HomePod has been phased out Strange choice. Apple told us at the time, “HomePod mini has been a huge hit since its debut last fall, offering customers great audio, smart assistants, and smart home control for just $99. We’re focusing our efforts on the HomePod mini.”
While the smart home hasn’t exactly panned out the way Apple or its competition might hope (just ask Amazon), the company has never batted an eye on this one. HomeKit—and everything it entails—remains a core part of the company’s strategy, and bringing Siri, the Home app, and so on into the home remains an important goal—another major branch of the ecosystem game.
However, it became clear this morning that the HomePod isn’t dead. He was just resting. He bids his time. Given that it took nearly two years for this triumphant return — and Apple completely liquidated stock of the old speaker in the meantime — this appears to be the “return of popular demand.” However, the fact of the matter is that a good hub is still an essential piece of the smart home puzzle.
For example, Amazon may have been hemorrhaging money with its Echo play, but that doesn’t mean getting these devices at home is a key component of a long-tail strategy (the problem, in the end, is the question of just how long-tailed the people in charge are). For money willing to put up with it). The HomePod mini, while it holds its place, likely won’t fill the role of everyone’s central smart home hub. Nor, frankly, does it work as a great home speaker or TV surround sound replacement. Sure, I said the thing has a “significantly big bass” in my review, but that’s relative to its size.
The other important factor in all of this is “material”. The new smart home standard frankly opens the floodgates for Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and more. Prior to its Phase 1 rollout late last year, the world of smart home standards was one of clashing kingdoms, with companies nailing it to get their “Works With” logos on the back of boxes. The material is effectively one standard against which to judge them all. If it works for one, it will work for all.
You can read an interview I did with a Matter executive at CES here.
The thing that gets lost in all of this is how effectively these devices can serve as a sort of one-stop platform for many different home functions, from more complex smart home routines to doubling up as an intercom. It also pairs with existing features like Find My, so you can check in on a loved one who has shared their location with you. New features include a temperature and humidity sensor, as well as the ability to detect and alert you when a smoke or fire alarm goes off — a nice simple fix for those who haven’t made the upgrade to a smart device like the kind Nest makes. However, it doesn’t include alerts for things like broken glass, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
However, the true value proposition is always the same. Unlike most competitors, the HomePod is a speaker first, and a smart home hub second. This isn’t a jab at smart-home goodwill, mind — it’s an acknowledgment that the product is sound first in a way that few other products in this category are. It’s always been a gamble in a category that’s been largely defined by extremely cheap and underrated hardware. Apple knew it was limiting its potential user base right out of the gate with the original $349 price tag. The new product is $50 cheaper, despite its advancements, but that’s still a far cry from Google and Amazon, which have been literally giving away entry-level smart speakers at various points.
I spent some time with my new HomePod (technically “The All New HomePod” in Apple’s official naming convention) earlier today. And I can attest to the fact that it looks really cool. Isolation is great. The treble is clear. The bass is powerful, without being overwhelming. As a longtime Google Home Max owner, I’ve considered moving on (although moving away from Spotify is another question entirely).
System Audio calibrates its EQ based on its location in the room. It uses the onboard accelerometer to recognize when you’ve raised it, then takes about 20 seconds or so to adjust accordingly. This means, in theory, that you’ll get great sound regardless of whether it’s sitting against a wall or in the middle of a room (these are all sorts of things I’ll feel confident saying once I can bring home a review of the unit).
Spatial audio is an interesting feature here. I’ve mostly considered it as a way to recreate a stable music source with headphones through head tracking. This means a more dynamic way to separate the stereo channels.
Stereo pairing, again, is important. The footprint is exactly the same as the last one. It’s quite a size as far as smart speakers go, but then again, the sound is bigger. Get a couple of these and your home speaker needs are pretty much taken care of. I’m not going to suggest they’ll replace really high-end speakers for the true audiophile group, but as far as casual listeners go, I think most people will be more than satisfied with a couple of these, whether it’s a standalone soundbar or accompanying your TV.
I haven’t yet had a chance to A/B test against an older HomePod. I’m just curious how easy it is to hear the difference in real time. Given the number of updates that could arrive here in the form of software updates, it would be an interesting test.
However, it should be noted that the new device is not backwards compatible with the last generation when it comes to this feature. It’s supposed to be a hardware limitation. While I understand why that would be an issue with an uneven match like the HomePod mini, this is honestly a major issue for those who were invested in the previous generation. Even if it wasn’t a perfect experience, the choice beats starting over again.
The power cable is detachable for easy movement. There is still no auxiliary port here, which, again, is a bummer. It would be nice to, say, connect a turntable, but Apple is really into experimenting with wireless music streaming here.
I’m excited to be spending more time with the system soon. The order arrives on February 3. More coming soon.