The Apple HomePod has been available for a few months now. Should you opt for the Siri-powered speaker over one of the HomePod alternatives?
Apple HomePod sees Apple looking to change how you listen to music (again) jumping on the iPod nomenclature to come up with the HomePod name. Check out our HomePod review - the definitive verdict on Apple's new smart speaker.
HomePod is available for £319 or $349 from the Apple Store, select Apple Authorised Resellers, including Best Buy in the US; Argos, Currys PC World, John Lewis, Shop Direct (Very and Littlewoods), EE and Apple Premium Resellers in the UK; and The Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Telstra in Australia.
In terms of what the HomePod requires, you'll need to have an iPhone 5S or later, iPad Pro, iPad Air or later, iPad mini 2 or later, or iPod touch (6th generation) with iOS 11.2.5 or later. And yes, it will work with AirPlay on a Mac or Apple TV, too.
Apple HomePod design
- Almost 7-inch tall cylindrical design
- Acoustic mesh sides
- Available in space grey or white
The Apple HomePod adopts a cylindrical design standing 6.8-inches tall (17.2cm) and wrapped in mesh. It looks a little like the last Apple Mac Pro converted into a speaker with a similar shape design; it also looks a bit like the UE Wonderboom but larger. It weighs in at 2.5kg or 5.5 pounds.
As we said earlier, it's available in space grey or white colours.
The flattened top is where the Siri wave appears when you say Hey Siri, offering a similar sort of effect as you get from existing smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It's designed to give you a visual clue that it's working. There are also touch controls on top, which you can use as follows:
- Tap or hold + or – for volume up/down
- Touch and hold for Siri
- Tap to play/pause music or Siri
- Double-tap to skip
- Triple-tap to skip back
As with all Apple products, you're looking a clear and uncluttered design, very minimal in its presentation.
Apple HomePod: The audio hardware
- 4-inch central woofer
- 7 beam-forming tweeters
- Room-sensing technology
- Apple A8 chip
In terms of audio quality, there's a central 4-inch high-excursion woofer that's upward firing in the centre of the device. This should provide depth to the music, with
Apple saying that it uses real-time software modelling to ensure that any distortion is minimalised (there's an internal mic for this purpose), so you should be able to turn it up loud without it losing quality.
There are seven beam-forming tweeters wrapped around the core of the HomePod, providing 360-degree sound. This isn't uncommon as there are a number of speakers that use this sort of arrangement to offer 360-degree sound.
Apple has said that HomePod will adapt to the room, something we've seen from companies like Sonos, meaning that if you place it in a corner, the sound will adapt so that you get the most from it.
Powering the speaker is the Apple A8 chip, the same as you'll find in a number of Apple devices.
There are seven microphones on board so that the speaker can listen to you; again, this isn't uncommon, as the existing devices on the market do the same thing, providing plenty of mics to hear what you're saying and listen to your commands.
Apple HomePod: Connectivity
- HomeKit compatible
- Instant pairing
The Apple HomePod is both a music speaker and a home controlling hub, as it is HomeKit compatible.
Apple is pushing the security of HomeKit with the HomePod, saying that nothing is sent to Apple until you say "Hey Siri", and even then it's all encrypted.
The speaker will connect to the internet using your Wi-Fi network, streaming music from Apple Music, iTunes purchases or playing Beats 1 radio. You can also listen to podcasts via Apple's own app. You can ask for all of these things via Siri on the HomePod.
There's no support for other radio services like TuneIn, so that means no BBC stations.
AirPlay is supported, of course, so you can play music or other audio from iPhone, iPad, Macs and Apple TV. So, for example, you will be able to AirPlay non-Apple audio like Spotify or BBC Radio from your phone, but you won't be able to ask Siri for this stuff on the HomePod.
You will be able to pair with a phone instantly, so we guess it uses the same W1 chip as some of the recent Beats headphones and the Apple AirPods (mind you, this isn't detailed in the specs) but it does feature Bluetooth 5.0 for the purpose of pairing - you can't Bluetooth audio to the speaker from other devices unfortunately. This is a major drawback.
Apple HomePod: AirPlay 2 and stereo pairing
- Multiroom support
- Stereo pairing
- AirPlay 2
Apple previously detailed AirPlay 2 for HomePod and the recent iOS 11.4 update introduced it.
The update also included support for HomePod stereo pairs and multiroom audio.
If there's more than one HomePod set up in the same room, the speakers can be set up as a stereo pair for an even more immersive sound. Each HomePod automatically adjusts the audio depending on where it is placed. The speakers use an Apple-designed wireless peer-to-peer direct link to communicate and play music in sync.
When a second HomePod is set up in the same room, the user is prompted whether they would like to form a stereo pair. Cleverly, only one speaker responds to Siri requests.
AirPlay 2 controls are available across iOS within any app and in Control Centre for quick access to what’s playing in every room, on every speaker.
Apple Music subscribers can also ask Siri to play different songs in different rooms or the same song everywhere.
HomePod will be able to communicate with other AirPlay 2-enabled speakers as they become available. That means Siri will be able to control music playing on speakers from Bang & Olufsen, Bluesound, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Libratone, Marantz, Marshall, Naim, Pioneer and Sonos.
Apple HomePod: what else Siri can do, plus SiriKit
- HomeKit controller
- SiriKit enables third-party app control
HomePod can handle advanced searches within Apple Music’s catalogue, so you can ask questions like, “Hey Siri, when was this song released?” or “Hey Siri, can you play something totally different?”.
As we mentioned, HomePod being a HomeKit device means that it can fit into the same roles as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, controlling other HomeKit devices.
This is where things get a little more interesting, as there are a wide range of HomeKit devices - from Tado heating to Hue lighting and you should be able to speak to control all these things - it looks like Apple is catching up in the smart home arena.
Siri on HomePod can send a message, set a timer, play a podcast, check the news, sports news, traffic and weather as well as boasting the aforementioned HomeKit and Apple Music support.
The latest business news, headlines and sports are provided by content partners in each country, just as with Amazon Echo. In the UK, Apple has signed deals with the BBC, Sky News and LBC.
HomePod can also be used as a speakerphone with iPhone, too.
Apple's SiriKit also enables third-party app support on HomePod, just as on the iPhone. So apps like WhatsApp and Evernote will automatically work with HomePod.
Now why not check out Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: What's the difference?