Welcome to our HomePod guide, which covers everything you need to know about Apple's upcoming Siri speaker, from features, specs and release date to expected UK price.
Apple is finally getting into the smart home speaker business with the HomePod. This will be competing with the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, successful smart speakers which have also driven popularity for those company's Siri-rivalling voice assistants.
Much like its rivals, the Siri-enabled HomePod speaker will be able to respond to voice commands and play music, set alarms, control smart devices and search for information online. What's different - Apple claims - is that the device will blow the competition away on sound quality, so you don't have to sacrifice your audiophile credentials for the sake of smartness.
The HomePod was initially expected to be released in December 2017 - Apple itself confirmed the date earlier this year - but, in November 2017, Apple pushed the release date back until early 2018. The statement is as follows:
"We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”
While the official release date is off, it looks like progress is going well. A leaked photograph of a HomePod being tested in a kitchen environment indicates that the company is testing the device in real world surroundings.
Appropriately for those initial target markets, the HomePod is slated to offer only English-language support at first; Siri of course is far more versatile, supporting dozens of languages, so it shouldn't be difficult for Apple to expand into other territories.
One analyst firm is already predicting great things for the HomePod launch, noting that 14 percent of surveyed iPhone owners said they plan to buy one of the devices. The corresponding figure for the Apple Watch in the months before that product launched was just 6 percent.
The expectation is that supply will be seriously limited at launch, with only 500,000 models available (see How to get a Home Pod below).
HomePod UK price
It's been announced that the HomePod will cost $349 in the US, but Apple hasn't yet confirmed UK pricing. We'd expect it to be pretty close to £349, based on the exchange rate Apple tends to use when planning its transatlantic pricing strategies.
Both of those figures are markedly higher than those for the HomePod's nearest competitors. The Amazon Echo is priced at £149.99/$179.99, and its cheaper Echo Dot is available for £49.99/$49.99, while the Google Home is £129/$129. Read more: Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo
Sonos has also unveiled its smart speaker - the Sonos One, and Samsung says it's working on a Bixby smart speaker.
How to get a HomePod
You will be able to order a HomePod from Apple's online store and also buy one in one of Apple's high street stores. You can expect to be able to buy one from the likes of John Lewis and other Apple Resellers.
However, if you were hoping to get a HomePod for Christmas you may be disappointed. Apparently there will be limited stock at launch with only around 500,000 units available, according to analysts.
Taiwan-based ODM Inventec will start manufacturing but Foxconn is expected to join the assembly line in 2018.
Inventec Appliances President David Ho told analysts and reporters during an earnings conference that only a limited number of HomePod’s will be available this year.
He referred to a “smart home device” but many interpreted this as the Apple HomePod.
Fubon Securities analyst Arthur Liao goes one step further, predicting that Inventec will “only ship some 500,000 units of HomePod this year” .
What will the HomePod do?
During the WWDC 2017 announcement, Apple claimed that its smart speaker will "reinvent home music". The speaker will boast excellent audio quality, according to the company. It features a 4in, Apple-designed upward-facing woofer paired with an array of seven beam-forming tweeters, each with its own amplifier.
Apple compared the HomePod to the Sonos range of wireless speakers, suggesting that Apple is confident the HomePod is of a similar audio quality.
There more to the capabilities of the speaker than that though. The HomePod is backed by spatial awareness technology, powered by an A8 chip. This apparently means the HomePod can analyse the room it's in and optimise audio output for the surroundings.
It apparently works even better if you have two (or more?) HomePods in the same room, as they'll work together to create the best sound possible.
Of course, all of that just makes for a good speaker - what makes the HomePod special is that it is also a smart, Siri-powered speaker.
As of November 2017 Apple has started asking developers to create Siri apps that will work with HomePod - but only for messaging, lists and notes apps.
That means that if you were hoping to be able to do anything other than listen to Apple Music with your HomePod you may be disappointed.
For example, you won’t be able to browse Spotify via your HomePod, because SiriKit for HomePod won’t offer support for music apps that aren’t Apple Music. That said, there is nothing to stop you streaming Spotify playlists from your iPhone or iPad to your HomePod speaker.
This also means that you won’t be able to place a Skype call via your HomePod, although maybe you would be able to make a FaceTime audio call.
There are six microphones built into the top ring of the device so that it can pick up your voice from anywhere in the room, even with music playing, and a Siri waveform will appear on the top section (which doubles as touch controls) when she's responding to one of your queries.
When it comes to Apple Music, HomePod will be able to do things like play a certain song, album, artist or genre on command; let you know information such as when a song was recorded or who the drummer was; and even just "play more like this".
Beyond that, the smart functionality is similar to what you're already used to from Siri. The HomePod can be used to set reminders, answer questions, or check the weather. It can also integrate with all your HomeKit-compatible appliances to become the hub of your smart home.
Apple has opted for a cylindrical design for the HomePod. Available in either white or Space Grey, the HomePod stands just under 7 inches tall, and is covered almost head to toe in a "seamless 3D mesh fabric".
There's space at the top for the Siri interface, a small screen that lights up with a Siri waveform when he or she is assisting you with something.
The top section will include touch controls for Siri but Apple has not yet revealed how that will appear. However, developer Steve Troughton-Smith delved into the HomePod firmware and discovered that the surface at the top of the speaker (displayed above) looks to be an LED Matrix, suggesting that the device could display shapes and symbols such as weather icons and temperature.
Apple has talked up the HomePod's audiophile credentials. As an all-in-one wireless speaker it's unlikely to challenge the very best (and most expensive) high-end speaker setups, but the tech specs are still pretty impressive:
- A8 chip
- High-excursion woofer with custom amplifier
- Seven horn-loaded tweeters
- Six microphones
- Internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi?Fi with MIMO; AirPlay 2 with multi-room support
- Available in white or Space Grey
- 172mm high; 142mm wide; 2.5kg
A firmware update for the HomePod has indicated that it will have 1GB of RAM and a 272-by-340 pixel screen.
We don't know much about the software that will run on the HomePod, but we have been able to glean some detail based on what we know abour SiriKit for HomePod and various Firmware releases that have referenced the smart speaker.
iOS 11.2, currently in beta, introduced SiriKit for HomePod.
According to Apple, Messaging, Lists, and Notes iOS apps that support SiriKit will be able to be controlled via the HomePod.
SiriKit for HomePod will allow Siri commands to be sent via the HomePod to the accompanying app on the iPhone or iPad, which is where the actual processing of the enquiry will happen.
Apple is encouraging developers to: "Make sure your SiriKit integration is up to date and test your app’s voice-only experience today."
Since there are no HomePods available for testing, developers are being told to test the voice-only experience by using Siri through headphones connected to your iOS device with iOS 11.2 beta.
A Firmware release in the summer of 2017 also revealed some details about the HomePod.
According to developer Steve Troughton-Smith, the HomePod will run the full iOS stack and use a shell app called SoundBoard. SoundBoard is likely to resemble SpringBoard on iOS, the application that manages the iOS home screen.
Looks like the 'shell' app on HomePod is called SoundBoard. It runs a full iOS stack, unsurprisingly. Its apps are prefixed with 'Air' pic.twitter.com/IPFF0vV3UT— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 28, 2017
According to Troughton-Smith, the HomePod also presents itself as an iPhone SE to iTunes, but despite discovering 'apps' for Apple Music and Podcast, there is no way to install any third-party apps or extensions. With rival Alexa's library of apps growing quickly and expanding its functionality, we're not sure this is a great idea on Apple's part.
Given that the apps are all prefixed with the word 'Air', as mentioned in his tweet above, we can take a guess that the HomePod will technically run iOS app, but over the air in control from a paired iOS device (iPhone or iPad).
Further to the HomePod firmware leaks, iHelp BR found an image in iOS 11 developer beta 7 that seems to show a HomePod pairing setup similar to that of the AirPods. This is further proof that an iOS device may be necessary to use HomePod.
It goes on to discuss how Siri is necessary in the setup, and the user will have to interact with voice commands from the HomePod, rather than the other way around. As expected, a Wi-Fi connection is needed to run the device and users will need an Apple ID, similar to requirements for both Google Home and Amazon Echo.
A trusted iOS developer on Twitter has mocked up below how this will look on iPhone:
This is how the HomePod setup will look like on an iPhone. pic.twitter.com/SARqsYslL6— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) August 22, 2017
Following this, another tweet was posted showcasing an interesting way of pairing the HomePod - using sound. Per the screenshot in the below tweet, it seems as if iOS users will be able to use audio pairing to hook up the HomePod, rather than using a standard passcode.
Of course, Apple hasn't confirmed any such detail, though we're likely to find out a little more about the speaker at Apple's September event.
One thing I missed about the HomePod setup: it can be done without manually typing the passcode, through audio. pic.twitter.com/GpCl5UY3az— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) September 2, 2017
The one thing we are familiar with already is Siri, and we know that is how we will interact with HomePod. Apple appears to be making a big marketing push to remind or persuade the public of all the things that Siri can do - witness the big-budget Siri advert starring Dwayne Johnson - and we'd imagine this is to prepare the way for the HomePod.
Apple has also made a point of emphasising its approach to privacy and security. The company claims the HomePod will only send any information to Apple's servers after 'Hey Siri' is recognised, and that even then it will be "encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier".
Future HomePod technology
Face ID in HomePod
The company that is building Apple’s HomePod smart speakers believes that future models could offer facial recognition.
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 it doesn’t seem like the HomePod will be getting Face ID as soon as December 2017.
Yuanta Investment Consulting analyst Jeff Pu said Apple could roll out HomePods with 3D-sensing cameras in 2019.
Apple audio patents
While this is probably a little late to be used in the first-generation HomePod, Apple was granted a patent for "A rotationally Symmetric Speaker Array". In many ways, the technology is similar to what is said to be featured on the HomePod when it launches, but on a much larger scale.
The patent describes a system that, in theory, could automatically analyse the acoustics, adjust the sound based on the location of the speaker and direct the music towards the position of the listener.