good at controlling the smart home stuff. Things that Siri can’t do yet

    Seems like Amazon is taking the lead and it pains me because I have an all Apple ecosystem that is substandard to what Alexa can do. 
    What do you mean by this? I use Siri to control smart home stuff every day. 
    mike1stanthemanAirunJaelolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 52
    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
    If they have software fixes for other Apple devices, I dunno why this would be different. 
    mike1stanthemanAirunJaelolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 52
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,124member
    One HomePod spec that caught my attention is not mentioned in this very nice overview: it weighs 5.5 lbs. That's more than 2X the weight of the Amazon Echo and 5X the weight of the Google Home speaker. This thing must be built like a tank since the weight is held in the structure (and magnets) and not in a battery. This should generally contribute to very solid bass and less susceptibility to parasitic vibrations at high sound levels. It's a little sonic beast.
    russwgilly33kozchrischiastanthemanAirunJaejony0lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 52
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    I'd like to know that too, but buying at least one on Friday anyway.
    russwlolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 52
    MacPro said:
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    I'd like to know that too, but buying at least one on Friday anyway.
    I’m assuming Apple TV will be able to stream to it, but I’d really like to know if there’s any way to get audio from other things connected to a television to it (e.g. Playstation, OTA/cablebox). Does anyone know if it at least has an AUX in?
  • Reply 10 of 52
    Is it fair to assume that the HomePod will be available for pre-order at 3am Friday morning?
    edited January 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 52
    However, a subscription to Apple Music isn't required, so you can still stream music from your iTunes music library. You can also stream music from any app that supports AirPlay, like Spotify or Pandora for example, though those services won't offer convenient Siri integration at launch. 

    ...bears repeating. 
    mike1kudulolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 52
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    The sound exceeds "competing" (they're not really competing since none adapt to the room). The main competition for sound is Sonos and probably Bose not Amazon or Google.

    Initially without clear physical stereo separation (requiring Airplay2 to stream to a second device) I'd say it probably could work as a home theater system but not ideal for any movie/tv with lots going on all over the place.

    For normal TV viewing I'd expect better clarity of voices than anything else, a pretty big issue even with big home theater systems have problems with.
    gilly33
  • Reply 13 of 52
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,767member
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    I agree with you but also wonder if they need to release a sound bar and sub woofer too.   Something that would include HDMI &/or audio input so that you don't have to use it with just Apple TV.
  • Reply 14 of 52
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 501member
    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
    Yes.  Give it about a decade and most processors will have the vulnerabilities eliminated.  /s/
  • Reply 15 of 52
    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
    Well here's the thing, you'll have to wait awhile as road maps for chips are made 3-4 years in advance, so the same flaws that chips now have will still be affected by chips 3 to 4 generations down the road. 
  • Reply 16 of 52
    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
    If they have software fixes for other Apple devices, I dunno why this would be different. 
    These bugs are not easy to fix. And they aren't software patches, they are chip firmware patches. Perhaps you haven't heard that Intel has already recalled some of its Meltdown firmware patches for causing reboots because it's a hard bug to fix (meaning all vendor patches resulting from the Intel bug have been made worthless.) Be aware that Intel has had six months to examine this bug to prepare patches and they still can't get it right. And that's for Meltdown - perhaps you also haven't heard that "as [Spectre] is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for a long time." I for one don't want to have hardware that will "be haunted for a long time." Without the fix I'm scared it will be called the HomeAlonePod. (I just made that up. Hehe.) I realize the HomePod does not use Intel chips but the A8 chip is listed as an affected chip. I can't imagine why Apple would want to release a new product with a chip with a major security bug. (Unless the answer is that the HomePod will never run anyone's software. Is that true?)

  • Reply 17 of 52
    foggyhill said:
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    The sound exceeds "competing" (they're not really competing since none adapt to the room). The main competition for sound is Sonos and probably Bose not Amazon or Google.

    Initially without clear physical stereo separation (requiring Airplay2 to stream to a second device) I'd say it probably could work as a home theater system but not ideal for any movie/tv with lots going on all over the place.

    For normal TV viewing I'd expect better clarity of voices than anything else, a pretty big issue even with big home theater systems have problems with.
    Let’s talk about ”competing”. Without stereo sound, this in no way competes with Sonos or Bose or any soundbar. 

    The audio quality may be great as a mono speaker but without the stereo separation, it is useless for home theatre. 

    I cant wait to have the Airplay 2 stuff working on this. As soon as it is, I’m placing an order for a minimum of 5. Until then, it’s a dead product to me. 
    Perhaps MacOS will be able to stream to multiple devices at once but until it comes out, I’ll wait until Apple delivers on their original promises. 
  • Reply 18 of 52
    k2kw said:
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?
    I agree with you but also wonder if they need to release a sound bar and sub woofer too.   Something that would include HDMI &/or audio input so that you don't have to use it with just Apple TV.
    You guys just aren’t getting it. HP is not a home theater, nor a sound bar. They don’t care about those and you’ll never see one with inputs. It’s part of the Apple ecosystem...a wireless shelf speaker for the walled garden. That’s it. 
    mike1rapcatmeowrapcatmeowmike54lukeibeowulfschmidt2old4funcgWerks
  • Reply 19 of 52

    Although it's very exciting, I'm leery about buying anything with processors that have the Meltdown/Spectre bugs. Should I wait?
    If they have software fixes for other Apple devices, I dunno why this would be different. 
    These bugs are not easy to fix. And they aren't software patches, they are chip firmware patches. 
    Actually no, Apple has released software patches for these issues, not “chip firmware” (er, you’re not suggesting firmware on the processor?)
    edited January 2018 mike1
  • Reply 20 of 52
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,917member
    The biggest thing many want to know is if this can work as a home theater system. Can it? Will the sound match competing systems? Will it work with an Apple TV? When?

    No it will not work as a home theater system. It could potentially replace a sound bar / subwoofer combination, but it might prove difficult to reproduce distinct stereo sound as there isn’t a left or right side. Theoretically it could be possible to set the device up and then configure it for left/right separation, whether Apple has added (or will add) such a feature, we do not know.

    Also, it is a wireless only device. There is no other form of input. However, it will work with AppleTV, just as any other AirPlay speaker does.
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