Right on cue, Apple has announced its answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home - and it's called HomePod. Yes, the use of the word "Pod" here is very deliberate, but rather than changing the way we listen to music on the go as it did with the iPod, Apple's plan is to shakeup music in the home.
The HomePod comes with Apple's A8 chip inside, and as prior rumors had claimed, will be centered around Siri's smarts combined with room-filling sound. The device itself looks like a Mac Pro, and Apple is putting music at the center of the experience, turning Siri into what it calls its "Musicologist", letting you ask things like "Who's singing?" or "Who was top of the charts on 5 May 1997?".
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In fact Siri is driving all the smarts, and you'll be able to do things you might be familiar with on Echo and Home - or thing you already use Siri for - like setting reminders, checking in on news and the weather etc. And of course, it will talk to HomeKit devices, so you can check if the lights on, ask HomePod to turn the heat up, or bring the shades down halfway.
We got up close with the speaker, which looks like a squat, 7-inch Mac Pro that has Siri's familiar multicolored waveform lit up on the top. This works as as an integrated touch control too, but we don't yet know how exactly. As Apple's headline pitch is music, the HomePod is of course loaded up the wazoo with speaker tech: six microphones, seven beam-forming tweeters and a 4-inch upwards-facing woofer.
Sound quality is how Apple is trying to outdo not just its smart speaker rivals, but audio giants like Sonos too. The speaker uses room-sensing technology to sense where it is, like on a table, in a corner or on a bookshelf, and uses that information to deliver sound in a way suited for that room. You'll be able to pair two up for a bigger sonic wallop, although how multi-room setups will work is another mystery to be explained.
All those guts, combined with that A8 chip, will allow the HomePod to deliver what Apple claims is superior sound. Apple says the mic array can understand whether you're close to the device or across the room and it can apparently even hear you through all of that loud music it'll play for you.
The HomePod is also primed and ready for voice commands at any time, but an Apple rep reinforced that nothing will be sent to the Cloud until the magic "Hey Siri" words are uttered. For now, we know you can have multiple user accounts on one HomePod for music, but Apple wasn't able to confirm if it will be able to recognize different voices like Echo and Home now can, nor did it elaborate how switching between accounts might work.
Setup is about as simple as AirPods setup. You just hold your iPhone near the HomePod and boom, it's ready to go and play your music.
HomePod will launch this December in the US and UK in white and space gray for $349. UK pricing will come later.