Gone too soon, but it seems that this year, HomePod lovers are set for a treat
HomePod was king
HomePod was loved by everyone that owned one – OK, not so much for its build quality, but for the audio it delivered, it was revered.
Its reign was short-lived, and after a mere three years, HomePod was discontinued. Although it was replaced by HomePod mini, for some reason, that speaker has never hit the emotive highs of HomePod.
Well, after months of speculation last year, it seems more likely than ever, that HomePod 2 is coming back to our shelves this later this year, and it should be better than ever.
Before we look at what new features may be coming to the 2023 version of HomePod, it’s worth just recapping why the original HomePod made such an impact.
The HomePod was first announced at WWDC in 2017. The launch had been intended for later that year, but it finally began finding its way in to customers hands in February 2018. It was only ever available in two colours – space grey and white, but the cost was always a stumbling block for Apple, and their customers. The launch price of $349 was steep, and certainly put HomePod at a price point where owners would be demanding performance to match.
The Verge, for one, liked what they heard from their review unit. They reported that it had a noticeably richer and fuller sound than competitors such as the Sonos One, or Google’s Home Max. The Verge eventually gave HomePod a 7.5 out of 10 rating, and concluded;
“It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before.”
The speaker had clearly been designed with audio lovers in mind, and featured seven tweeters, and a whopping four-inch woofer. Siri was integral to the smart speaker, and, as such, HomePod had six microphones to aid with voice control and recognition. The chip, at HomePods heart, was the A8 processor, lifted straight from iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
HomePod came to market in a flurry of marketing glory, with Spike Jonze being commissioned to make a four-minute move called Welcome Home, as a result, it sold quickly. 600,000 units shipped in the first quarter of 2018. As sales plateaued in 2019, Apple reduced the price to $299, in an effort to pep-up sales somewhat.
When the speaker was finally removed from Apple’s website in March 2021, they made it clear, that their focus was now to be on HomePod mini;
“HomePod Mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorised Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates, service, and support through Apple Care”.
But, if reports, and rumours from Mark Gurman are anything to go by, then after a two-year hiatus, HomePod is on its way back in the fall of ’23. It promises to be feature packed, and pick-up the gauntlet, from where the HomePod OG left off.
So, what can we expect?
The obvious place to start, will be in replacing that A8 chip from 2018, with the S8 chip that is found in the current range of Apple Watch.
Further integration in to your smart home, and the Apple ecosystem, will be derived from the U1 Ultra-Wideband chip. This will aid HomePod 2 in quickly detecting other U1 enabled devices, such as newer iPhones.
It is because of the U1 tech, that HomePod mini offers me one of my favourite functions – Handoff. The ability to pass on audio from your phone to speaker when you walk in the door is just cool. Similar functionality will surely be added to HomePod 2.
Apple is known to be developing the U1 chip further, with data-transfer and augmented reality likely to be added to its capabilities in the near-future.
Interface & display
The displays on both HomePod, and HomePod mini have always been fairly utilitarian – merely glowing when updating, playing audio, or when Siri is being used. It has never had the ability to display simple text, or images.
HomePod 2 will offer more space than its smaller brother, and with the intention for HomePod 2 to become central to your Home set-up, it’s expected that the display will now offer more information and graphics too.
There were some solid rumours last year, suggesting that HomePod 2 could become more of an all-in-one home entertainment system, (even a soundbar design), so the need for a display becomes even more compelling.
We are all aware, that this year looks likely to be tough, economically, so if Apple are to bring back HomePod, then surely, price will have to be closely scrutinised.
Siri has never covered itself in glory, so Apple cannot hope to sell the speaker purely on the strengths of the voice assistant. Although I have never used one, Amazon’s Echo Studio, which integrates with Apple Music, and Spotify, is priced at $199. Google’s nest is only $90.
I’d hope that Apple can manage to bring HomePod back for a touch under $300, which would give it a chance to sell in high numbers. The design, is not expected to change that much from the discontinued HomePod of 2021.
The 2023 version of HomePod will be Matter-compliant for sure, as it will be at the epicentre of your Home set-up.
Although Siri still has plenty of shortcomings, the S8 chip will at least be able to drag the very most out of the flawed voice assistant. But, I’d doubt that many will be buying HomePod on the strength, or expectation of using Siri more, day-to-day.
Hopefully, it will support Apple Lossless Audio, and include Spatial Audio, and Dolby Atmos functionality too. A pair of HomePod 2 with Apple TV 4K would be a match made in heaven.
The audio design, really, does not need to be tampered with that much from the original speaker. The audio was always it’s calling-card.
There are many clues that HomePod 2 may not be too far away. The fact that Apple discontinued Beats Pill+, their only Bluetooth speaker, adds further weight to the argument, that a new speaker release may be on the horizon.
With a smart speaker being so instrumental to a Home ecosystem, Apple really need to get themselves positioned in the market quickly. Ming-Chi Kuo tweeted last year that he thought that Apple should be in a good spot, to release HomePod 2 by 1Q23.
With the reputation of the original HomePod stellar, even in an uncertain market, the release of an improved HomePod would be well received, so long as they get the price-point right.
And don’t forget, demand for the original HomePod remains high, to this day. Last year, over 6000 HomePods were sold on eBay, and the average selling price was $347 – and they were the opened, or used models. Over 2000 factory sealed models were sold last year, and they were selling for over $430.
The demand is there. Many of Apple’s resources are currently being redirected towards the AR/VR headset. As a result, it could be that 2023 will prove a lighter year for innovative, new products finding their way out of Cupertino.
If that is the case, a new HomePod, priced at under $300 could be just what the doctor ordered. Having missed out the first time around, I will certainly be heading up the queue to get my HomePod 2. What about you – will you be tempted?
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