It costs about double what its rivals do, it isn't very smart, and it leaves white marks on wooden tables. Yet the HomePod still managed to have a solid launch, earning a ton of media coverage, rave reviews for its sound quality. However, in its first three months of sales, Apple sold just 600,000 HomePods (compared to 4m Echos, and 2.4m Google Homes in the first quarter of the year).
Based on these rather lack-lustre sales for the first generation HomePod, in what areas is Apple likely to improve the follow-up device?
Want to know what the company 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: its likely release date, pricing and new features.
The HomePod was announced back in June 2017 at WWDC, but wasn't launched until February 2018. You can, therefore, expect a flurry of expectation with regards to a follow-up model near the end of 2018 - although as ever we have to point out that most Apple products don't follow a predictable yearly upgrade cycle. (The iPhone does; most others don't.)
Still, we might hear about a new HomePod a little earlier than that.
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) expects a new cheaper HomePod to launch in the second half of 2018.
This wasn't the first 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.
Apple has three main release windows, but only one is in the second half of the year: September, when it refreshes its iPhones. The HomePod 2 (or HomePod mini) may be announced at the same event.
An earlier launch would be possible, however, if the announcement is made at WWDC 2018 in June and then the product appears a few weeks later - thereby just squeezing into the second half of the year.
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 2018.
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, 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."
As we mentioned above, the next HomePod may be known as the HomePod mini. It may be the HomePod 2. Or it may not be a HomePod at all.
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.
If Apple launches a new HomePod in 2018 we can expect the following differences to the current HomePod, in addition to being cheaper:
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).
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.
The company that is building Apple's HomePod smart speakers 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.
Yuanta Investment Consulting analyst Jeff Pu said Apple could roll out HomePods with 3D-sensing cameras in 2019.
Those, then, are the new features we'd like to see in the HomePod 2. If the Taiwanese report is right, however, and we'll be getting a drastically cheaper model (see the price section, next), 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.