Apple HomeHub - What an iPad and HomePod fusion should deliver

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited March 22
If Apple is going to release a HomePod-like product with a display, it needs to do more than sound good and look nice. We examine some long-time rumors and the features Apple should incorporate to make a truly standout device.

A simple concept of a 'HomeHub' running tvOS
A simple concept of a 'HomeHub' running tvOS


Apple discontinued the original HomePod, but that doesn't mean the entire lineup is dead. The HomePod mini is alive and well, and Apple could be developing more smart home devices based on the bones of the original HomePod.

A report from Bloomberg on Monday morning suggested that Apple has been working on different home devices in various form factors -- specifically ones with displays and cameras. Apple iterates on several versions of prospective products in secret before choosing a version to release.

The report also mentioned an updated HomePod was expected for 2022 but may have been canned due to HomePod's cancellation.

Since Apple's entry into the smart speaker market after competitors Amazon, Facebook, and Google, there has been speculation about a possible HomePod with a screen. Monday's report has sparked renewed interest in such a device, so let's examine what this device could ultimately be and what functions it should incorporate to be as much as it can be to as wide an audience as possible.

Apple's current Home Hubs

While we'll be talking more about HomeKit in a bit, in short, to get the most out of Apple's home automating HomeKit, you need a Home Hub. In short, this is a dedicated device, in the home, that is the central spoke in the wheel that is the smart home. Without a Home Hub, you can't control HomeKit peripherals outside of the home.

Apple sells three device categories that can act as a Home Hub -- the Apple TV, the HomePod, and the iPad. Each of these devices offers an overlapping set of features that would be useful in a single product.
FeaturesHomePodiPadApple TVHomeHub
Multi-userYesNoYesYes
DisplayNoYesYes (via HDMI)Yes
Multiple micsYesNoNoYes
Always onYesNoYesYes
Contains sensitive informationNoYesNoNo

The HomePod

HomePod: great sound, no display, many mics
HomePod: great sound, no display, many mics


Users can command the HomePod to play music, control their home, send messages, or provide information via voice. There is no dedicated display for HomePod, but some features can be controlled via devices like an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

The benefits of owning a HomePod include excellent room-filling audio and voice commands for HomeKit actions. Apple hoped this would be enough to justify the $350 price, but ultimately it was deemed too expensive and saw a price cut to $299 before its ultimate discontinuation in March 2021.

The HomePod's limitations are related to its form factor. It has no display, nor can it throw content to other displays. In most situations, users would be better off getting information from Siri on their iPhone where the data is displayed and can be referenced.

The iPad

iPad: Great display, few mics, and small speakers
iPad: Great display, few mics, and small speakers


Using an iPad is often a suggestion for fixing the limitations with HomePod, but this presents a new set of problems. For example, which family member would log in with their Apple ID, leave it unlocked, or share the passcode? This concern alone leads to a host of privacy and security-related problems. Creating a fake Apple ID isn't always an option since some families may already have six members.

Like HomePod, the iPad is great as a Home Hub since it can be placed anywhere. However, due to the iPad's portable and personal nature, users may not want to have a dedicated iPad restricted to a wall or counter-top.

The iPad also doesn't have as many microphones as the full-size HomePod and won't listen for alternate voices. There is also the issue of the internal battery wearing down or screen burn-in. An "Apple HomeHub" tabletop device would address an always-on display in software where the iPad doesn't make those considerations.

Apple could solve the iPad problem by adding multi-user support. This would enable authentication systems like Touch ID or Face ID to work across users of the device. The option of adding Apple Watch unlock to the iPad for family members would require each member to have their watch attached to the iPad.

The Apple TV

Apple TV: Needs a display, good media interface, no always-listening mics
Apple TV: Needs a display, good media interface, no always-listening mics


The Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD can both function as Home Hubs. They need a TV to display information and can be placed anywhere you'd want a display.

The tvOS software enables multi-user support and makes finding media simple. HomeKit has a presence here as well with HomeKit Camera integration and Scene controls.

The Apple TV cannot listen for voice commands by itself, and can only receive voice or touch commands via the Siri Remote. There are no microphones in the Apple TV hardware.

Users cannot access sensitive data or login information when browsing the Apple TV. Only relevant apps are available, and purchases can be hidden behind a password.

A hybrid Home Hub solution

Apple could borrow from other products for the 'HomeHub' design, like the Pro Display XDR
Apple could borrow from other products for the 'HomeHub' design, like the Pro Display XDR


Each of Apple's Home Hubs has strengths and weaknesses based on their form factors. Apple could benefit from offering a new product within the Home Hub category that combines the best of each.

The hybrid "HomeHub" would be similar to the HomePod by being a dedicated speaker with excellent sound, have a display similar to an iPad, and show apps and data via tvOS.

The current HomePod and HomePod mini run tvOS. This means they already have the frameworks required to display the tvOS interface, apps, and features.

Apple could add features like iMessage and FaceTime to the "HomeHub." Code was discovered by MacRumors in tvOS showing that Apple has added FaceTime and iMessage frameworks, along with a new AVFCapture framework related to capturing images.

After authenticating a specific user via biometrics, passcode, or Apple Watch, the "HomeHub" would enable access to features like FaceTime or iMessage for a particular user. Otherwise, the hub would only display HomeKit controls and a screensaver.

All of these things add up to a compelling new device that would compete with similar offerings from Amazon and Google.

About HomeKit...

Apple's HomeKit is available across all of its devices, but lacks a central hub
Apple's HomeKit is available across all of its devices, but lacks a central hub


A recent report cites home automation control as one of the most significant driving factors of smart displays in the home, with it expected to continue to grow by more than 30 percent over the next few years.

Google markets its own smart display under its Nest brand, dubbing it the Nest Hub. The latest version of the device was just released in March 2021, with even more improvements to the smart home.

Amazon has its own smart display and an army of third-party Alexa-enabled smart displays that work similarly with Alexa-approved smart home devices.

As it stands, there is no smart display available that is able to control HomeKit devices. Some devices, such as Hue bulbs, work with Alexa and Google Assistant and the Amazon and Google smart displays by extension. Still, devices that solely support HomeKit -- such as Eve and Logitech devices -- are left in the cold.

This creates a hole for HomeKit users who have to then choose between jumping ship to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant and abandoning HomeKit and Siri or creating their own from an iPad on a stand. But as we discussed -- the entry-level iPad has sub-par speakers and no dashboard user interface suitable for a central home command center.

Dedicated HomeKit control

A proper Apple smart display could embrace control of HomeKit devices, act as a Home Hub, and possibly even open a new category for third-party HomeKit devices.

As a HomeKit Home Hub, it could work similarly to a HomePod or Apple TV. It would be responsible for controller your HomeKit Secure Video cameras, providing remote access to your devices, and acting as a border router for your Thread devices.

As it stands, third-party devices have no access to HomeKit camera feeds and aren't able to control HomeKit devices outside the limited support for buttons. Ring and August users can have their Brilliant smart wall panel display who is at their door. Brilliant can control your Hue bulbs, your shade, your Sonos speakers, and can even show in the Home app as a switch, but is unable to control HomeKit-specific devices.

If Apple explored this route, it could unlock this ability for third-party products such as Brilliant and allow them to see your cameras as well as control your HomeKit devices.

This route would give us a real Apple smart display with full support and control for your HomeKit devices, a live view of your camera feeds, as well as unlock new features for third-party HomeKit devices.

The Apple smart home is only just beginning

The Apple Home used to demonstrate HomePod mini
The Apple Home used to demonstrate HomePod mini


Apple hasn't given up on the smart home yet. HomeKit devices are becoming more widely available, and the addition of Thread makes things work even better.

In 2019 it was reported that Apple was hiring more personnel for the HomeKit team. Apple's product timelines usually extend out about two years, so expect announcements from this renewed initiative soon.

Apple needs to release new products to compete in the home. Be it an "Apple TV 6" or "HomeHub," something needs to change the customer's perspective in order to get traction in the space.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider," and you'll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for "AppleInsider Daily" instead and you'll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you're interested in Apple-centric home automation, say "Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider," and you'll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    i would love a low cost dock that you can plug in an old iPhone or iPad in and make it into a Video HomePod
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 29
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,477member

    A hybrid Home Hub solution

    Apple could borrow from other products for the HomeHub design like the Pro Display XDR
    Apple could borrow from other products for the 'HomeHub' design, like the Pro Display XDR

    NumNutsmcdavewatto_cobrazigzaglens
    iu.jpeg 126.1K
  • Reply 3 of 29
    The first step is to fix Apple Music. The search is broken, the folder management is incomplete, the suggestions don’t make sense and, it’s really unstable. Second step...Siri is the dumbest one. Not fixing those two things will make nothing will work properly. 
    Beatswilliamlondonfastasleepzigzaglens
  • Reply 4 of 29
    SkarvSkarv Posts: 1member
    I LOVE this idea, and another functionality they should add which would make it IRRESISTIBLE for me is if it was a router/wifi hub as well.  Fold Airport back into this box.  I finally had to give up on my old apple networking hardware because it got too slow, but really had a hard time finding a substitute I trusted as much.  Trust in the sense of it both being difficult to hack, and not potentially having a backdoor to placate the manufacturer's home country government.

    I hope Apple is listening!

    And yes, I'm aware that this would probably mean a separate physical module connected to the house's gateway, but that would be simple to manage.

    As someone with thousands invested in home automation, I'd throw it all out and replace with HomeKit if they made such a full featured product.  One that takes care of all of your HOME-based infrastructure computing needs.

    Such a product would deserve the name HomePod

    cg27GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 29
    badmonkbadmonk Posts: 978member
    And i would make all the components of the Apple Home including the central hub as a mesh wifi node.  I still think Apple made a mistake by not acquiring Eero. 
    cg27GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 29
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 733member
    I remember watching that keynote and thinking that the house was a really elaborate set piece for just a HomePod Mini intro. There has to be more coming, but when? I bought a few Echo Shows over the holidays just to play around with, but mostly because I’m getting impatient waiting to see if Apple will ever release a suitable alternative. If they ever release the HomeHub described above, I will be a day 1 buyer. In the meantime, however, I will settle for just a new Apple TV. 

    I agree with the posts before me that adding AirPort to either device would be a brilliant move. I’ve long believed that Apple will eventually bring it back and that the timing of its cancellation, just as mesh routing started taking off, was always a little strange. 
    edited March 23 cg27watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 29
    cg27cg27 Posts: 125member
    I think the majority of loyal Apple customers have been holding out for HomeKit to be more robust and offer more competitive and compelling security cameras/sensors, video doorbells, water detection sensors, Siri smarts, etc etc etc.  It finally feels like it’s getting close.  

    Once Thread and WiFi 6e compatibility are baked into HomeKit SecureVideo cameras and mesh routers, I’ll be arming my entire house once and for all.  I haven’t wanted to treat this as a hobbyist experiment, which is what it’s seemed like based on all the setup hassles and shortcomings in the reviews and commentaries.

    Can’t wait for Plug and Play - it just works simplicity with no bridges.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 29
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,005member
    Just do an atmos soundbar with TVOS that will wifi to rear speakers and subwoofer, and connect to a remote camera. 

    And fix Siri. Or adopt a cousin.
  • Reply 9 of 29
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,419member
    Apple dragging their feet as usual. We’ve had this ideas for years.

    My idea was to have a special OS for the home that can be downloaded onto new or old iPads. There are likely millions more iPads than any smart device in the world. Many old ones that people no longer use.

    lam92103 said:
    i would love a low cost dock that you can plug in an old iPhone or iPad in and make it into a Video HomePod


    Why would you need a dock for that? Unless it adds features, old iPads and iPhones already have cameras and speakers.

    Apple is dragging their feet in so many markets (Home, retail, medical) it’s ridiculous.
  • Reply 10 of 29
    If Apple is going to release a HomePod-like product with a display, it needs to do more than sound good and look nice. We examine some long-time rumors and the features Apple should incorporate to make a truly standout device.

    A simple concept of a 'HomeHub' running tvOS
    A simple concept of a 'HomeHub' running tvOS

    Spoiler alert:

    —you forgot to include a picture of the device’s backside with the integrated cappuccino/slow juicer/egg boiler/soda stream multi-gadget!


    Also:  nixed the HomePod due to its price, and so...

  • Reply 11 of 29
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,692member

    A hybrid Home Hub solution

    Apple could borrow from other products for the HomeHub design like the Pro Display XDR
    Apple could borrow from other products for the 'HomeHub' design, like the Pro Display XDR

    Love it!
  • Reply 12 of 29
    Yes I would love to see a home hub with AirPort Time Capsule capabilities, I switched to Ubiquity Unifi gear, it's good but I would prefer the simplicity and integration of Apple network equiptment.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,804member
    A fatal flaw in using your iPad as HomeHub is that, unless you leave it plugged in and charging, your homehub can go dead -- and your smart home with it.

    I use Homekit to open and close my garage door.
    I don't want to be locked out of my house because I forgot to charge my iPad.

    So, this is an argument for a dedicated Homehub.  For me, that became an AppleTV.   But that's awkward because it can't do much on its own.

    I think Apple can do better -- such as with something like this -- particularly if it is also a router/WiFi.
    But, the drawback will be that Homekit compatible peripherals are still scarce.  And, since this device will likely be pricey, it may not make a lot of sense for those who don't have a bunch of Homekit peripherals.  (and no, I do not count third party hubs as Homekit compatible.  I want one Hub to rule them all...)
    ... So, Apple, I think, needs to strengthen all aspects of its SmartHome ecosystem.
  • Reply 14 of 29
    stuartfstuartf Posts: 50member
    If Apple really wants to crack this:

    • Make Siri it's own OS with the appropriate additional engineering focus that requires
    • Give SiriOS it's own App Store
    • Rebuild the Home App from the ground up
    • Automations need to be much more sophisticated but simple to set-up
    • (Possibly buy Evehome)
    Then build some great hardware around this eco-system.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 29
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,996member
    cg27 said:
    I think the majority of loyal Apple customers have been holding out for HomeKit to be more robust and offer more competitive and compelling security cameras/sensors, video doorbells, water detection sensors, Siri smarts, etc etc etc.  It finally feels like it’s getting close.  

    Once Thread and WiFi 6e compatibility are baked into HomeKit SecureVideo cameras and mesh routers, I’ll be arming my entire house once and for all.  I haven’t wanted to treat this as a hobbyist experiment, which is what it’s seemed like based on all the setup hassles and shortcomings in the reviews and commentaries.

    Can’t wait for Plug and Play - it just works simplicity with no bridges.
    So you noticed increasing mentions of Thread? I don't think most here are yet aware of the implications. Interoperability is the endgame rather than devices specific to only Google Home or only HomeKit or only Amazon. Faster, more reliable, less power needed and more security. As far as I know every smart device I've purchased in the past 18 months is Thread-capable. To use a new device with my Home network it connects to an already secured existing device of mine to communicate with. Extreme security IMO.  It did not use to be that way. 

    While this 2-year-old video discusses more about how Google Nest uses it and the advantages of doing so the same will apply to Apple and HomeKit. It's an excellent video if you want to understand why and how. 


    and the Thread Group link which Apple has joined, as has Amazon.
    https://www.threadgroup.org/What-is-Thread/Thread-Benefits

    edited March 23 rundhvidmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 29
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,616member
    Well if they made one I think it would be cool if it looked like this


    I still love the look. Update it with a frameless iPad Mini and it would look great. 

    Not that I would buy one. The idea of a connected home sounds cool but when I've looked into it I pass. I'm not interested in more computer stuff to update/troubleshoot/repair/secure. I've played with a bit of home automation and IMO it's generally more trouble than it's been worth.
  • Reply 17 of 29
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,996member
    DAalseth said:
    Well if they made one I think it would be cool if it looked like this


    I still love the look. Update it with a frameless iPad Mini and it would look great. 

    Not that I would buy one. The idea of a connected home sounds cool but when I've looked into it I pass. I'm not interested in more computer stuff to update/troubleshoot/repair/secure. I've played with a bit of home automation and IMO it's generally more trouble than it's been worth.
    That's what Thread is intended to address: the security, communication, and ease of setup and use. 
    BTW, beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder. That mockup looks horrid IMO. I think the Jetson's had one. 
  • Reply 18 of 29
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,676member
    Beats said:

    lam92103 said:
    i would love a low cost dock that you can plug in an old iPhone or iPad in and make it into a Video HomePod

    Why would you need a dock for that? Unless it adds features, old iPads and iPhones already have cameras and speakers.

    A dock/stand of some sort would allow you to actually see the screen rather than it just laying on a shelf somewhere,
    Also, the commenter's idea to re-appropriate older gear for this purpose would require constant A/C power and a dock would make the whole setup cleaner.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 29
    bsimpsenbsimpsen Posts: 349member
    cg27 said:
    Can’t wait for Plug and Play - it just works simplicity with no bridges.
    In my experience so far, Plug and Play requires bridges. Whether Lutron, Hue or Sonoff 433MHz, getting hardware off of Wi-Fi and on to another frequency band and protocol makes a world of difference. My home currently has over 100 HomeKit devices. I haven't had a hiccup with bridge connected devices in the more than three years I've been using them. Meanwhile, malfunctions in Wi-Fi connected devices (Wemo, iDevices, HomePod, Airport Express) happen almost daily. This has been true over three generations of underlying Wi-Fi routers. I started with three Airport Extremes, graduated to EERO and I'm now using Velop.

    Apple's HomePods have been the worst of the bunch. We have 14 of them and I don't think they've ever all been working. Factory resets are a monthly affair, Siri ignores volume control requests and Siri requests are often fielded from HomePods so far away in our home that we can't hear her responses. It's a mess and I have no interest in Apple introduced some kind of merged incompetence in a new form factor.

    They would make what they've already done work first.
    roundaboutnow
  • Reply 20 of 29
    omasouomasou Posts: 168member
    Seems like a solution in search of a problem.

    I personally do not have a need for a voice assistant w/a display nor do I want a fixed location display. "Hey Siri, send search results to my iPad." but even this isn't very useful b/c Siri on the iPad would have intercepted the request before the HomePod.

    My HomePods and iPads work just fine and my new TV with the Apple TV app has replaced any need for new Apple TV hardware, finally down to one remote and never going back.
    edited March 23
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