HomePod was first spotted at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco in January this year. It’s taken a while to reach market but it’s finally here. It is a device for listening to your iTunes music library away from your computer. Sure, there are plenty of ways to do that: AirPort Express, an iPod, or with something like Squeezebox plugged into an amplifier. But HomePod offers a slightly different slant on the problem.
Like the SqueezeBox and AirPort Express, it works wirelessly – but unlike the others, it has its own speakers. They’re only small, and not particularly impressive, but they do the job. The built-in speakers are great for taking the HomePod into the kitchen or bedroom where you don’t have proper speakers – but the device has an impressive array of audio outputs, so wherever you have speakers or an amplifier, it will plug into them. It has a headphone socket, left and right phono sockets, plus optical and coaxial digital output. It also has inputs for USB and Ethernet. So when it comes to connectivity, the HomePod wins.
Listen to the radio
And there’s more: it has an FM radio tuner. Unfortunately, the HomePod doesn’t incorporate digital radio, being an American device.
To supply the device with music, you need to run the HomePod Audio Server software. This simply serves your iTunes library – though like other devices, rights-managed AAC files from the iTunes Music Store can’t be played. This is because Apple hasn’t seen fit to license any other players apart from the iPod to play rights-managed music. It’s a shame for the HomePod and all the other players out there, but until Apple changes its mind, or it gets hacked, that’s the way it is.
There’s an increasing amount of competition for media players like the HomePod. It’s a nice execution of the solution, and the price is reasonable compared to some other players. Apple’s AirPort Express is cheaper and can play rights-managed music, but doesn’t have the features of the HomePod. This makes it very difficult for people to decide which way to leap when looking for ways to integrate their iTunes libraries into other devices. The HomePod is as good as any other, but there are still pieces missing from the jigsaw until Apple licenses the ability to play Music Store tunes.