Apple reintroduces HomePod

Michael Heiss talks us through the features of the relaunched Apple HomePod, following its surprise launch announcement this week.

It’s no secret that Apple marches to their own drummer playing their own (i)tunes. For example, some product lines (e.g., Mac mini, Apple TV and Mac Pro) eschew yearly model line updates, with the caveat that iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch do have yearly updates. Or, unlike most other brands, they haven’t exhibited at consumer or industry trade shows in years. Instead, in fairness as other brands such as Samsung’s mobile phone unit have, they have switched to large in person events along with simultaneous virtual event streams. You can’t fault Apple for breaking the mold as they are, after all, one of the world’s richest companies with over $2 trillion dollars in market cap.

Lately, and especially this week, Apple has played to their own tune again. On 17 January, they announced new Mac mini models and new MacBook Pro models, all featuring versions of the latest Apple M2 silicon. Then, a day later, they announced a new Apple HomePod. At a trade show such as the CES which concluded just ten days before? At a big event at the Apple campus? Through a virtual event? The answer to all of those possibilities is no. Just press releases that popped up in journalists’ email. Typical? No. Typically Apple to do things their own way? Of course. It sometimes seems as though it is Apple’s world, and we just live in it.

The new HomePod is great evidence of Apple’s unique way of doing things. First, it does not have a new model name or number. It is simply Apple HomePod (2nd Generation). While it does what its successor did, that is accomplished with “less”. Five tweeters instead of seven and four far-field mics for Siri rather than six. According to the specs posted on the Apple website, the Wi-Fi is 802.11 n (Wi-Fi 4) rather than Wi-Fi 802.11 ac (Wi-Fi 5), though we have a query out to Apple to confirm that. Unless they left something out of the specs, that means it isn’t the latest Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6e one would expect today.

While its form factor is almost identical to the original version, the new HomePod adds a version in charcoal as well as the traditional white. (Source: Apple)

However, don’t despair. One aspect of the new model where lesser is better is the price. With pricing at £299 or €349 that should mirror the $50 price reduction in the US down to $299, down from $349 on the original model discontinued almost two years ago.

Reading this, don’t jump to conclusions. Here, the new HomePod is a combination of “less is more”, augmented by some accompanying “bigger is better”. Examples of that is the use of a newer “S7” chip, replacing the older “A8” chip in the original design.

While at this point, I have not heard the new model and thus cannot rate its audio performance one has to presume that it is good. Indeed, the new model’s EQ mic enables automatic bass correction and real time room tuning. There is also room sensing, which uses the mics for measuring sound reflections so that the unit knows whether the HomePod is freestanding or close to a wall and further adjusts the sound accordingly. A carryover from the capability of the original HomePod and the HomePod mini is the ability to use two units for stereo and spatial audio playback. The caveat, however, is that both units must be the same generation and model; you can’t mix them up.

With Siri and the Home app in its smart home quiver, Apple has endowed the new HomePod with some new features on that front. First and particularly important given the attention to it at CES, there is full support for Matter, as well as Thread connectivity. This means that you have what amounts to a full smart home hub.

Adding to what will be able to be communicated to both the in-place room and other devices in the home are temperature and humidity sensing that allows room light and temperature control adjustment. Coming later this spring will also be recognition for the sound of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors so that you will get notifications on an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. Siri will also be enhanced with a new confirmation tone that will indicate when a command is made to a device in another room or one such as a heater that may not be able to show a visible change.

On the entertainment side, when the new HomePod is used with an Apple TV 4K (2nd Generation) that is running the latest version of tvOS and devices with eARC support control of other compatible A/V products is possible.

The new, Gen.2 Apple HomePod is now available for pre-order in Australia, Canada, China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK, the US and 11 other countries and regions today. Shipping for both the standard white and new midnight colors on 3 February.

Yes, Apple does play by their own music, and that business model has certainly worked for them. Given the intense competition in the smart speaker market it will be interesting to see if the new HomePod will hit a high note with consumers or a dull one.

Main image: Thanks to the Home app as well as Siri and Matter the new HomePod is clearly aimed at being a smart home hub. (Source: Apple)

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