Apple HomePod guide: Everything you need to know about the Siri smart speaker

We get up close with Apple's answer to the Echo
Your guide to Apple's HomePod

The secret is out - at this year's WWDC Apple 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 smart speaker space has been getting crowded as of late, with Microsoft and Xiaomi also getting involved, while Amazon has expanded its Echo range with the screen-touting Echo Show.

Apple has arrived right on cue, but it still has a fair amount of catching up to do; Alexa has been working her way into homes since 2014, and Amazon has consolidated itself as the leader in this space - although Google Home has been accelerating fast.

What does this mean for Apple? How does HomePod stack up against the competition? Here's everything you need to know.

Apple HomePod: Design

Apple's smart speaker is called HomePod, and it's putting music front and center

While there's been some variation in the smart speakers to date - unless we're counting the awkward, squat Echo Show - everyone has gone for the obvious small-tower design. The HomePod, which we got up close with at WWDC, looks like Sonos redesigned the Mac Pro. It sits at 7 inches tall and comes in your choice of black or white.

It has a more consistent design than the Echo or Google Home, with a mesh grille that wraps around most of the speaker, leaving just a space at the top for the integrated touch controls and Siri's familiar multicolored waveform.

If we're being totally honest, it doesn't quite look as nice as something you'd get from Sonos, but it's nice enough to fit in with the rest of the living room decor. There are still questions about that integrated touch interface, and whether the tiny display could be used to show any other information.

Apple HomePod: Speaker smarts

Apple's smart speaker is called HomePod, and it's putting music front and center

While we say Amazon has had a big head start, don't forget that Apple HomeKit has been around a while too, and will form much of the foundation of Apple's smart speaker. HomePod will work as a hub for HomeKit, letting you control your smart HomeKit appliances with the unrivaled power of voice. You can check if the lights on, ask HomePod to turn the heat up, or bring the shades down halfway.

And of course, with Siri inside you'll be able to ask all manner of questions. What's the weather for later today? What's on my calendar? Unlike others though, Apple is putting more emphasis on music, and that goes for Siri too, where the smart assistant will fuse more closely with Apple Music.

At WWDC Apple showed how Siri on HomePod can be asked things like "What was the number 1 song on this day in 1987?" or "Who's the drummer in this?". Apple calls HomePod its "musicologist", and promises it'll also aid in music discovery. We really like the curation in Apple Music, and we expect HomePod will leverage this nicely. Apple News is sure to prove its worth on HomePod too, as you'll be able to ask for the big stories of the day, curated through the Apple service.

The HomePod is also primed and ready for voice commands at any time, but an Apple rep told us 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.

Apple HomePod: How does it stack up on sound?

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.

The HomePod comes with Apple's A8 chip inside, and this will aid the HomePod in its mission to deliver room-filling sound. According to Apple, the HomePod has spatial awareness and will adjust its sound depending on where in the room it's place. This will, in theory, help it deliver better sound, including echo cancellation.

Sound quality is how Apple is trying to outdo not just its smart speaker rivals, but audio giants like Sonos too. 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. Thanks to some digging from curious folks, we do however know some of the sounds HomePod will be putting out.

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.

Apple HomePod release date and price

HomePod will launch this December in the US and UK in white and space gray for $349. UK pricing will come later. Getting your hands on one in December might prove a big challenge however, as the CEO of Inventec Appliances, which is rumored to be the HomePod supplier, has confirmed there will be "limited quantities" of a certain high-profile smart speaker later this year. While he didn't specifically reference Apple here, every sign is pointing to Inventec being behind it.

1 Comment

  • Pw1 says:

    Way over prices I bet they are making around $180 profit from each speaker.  I bet the sound quality is better than the Google home though that has way to much base its way to hard to listen to compared to the echo. 

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