Apple established its reputation as a music-focused company with the introduction of the iPod in 2001, and the company has enjoyed runaway success with its AirPods line of in-ear headphones. But it has yet to enter the home speaker market, with a string of failures dating back to ipod hi-fi in 2006. Will the HomePod (2nd Generation) change that trajectory?
The second-generation HomePod is the company’s latest attempt to win over Apple fans with a new speaker that promises to improve the first-generation device’s audio, deliver significant improvements to Siri voice commands, and add a host of new smart home features, including matter support. The device can be ordered now for $299 and will be available on February 3rd.
Like most Apple products, this latest HomePod comes at a premium price. On the smart speaker front, it’s significantly more expensive than anything else in the Amazon Echo or Google Nest product lines. On the premium audio front, a stereo pair of HomePods will cost $598 versus $298 for a pair Amazon Echo Studio smart speakers or $438 for a pair of Those Sonos ($398 for a pair of “dumb” Sonos One SLs). A second generation Sonos beam the smart soundbar, meanwhile, costs $449 and supports Dolby Atmos, a feature Apple doesn’t mention in its press release. It’s also worth noting that each of the aforementioned Amazon and Sonos products can be augmented with a decent subwoofer. You can’t do that with any HomePod.
Sure, the new HomePod is $50 cheaper than the first-generation device, but Apple is still asking a lot if they’re trying to get buyers to replace fully functional home speakers that originally cost much less than a HomePod.
Apple users who just want a smart speaker that works with Siri will be happy with the $99 HomePod mini, which will get many of the features of the new HomePod via a firmware update next week. The success of this new HomePod will depend on whether there is a market for an Apple speaker designed to be a primary home audio system.
Apple is promising much improved bass response in the new HomePod. They’re touting a “custom-designed high-excursion woofer,” along with a “powerful diaphragm motor that drives a sizable 20mm microphone with built-in bass EQ,” and a five-tweeter beamforming array. Apple’s S7 chips have improved computational audio capabilities that are supposed to tailor sound for your space and deliver an enhanced spatial audio experience.
Users can stream music playing on an iPhone to the HomePod, and the speaker can recognize up to six different voices, so it can customize its recommendations and playlists to reflect the preferences of each member of your family.
HomePod smart home features
While Apple’s press release doesn’t specify that the HomePod itself is certified Matter, Apple’s HomePod software has received Matter certification. That’s not surprising, considering Apple is a founding member of the Connectivity Standards Alliance that created the Matter standard, but it’s important because Matter promises to be the smart home standard that will finally unify what has been a highly fragmented market. That likely won’t happen for several years, considering Matter has yet to set standards for several important smart home segments, including home security cameras, but we believe Matter will eventually achieve this.
HomePod’s new smart home features include the ability to monitor your home for the sound of carbon monoxide and smoke alarms going off, sending a notification to your iPhone when it hears those sounds. The speaker has a temperature and humidity sensor that can be set to trigger home automations to turn on a fan or close blinds when a room’s ambient temperature limits are exceeded.
Using the Apple Home app, users can set up recurring automations for compatible devices along the lines of “Hey Siri, open the blinds every day at dawn.” The Home app works with HomeKit-enabled security cameras, smart thermostats, lighting controls, and more.
The HomePod works with all of Siri’s features, including the “Find My” app that allows users to play a sound on missing Apple devices. You’ll never again waste your morning looking for your iPhone when it’s buried in the sofa cushions (a feature curiously missing from the latest Apple TV remote).
The new HomePod is available in “midnight” (black) or white. Each color comes with a matching fabric power cord, and the midnight unit is made with 100% recycled mesh fabric.
Apple’s big step with the HomePod is the device’s ability to analyze sound reflections from nearby surfaces and adapt sound in real time to deliver a personalized listening experience in your home. The problem is that the technology will provide far more benefits with a pair of stereo speakers than with a single unit.
Will a single second-generation HomePod provide a better listening experience at a price $100 more than a stereo pair of HomePod mini speakers? Or will a pair of the new HomePod speakers sound so good that Apple fans will happily shell out $600 for the full stereo experience?
Perhaps even more important, at least for Apple, will be consumers at the moment outside Does the Apple Ecosystem Buy a $300 HomePod? by TechHive review of Apple’s original smart speaker described it as “for avid Apple fans only” and found it inferior to Google’s best effort, the Google Home Max. Meanwhile, however, Google appears to have concluded that there is no market for a high-end smart speaker, and Amazon has yet to replace its own high-end offering, the $200 Echo Studio was introduced to the market in early 2020.
It goes without saying that we can’t wait to get our hands on a HomePod (2nd generation) for an in-depth review.