Last updated: 1 week ago
The Apple HomePod is a network-connected speaker unveiled at WWDC 2017, which offers access to Siri without using an iPhone or iPad. Available with a choice of white and space gray 3D mesh acoustic fabrics to cover the device, Apple is also positioning the HomePod as an audio entertainment accessory, with a focus on high quality music playback, and on using Siri to help find new tracks on Apple Music.
● 6.8-inch tall speaker weighing 5.5 pounds
● Covered with 3D mesh acoustic fabric
● Six-microphone array
● Seven-tweeter array with individual amplifiers
● Apple-designed upward-facing woofer
● A8 chip driving bass management software
● Advanced echo cancellation system
● Voice-based control of Siri
● HomeKit support
● Costs $299
Launched during Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference 2017, the HomePod is the Cupertino company's attempt to take on the intelligent speaker market, competing against the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other similar devices. At its core, the HomePod can be used to make queries to Siri, with Apple's intelligent virtual assistant providing audio feedback in response.
Apple is also using the HomePod to go after a secondary market: network-connected home speaker systems. With HomePod, Apple intends to beat Sonos and other speaker producers by making an audio device that offers superior music playback, as well as making it as simple as possible for users to play tracks and discover new artists.
Apple announced a smaller and cheaper version, the HomePod mini, at an October 13 event. The $99 speaker will allow Apple further penetration into the smart speaker market.
Apple initially priced the HomePod at $349 but then permanently dropped it to $299. The HomePod mini costs $99.
Appearance & Design
The HomePod differs from its main rivals in using a 3D mesh acoustic fabric that covers most of the outside of the speaker. Two color options are available, with customers able to choose between white and space gray versions of the fabric.
The shape is also fairly unique, consisting of a cylinder with rounded edges at the top and bottom. While other similar devices have been designed as fairly tall speakers, the HomePod is fairly wide when compared to the Amazon Echo, with a diameter that is not far off the height of the speaker, at 5.6 inches.
Measuring 6.8 inches tall and weighing 5.5 pounds, the device has a single cable leading out from the HomePod for power, with no other ports or visible connections viewable externally. On the top is a round display, used to show the Siri waveform when Siri is engaged, as well as providing access to touch controls for changing settings of the HomePod itself.
Speakers & Microphones
The HomePod includes a six-microphone array with an advanced echo cancellation system that allows Siri to understand anyone speaking to it in the room, regardless of their position in relation to the HomePod, and even when loud music is being played in the background.
For audio playback, Apple designed an upward-facing woofer that uses real-time software modeling to enhance bass management, allowing it to provide deep and clean bass tones with low distortion. An internal low-frequency calibration microphone is included to assist the bass management system.
Accompanying the woofer is a custom array of seven tweeters, each equipped with their own amplifier. Apple's speaker array also has beam-forming capabilities, for highly directional audio at a high quality.
This beam-forming capability is enhanced by the HomePod's ability to sense its placement in a room. Using the microphone array, it can detect the size of the room, its location compared to nearby surfaces, and other potential audio obstacles, using the data to optimize its playback to suit its surroundings.
Driving the beamforming, bass management, and multi-channel echo cancellation in the HomePod is Apple's A8 processor, as previously used in the iPhone 6, the iPad mini 4, and the fourth-generation Apple TV.
Set-up & Connectivity
While it does not have any visible external connections, aside from a power cable, the HomePod still offers a lot of connectivity with other devices. Borrowing the setup process from the AirPods, users can configure the HomePod by holding their iPhone next to the speaker.
Network connectivity over Wi-Fi is offered, with support for 802.11a, b, g, n, and ac standards, with MIMO increasing the amount of available bandwidth. Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity is also touted.
The HomePod includes support for Apple's new AirPlay 2 protocol, allowing it to connect with other HomePods and compatible speakers throughout the home. Pairing together two HomePods enables the option of stereo music playback.
In order to maintain the security and privacy of its users, Apple has designed HomePod to only record audio once the "Hey Siri" prompt is recognized locally, before sending data to its own servers. All data headed to Apple's servers is encrypted and is sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.
Setting up the HomePod is relatively straightforward, with users needing to plug it into an outlet and wait for it to chime, while also having an iPhone nearby that has Bluetooth enabled and an up to date operating system. Holding the iPhone near the HomePod brings up a popup dialog box that guides the user through the setup process.
This includes naming the room where the HomePod is located, enabling Personal Requests, and accepting the terms and conditions. A transfer of settings is then performed, linking the HomePod to the user's iCloud account and synchronizing with apps and services like Apple Music.
The HomePod will learn to understand up to six users at once. If enabled, only users the HomePod recognizes will be able to access certain functions like messaging and calendars.
Siri and Music Playback on HomePod
As to be expected of such a device, users are able to ask Siri questions through the HomePod. When engaged, the Siri waveform appears on the top of the speaker, indicating the digital assistant is awaiting further instruction.
Just as the version usable in iOS, Siri can respond to a range of queries, including queries about upcoming concerts, sporting event queries, and restaurant recommendations, with responses provided audibly. Typical Siri commands are also available to use, including requests to send messages to contacts, setting alarms and timers, and to read out the latest news headlines.
One way Apple is pitching the HomePod is its music playback credentials, centralizing around Siri. Subscribers of Apple Music can ask Siri to play songs from albums and playlists, tell it what the next song to play should be, ask to generate a playlist from a genre they like, and other musical instructions.
The music playback is also not limited to just Apple Music, as reports have confirmed Siri requests for songs included under iTunes Match can also be played through the HomePod.
Along with Apple Music, the HomePod supports playback of iTunes music purchases and iCloud Music Library, radio stations, a variety of streaming audio services like iHeartRadio and TuneIn, and the Apple Podcasts app. Through the use of AirPlay, it can also be used to play content from other audio sources, such as audiobooks from a nearby iPhone.
The HomePod will play a wide variety of audio formats, a list that is similar to those of other Apple products providing audio playback. The support list includes HE-AAC (V1), AAC from 16Kbps to 320Kbps, protected AAC from the iTunes Store, 16Kbps to 320Kbps MP3 files, MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV, and FLAC.
The musical functionality also extends to musical trivia about the currently-played track, such as “When was this recorded?” among other queries. Aside from individual tracks, users can ask Siri to play stations including NPR and Beats 1, and also podcast episodes the user has subscribed to in the Podcasts app.
HomePod firmware released alongside a beta for iOS 11.2 revealed the HomePod will handle all music-related questions itself, with no external assistance. For other types of queries, such as those involving contacts, messaging, Lists, and Notes, such queries will be handed off to a connected iPhone or iPad for processing, rather than performing the query itself.
Intercom, Handoff, and Home Theater
One of the most significant new additions Apple announced with the HomePod mini is a new feature that will allow it to act as an Ultra-Wideband base station to precisely locate U1-equipped devices, like the iPhone and Apple Watch Series 6.
Apple will provide the speakers with what it describes as a "magical" Handoff experience. A HomePod speaker will understand when an iPhone is nearby and provide audio, visual, and haptic feedback, so it feels like two Apple devices are physically connected.
The new speaker also adds a new Intercom feature that lets family members send messages between HomePods. Family members can choose whether to talk to people in a different room, a specific zone, or throughout the home. Intercom also works with other Apple devices, so family members will receive a notification and can reply even if they aren't near a HomePod.
Apple said that an upcoming update will deliver 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos support to HomePods connected to an Apple TV 4K. HomePod's directional audio is required for the simulated surround sound feature to work, so those looking to replace their home theater system will have to spring for the full-sized model. HomePod and HomePod mini can't be connected to an Apple TV at the same time, though two HomePod mini units can be paired to achieve stereo sound.
At the time of its release, Apple revealed the additional cost of AppleCare+ for its HomePod customers, as well as out-of-warranty repair costs.
Enrollment into AppleCare+ for HomePod costs $39, which extends the warranty to two years, which also grants a longer customer support window. Out-of-warranty repair costs for AppleCare+ customers cost $39 each, for up to two incidents.
By contrast, an out-of-warranty repair for non-AppleCare+ customers, such as fall damage or submergence, will cost $279.
As part of AppleCare+, HomePod customers will get a replacement HomePod shipped to them in advance of the return of the non-functional one. This express replacement service is included, though the original HomePod needs to be returned within 10 days to avoid additional charges, up to and including the cost of the new HomePod unit.
Apple also offers shipment of the HomePod to a service center, like it currently offers for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, at a cost of $19.99 on top of any associated repair fees.
Videos advising of how to use the HomePod have been published to Apple's YouTube Support channel since its launch, starting with a trio of guides advising how to use Siri to play music, to use the touch controls, and how to adjust the HomePod's settings. A later guide "How to get the most from HomePod" is a longer video covering basic HomePod functions including personal requests, talking to Siri, using it as a speakerphone, and controlling smart home accessories.
Like other products, Apple has tried to maintain the privacy of its customers when using the HomePod. While the speaker does communicate with Apple's servers, it does so by anonymizing the data and using encryption.
In July 2017, the automatic acoustic adjustment feature of HomePod was the subject of a query by one concerned user to the firm, prompted by a report claiming Roomba robot vacuum cleaner manufacturer iRobot was interested in collecting maps of customer homes generated by its cleaners, with the intention of providing the room-based location data (for example the dimensions and furniture placement) to other companies.
Later, iRobot's CEO Colin Angle backtracked from the earlier report, claiming iRobot would "never sell your data," and that customers have control over the sharing of the information. A PR representative also claimed the earlier report was a "misinterpretation" of Angle's statements.
In theory, this data could have been used by Apple to further enhance the audio profile of the HomePod, or even for the speaker to collect its own room data for alternative purposes.
In a response to a customer query about room-mapping technology, Apple advised it is refusing to repurpose the data collected by the HomePod for uses outside of the device, and had no intention of saving or sharing any similar data. Apple's statement also advised the limited amount of data that it does receive stems just from Siri queries, and that it had taken steps to protect that data.
"No information is sent to Apple servers until HomePod recognizes the key utterance "Hey Siri," and any information after that point is encrypted and sent via an anonymous Siri ID," wrote Apple. "For room sensing, all analysis is done locally on the device and is not shared with Apple."
Aside from the above information, few other details about the HomePod's specifications ware known prior to release. Apple's release of firmware for the device in July 2017 caused developers to delve inside the code to try and find out more information, including how the HomePod had 1GB of memory for its A8 processor to use.
While this is seemingly likely, a teardown didn't confirm or deny this but did reveal the use of 16GB of flash memory. The HomePod's memory may be seen as overkill for the reported functionality, even taking into account a potential expansion of Siri's capabilities, though it does give Apple some breathing room if it adds more functions in the future.
The round display at the top, showing the Siri graphic, has a resolution of 272 by 340 pixels, which happens to be the same resolution as the 38mm Apple Watch. As the display for the HomePod is physically larger, it has a lower pixel density than the compact screens used in the Apple Watch range.
Throughout the life of the HomePod, Apple has issued software updates that add new features or improve existing functions for its users. The launch version ran HomePod version 11.2.5.
Apple's first update, version 11.3 (15E217) in March 2018, brought "general improvements for stability and quality," with Apple not explaining exactly what those changes actually were in the release notes.
The release of iOS 11.4 in May 2019 introduced multi-room audio and stereo pairing for the HomePod, as part of AirPlay 2's new features that launched at the same time.
An update to Siri in February 2019 on the HomePod quietly updated the British and Australian male voices for the speaker, to make them clearer and more natural-sounding than before. The update was not officially announced by Apple.
March 2019 added another change to Siri on HomePod, performing similar changes but for the female British voice. Again, there was no announcement regarding the upgrade.
Accompanying updates for iOS 13, Apple added quite a few features to HomePod in September 2019. Users were able to listen to over 100,000 radio stations via iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn.
In October 2019, Apple enabled HomePod to differentiate between multiple voices in its 13.2 update. By recognizing up to six users, the HomePod can offer a more personalized experience, including that user's particular music mixes within Apple Music.
The same update also added the ability to add music to HomeKit scenes for the first time, along with playing high-quality Ambient Sounds. A sleep timer can also be set, to turn off the audio automatically after a specific time.
Music Handoff allows users to switch what device is playing audio. By bringing an iPhone close to a HomePod, the currently-playing track on the iPhone, or a podcast or phone call, can be transferred to the HomePod for continued listening and speaking.
The 13.2 update was ill-fated, as some users reported their HomePods bricking after installing it. After pulling the release, Apple reissued the update in 13.2.1 at the end of the month, fixing the issue.
The update that was expected alongside iOS 14 has not arrived as of October. It will bring additional HomeKit support like annoucning who is at the door using facial recognition. The update will also let users select a default music service.
Common HomePod Questions
How do you reset the HomePod?
- Unplug the HomePod for a few seconds.
- Place your finger on the glass top while plugging it back in.
- Hold your finger there until your hear three beeps.
How do you setup a HomePod for the first time?
- Plug the HomePod in and wait for a tone to play.
- Your iPhone or iPad will display a pop up to help with setup.
- When prompted to, align the device’s camera with the top of the HomePod.
- Follow the on screen instructions.
How do you perform a software update on HomePod?
When Apple makes a software update available for HomePod, it will update automatically. To force the update sooner:
- Open the Home app.
- Tap on the house icon in the top left corner.
- Select Home Settings.
- Under Speakers and TVs select Software Update.
- Devices that can update will be listed here.
How much does a HomePod cost?
The HomePod price is $299 after a mid-life price drop.