Want to know what Apple has up its sleeve as a follow-up to the HomePod? In this article we dissect the clues and rumours relating to the HomePod 2 and also the next version of the HomePod software that will enhance existing units.
We'll discuss the likely release date of the next generation HomePod, pricing and new features. As well as rumours that Apple will be launching a smaller and cheaper version of its smartspeaker.
There are also reports that a new HomePod equipped with Face ID will launch in 2019, which could mean the Apple's smart speaker could identify you for security reasons as well as direct music depending on your location in the room, more about Face ID on the HomePod below.
New HomePod: Release date
The HomePod was announced back in June 2017 at WWDC, but wasn't launched until February 2018. It is therefore feasible to expect a follow-up model in 2019, possibly appearing in spring 2019.
However, it seems unlikely that Apple will be making any technical changes to the smartspeaker, so can we really expect an update?
Rather than introduce an update to the HomePod in its current guise, it is possible that Apple will instead offer a smaller, cheaper unit. In March 2018, Economic Daily News, a Taiwanese site, published a report making a number of predictions about Apple's 2018 product roadmap. Along with new iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, the website (citing industry sources) expected a new cheaper HomePod to launch in the second half of 2018.
Obviously, no such launch happened, but this wasn't the only rumour that a cheaper HomePod could be in the works at Apple. Rosenblatt analyst Jun Zhang said in February 2018 that he believed a cheaper HomePod could launch in 2018. He said: “We believe Apple could launch a low-end HomePod in the fall with a retail price of roughly $150-200,” as per a report on Barrons.
According to Bloomberg sources, back in June 2018, Apple is working on a new version of the HomePod for 2019 that will launch alongside new AirPods and new over-the-ear Apple headphones in the spring. We've already seen the new AirPods, so perhaps we will see a new HomePod at Apple's event on March 2019.
A Barclays analyst who released a report in August 2018 also thinks Apple will release a new HomePod in 2019. Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis believes Apple will launch a "cheaper HomePod in 2019," and that it will have "broader appeal." He thinks that HomePod sales have been "underwhelming" with less than 5 million sold so far.
New HomePod: Price
The first-gen HomePod costs £319/$349. (You can buy it direct from Apple here.)
Ordinarily we would expect version 2 of an Apple product to cost roughly the same, the natural lowering of production and materials costs over time being offset by the increased costs of the upgraded components. But the rumour mill would have it otherwise, and predicts that we'll get a significantly cheaper HomePod in 2019.
The March 2018 Economic Daily News report mentioned above, backed up Rosenblatt analyst Jun Zhang's claimed that the new HomePod would have a price tag of between $150 and $200, roughly half the price of the current model. On that basis UK pricing of around £160 seems plausible.
A further report from May 2018 (translated from the Chinese here) suggested that the successor to the original HomePod will cost $199 (approximately £147).
A lower price seems likely in reaction to low sales of the first generation model. In April, (at the time) KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said he thinks that one of the reasons why the first generation HomePod isn’t selling well is its high price, which, he said: "could undermine demand despite excellent sound quality."
Perhaps confirming Apple's drive to bring down the price of the HomePod, towards the end of 2018 the company started offering Apple Music subscribers in the UK £50 off the price of a HomePod, while in the US stockists have been offering as much as $100 off the price of the smart speaker.
New HomePod: Design
The new HomePod 2 could be smaller than the current model as well as being cheaper - a HomePod Mini perhaps. A report on Japanese site Mac Otakara in March 2018 suggested that the new speaker will be smaller. (Read the translation here).
In May 2018, the Chinese Sina report, mentioned above, suggested that Apple would launch a smaller, cheaper smart speaker, but that rather than being launched as a new Apple ‘HomePod’, the new model will have Beats branding.
By launching a Beats smart speaker, powered by Siri, Apple could potentially appeal to a different part of the market for smart speakers. The Beats brand traditionally has a younger, fashionable following. A lower price may also appeal more to this market.
New HomePod: New features
When the HomePod launched it was criticised for lacking some features its smartspeaker competition offered, and for the limitations of Siri (although if you read our comparison of HomePod, Amazon Echo and Google Home you will see that the difference isn't really that stark).
The HomePod software was updated at the same time as iOS 12 launched on 17 September. The update bought new functionality to the smart speaker.
Following the iOS 12 update users can:
- Place phone calls directly from the HomePod (rather than having to make or take a call on an iPhone and hand it over to the HomePod).
- Listen to voice mails on the HomePod.
- Ask the HomePod to Find My iPhone and get it to play a sound on that device (or any other Apple device you have set up for the service).
- Set more than one timer.
- Change the Wi-Fi network the HomePod is connected to.
- There will be improved language support.
- The HomePod will be able to relay the audio from group FaceTime calls (once group FaceTime arrives).
- Search for songs by Lyrics.
- Trigger Siri Shortcuts via the HomePod.
It's pretty much universally acknowledged that the HomePod is an excellent speaker. But its credentials as a smart speaker got a more mixed reception, with Siri's capabilities compared unfavourably to the Google Assistant and Alexa voice assistants in rival products.
For this reason the main upgrade we are expecting - and hoping for - in the new HomePod is a more ambitious array of voice commands and features. (Here are the things you can ask Siri on the HomePod at the moment.)
Many reviewers have also pointed out how dangerous it is that you can't set up multiple accounts with separate recognised voices. Logically you'd want the HomePod to hear and recognise your child's voice and allow limited commands (such as playing songs), then also hear and recognise familiar adult voices and allow more advanced functions such as reading out and sending text messages. But the HomePod isn't that smart.
Another factor affecting the desirability of HomePod, notes KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via a MacRumors report), is the lack of additional language versions of Siri.
Kuo notes the lack of additional language versions of Siri and suggests that Apple is “facing challenges in AI/voice assistant development spanning the globe”. Something that “will cap the shipments momentum of HomePod”.
Kuo believes that if Apple is to compete with Amazon and Google in the smart speaker market, Apple needs to improve Siri’s capabilities and increase language support.
Finally, it's a tremendous limitation that HomePod's Siri controls are not compatible with a wider range of music streaming services. Full Spotify support, for instance, is a must, although you can currently use AirPlay to stream from Spotify.
Another potential feature for a next-generation HomePod could be facial recognition, something that's been predicted for a couple of years but may actually arrive on the device in 2019.
The president of a company that is building Apple's HomePod smart speakers also said back in November 2017 that he believes that future models could offer this.
Inventec Appliances president David Ho said: "Engineers are designing smart speakers that will not only come with voice recognition but also incorporate features such as facial and image recognition. Such AI-related features are set to make people's lives more convenient and to make the product easier to use."
A version of the HomePod firmware released earlier in 2017 referenced facial recognition features, but the feature didn't arrive in the first-generation model.
The facial recognition could be used to authenticate personal requests.
This relates to the above: thanks to face-sensing technologies built in to the HomePod the device could recognise gestures from afar. So you could indicate that the volume should increase with a wave, or stop a track by holding up your hand.
Yuanta Investment Consulting analyst Jeff Pu said in November 2017 that he expects Apple to roll out HomePods with 3D-sensing cameras in 2019.
It's no surprise that Apple would attempt to build in such technology. The company bought PrimeSense back in 2013, the company behind the body-movement tracking technology originally used in the Xbox 360.
A patent application filed in 2017, but only made public in January 2019 makes it clear that Apple is looking at such technology for the smartspeaker.
The patent application, which is attributed to Apple, describes a "countertop speaker" that is able to "identify users in the vicinity of the speaker using facial recognition, as well as measure the distance of users [in relation] to the speaker”.
The speaker would also use "various sensors and cameras that gather hand gestures and other three-dimensional gesture input.”
In addition, LEDs in the fabric of the speaker would be able to give visual feedback to hand gestures as well as “display alphanumeric characters through the fabric that change depending on time of day” (the latter could indicate that a clock face could be shown).
Or no new features...
Those, then, are the new features we'd like to see in the HomePod 2. If the Taiwanese report mentioned above is right, however, and we'll be getting a drastically cheaper model (see the price section, above), it would be unrealistic to expect a raft of new features. (It would really add insult to injury for early adopters if a new model appeared less than a year later that was half the price and did all the things the first one couldn't.)
Indeed, Apple could be expected to cut back on the feature set for the budget-focused version rumoured.
Wondering how the HomePod compares to the competition? We have compared the HomePod to the other smart speakers out there in our round up of Best Smart Speakers here. Plus, we have a tutorial on how to use your HomePod without Wi-Fi here.