Apple HomePod firmware reveals new specs and custom sounds, but a lack of third party apps

Oscar Raymundo
4 August, 2017
View more articles fromthe author
AAA
News

The HomePod (originally rumoured to be called Siri Speaker) is a smart speaker with Wi-Fi capabilities intended to compete against Amazon Echo devices and Google Home – although it will be significantly more expensive. Revealed during Apple’s WWDC keynote, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller boasted about the HomePod’s audio quality, its built-in room sensors and its integration with Apple Music.

With its always-on voice assistant and ability to control connected devices, the HomePod is very similar to Echo devices and Google Home, but with a few notable differences. (We were able to get a closer look after the keynote, and you can check out our first eyes-on impressions here.) Here are the must-know HomePod features, specs and sales info showcased during WWDC.

homepod white shelf

When’s the HomePod release date?

The HomePod will be available for sale starting in December, initially in the US, UK and Australia. So it will only support English-language voice commands during the initial rollout. It will then be available in other countries starting in 2018.

How much will it cost?

The HomePod costs US$349 and will be available in two colours: white and space grey. By comparison, Amazon Echo is US$180 and Google Home retails for US$129. Australian pricing is yet to be confirmed.

Is the HomePod just as smart as the iPhone?

The HomePod comes with an A8 Fusion chip, the same one that powers the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. That definitely puts it up at the top when it comes to ‘smart’ speakers.

Like the AirPods (which sport an A1 chip), setting up the HomePod is just as easy and intuitive. All you have to do is hold your iPhone next to the HomePod and it’ll be ready to start playing music in seconds. In addition, the firmware confirms that the HomePod will run iOS, just like an iPhone.

apple homepod specs

Will it support third party apps?

According to the firmware, HomePod will run iOS but there is nothing in the code to suggest that Apple is offering a framework for developing third party apps and extensions. This already puts the HomePod at a disadvantage against Google Home and Amazon Echo devices, as both rivals offer development tools to third parties.

It can very well be the case that Apple wants to have more control over what type of apps and extensions get integrated into the HomePod and will eventually open up the platform to third parties, as it did with Apple TV and Siri extensions. Plus, the fact that Apple has given the HomePod 1GB of RAM suggests that it’s future-proofing the device for more elaborate capabilities later on.

How do you activate it?

The HomePod has six microphones so that it can be activated verbally using the ‘Hey Siri’ voice command. We’re not sure what happens if you have ‘Hey Siri’ activated on your nearby iPhone as well. Hopefully, Apple implements a way for you to customise which device responds and fulfils the voice commands, or for the iPhone and the HomePod to communicate with each other and figure it out. We’ll let you know once we do our full review.

What will it sound like?

From the HomePod firmware, developer Avery Magnotti was able to dig out the custom sounds Apple designed for it. Below you can listen to how the HomePod alarm will wake you up in the morning, plus other system sounds.

What can you ask Siri to do?

You can ask Siri to send a text message to your friend, start playing the latest episode of your favourite podcast, and get the latest updates in news, sports, traffic and weather. You can also use voice commands to set alarms, timers and reminders. In addition, Siri on the HomePod can help you answer some of your most burning questions like, ‘What’s the best Korean barbecue restaurant nearby?’ or ‘Did the Warriors win last night?’

Does it have a touchscreen?

Well, that depends. What’s your definition of ‘touchscreen’? Technically, yes. The HomePod has a 272×340 ‘screen’ at the top that will respond to touch controls. You can tap the top of HomePod to play, pause or adjust the volume. But unlike the Amazon Echo Show, the HomePod screen is not a video screen, but an LED matrix. It animates with an LED waveform to indicate whenever Siri is listening, and it might be able to display other shapes or symbols.

homepod wwdc 02

Can it control HomeKit devices?

Yes! You can ask Siri to turn on the lights, close the shades or activate a scene that you’ve pre-set in the Home app. HomePod can even control these devices when you’re not home via the Home app, giving you the power to remotely control your devices from anywhere. So far, HomeKit compatible with connected devices from Ecobee, Honeywell, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron and more.

What about audio specs?

Apple wanted to create a speaker that delivered state-of-the-art sound that “rocks the house”. The HomePod includes an Apple-designed four-inch woofer for a deeper bass and seven beam-forming tweeters for high frequency acoustics. All of this was designed to “preserve the richness and intent of the original recordings”. Of course, we won’t be able to vouch for this until we get to listen to it later this year.

Does it support multi-room audio?

Thanks to the new AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi speakers are now part of the HomeKit family so you can get multi-room audio controls from a single iPhone. This gives you the option to use the Home app to control multiple HomePods in different rooms and sync audio playback. Furthermore, AirPlay 2 is also compatible with Wi-Fi speakers from other manufacturers, including Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Libratone, Devialet, Bowers & Wilkins and Apple’s own Beats.

Does it work with Spotify?

Unfortunately, the only music streaming service that the HomePod supports is… Apple Music (act surprised). In fact, Apple claims the smart speaker was designed to be deeply tied to Apple Music, which costs $10 a month. And we don’t foresee Apple bringing other services to the fold anytime soon (or ever).

apple homepod sensors

What if I am an Apple Music member?

If you’re an Apple Music member, the HomePod can access Apple Music’s full catalog, as well as tap into machine learning to learn about your music preferences and suggest songs and artists you might like. Apple refers to the HomePod as the perfect musicologist. In addition, you can create a shared Up Next queue with other nearby iOS devices so that everyone in the house can participate in picking music.

Does it have any other new technology?

Not every room is the same, so the HomePod has learned about spatial awareness. Its built-in sensors can determine the size and layout of its surroundings to automatically deliver the volume and acoustic output that best fills the room. Think of it as virtual surround sound. When two paired HomePods are in the room, they’ll be able to sense each other to deliver actual surround sound.

Will it be listening in to all my conversations?

Privacy is also being touted as a vital component of the HomePod. According to Apple, the smart speaker will only start collecting information after the ‘Hey Siri’ voice command is activated. This means that you shouldn’t be afraid that the HomePod is secretly recording your conversations in order to sell you stuff. All information is recorded locally on the device and sent to Apple servers encrypted using an anonymous Siri ID.

What iOS devices is it compatible with?

HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running the latest iOS 11.

2 Comments

2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. John Wilkins says:

    so do you need an iphone to make use of the HomePod. Does it have any functionality as a standalone. Or with our iMacs.

  2. Philip Caballero says:

    “HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running the latest iOS 11.”

    So, does that mean I can’t play my iTunes purchases or my ripped CDs on my iMac through the HomePod? Or for that matter my Axiom keyboard via USB to my iMac when using GarageBand?

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us