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HomePod is back – but what to expect from this 2nd gen speaker

Mine is on the way – it arrives Saturday, but are my expectations misplaced?

FOMO

HomePod – one of those experiences I missed out on the first time around.

I’ve always promised myself, written here, and mentioned on my podcast, that if ever Apple were to re-release their large HomePod, then I’d be there, at the front of the queue.

Being a man of my word, a HomePod is on the way this weekend. I’d rather it have been in black, sorry, midnight, but there was too much of a back-order on that colour. White it is then – I just hope it ages, and wears OK with time. From what I’ve seen, though, I’d best be careful…I intend to place it on a wooden shelf under my TV panel, but apparently they still stain wood.

See, the problem is, I am an audio man, but I got to thinking last night, that possibly, just maybe, I am coming at this from entirely the wrong angle.

So, I’m going to ruminate with you today – chat about what I anticipate from it, and how it may fit in to my ecosystem.

First things first

I am starting to think, this HomePod, is oddly, a speaker second, but even so, I want to chat over the expectations I have for the HomePod.

For about the last year, nearly all my TV, and living room audio, has come via a pair of HomePod minis. For context, my living room is 5 metres square – so kind of ‘normal’ size, I guess, and they fill the room well enough.

The sound delivery from the stereo pair has been decent. They replaced a Sony soundbar. Day-to-day, the sound is good enough, and making them in to a pair, definitely worked in their favour.

Apple TV 4K and the HomePod minis is a good set-up, certainly for someone like me, knee-deep in the Apple ecosystem. This is my first question though, and something you can possibly help me with…will replacing the pair, with a single HomePod, end up being a backward step? Clearly, a pair gives me far better separation, but I am expecting the actual audio to be better from the new, full-fat HomePod…

HomePod was discontinued in 2021, with Apple at the time saying, “We are focusing our efforts on HomePod Mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod”. From what I can gather, it mostly flopped first time round because of the silly, high, inflated price, and the shortcomings of Siri. At least one of these problems has been addressed now then…

Mini marvels

Their decision to cut their losses on the OG HomePod, was probably a smart move. In launching the mini at $99, it did the work most people asked of it, but at a far more palatable price-point. It has been such a solid stalwart for them that Apple even showered them with some playful, new colours over the past year. Colours are clearly not allowed for grown-up, serious speaker owners, though – as HomePod still only comes in the two most basic, safe, boring colours.

Although $50 cheaper on release than it was the first time around, it is still higher priced than options from Amazon and Sonos, for their similar speakers.

Having not owned, but only seen, and heard the original, it looks as if Apple has certainly taken the easy option with the design of this latest version – evolve rather than re-design was clearly the brief.

As such, the mesh covered speaker looks much the same as it did a few years back, with only the top display now being larger, but still with only the two, printed, volume controls on it.

The fact Apple hasn’t added a fully functioning screen to the speaker leads me to believe they are working on a pure smart-home/home-theatre project. Well, that and the work Apple continues to put in with the eARC connector…something is coming, I’m sure of it.

Lessons learned

One thing that has changed on this speaker, is that the power cable is now removable, and inter-changeable. You can even use a non-proprietary lead if you want – it just won’t seat and seal quite as tightly, that’s all. So, unlike my Studio Display, I can now thread the cable wherever I want, and it’ll also make it easier to pack, move and store as well. It’s also way more sustainable – nice.

The internals sort of confuse me – less, but more.

So, there are two fewer tweeters, and microphones than before. Initially, I had thought that may’ve been done as a cost-saving exercise, to bring the HomePod in at $299. But, now I am thinking it is just that the tech has improved since the withdrawal of the last speaker. Obviously, those mics need to be decent, in order for Siri to perform at its ‘best’.

I’d imagine the new HomePod to outperform my minis when it comes to voice commands, as it has the later S7 chip, lifted from Apple Watch 7 – something I’ll want to check when it arrives.

One of my hands-down favourite features on my minis is Handoff – I use it so much, and that legacy has been carried-over, thankfully, to the new HomePod.

I think I heard somewhere, that on my iPhone 14 Pro, a HomePod icon will appear in the Dynamic Island. When I am near to it, I’ll be reminded that I can transfer the audio over to it, and control it from there too.

One thing I am keen to hear, will be the benefits of the claims of the ‘all new sensor system’. Supposedly, the smart-speaker will learn the room, and will adjust its acoustic tuning, automatically, and in real time.

Music makes the man

I know there are lots of voices out there bemoaning the fact, that you can’t ask the speaker to play directly from Spotify. It may make me the outcast, but I am an Apple Music boy anyway, and no, not just because I love everything Apple. The main reason behind that choice, is that I can then choose to play some of my more rare albums, that are not available to stream.

If you really do want to listen to Spotify, though, you can still hand it off, or use AirPlay. Not as convenient, I grant you, but a workaround, none-the-less. There are still no Bluetooth options or ports for a turntable etc, which is a bit of a bummer.

Speaking of Apple Music, I’ll be intrigued to hear how the new speaker copes with the nuances of the lossless & Spatial Audio tracks that are available on their platform.

Time to get smart

Hands up, I’m not massively invested in the smart home culture, but I do keep up to breast with what’s going on in that department.

Obviously, the HomePod will become a central Home Hub device, and will be the controlling brains of your Apple-based smart home.

This speaker, like the minis, can act as Matter Controllers for your home network – it is also Thread-enabled as well, so they are pretty future-proofed. Oddly, all this means that both the mini, and larger HomePod now offer the same smart home capabilities – the only difference being $200!

Apple has been keen to up their game with Siri, when it comes to smart home controls. At last, you can now set multiple timers, and even check on the temperature, and humidity in your room. I recently did a software update on my minis, and the feature works well.

Again, catching up with the competition, as from this spring, the new HomePod (and the HomePod Mini) will be able to listen for the sound of smoke and CO alarms going off in your home. Those alarms have a particular sound-design, and when HomePod detects them, an alert will be sent to your phone.

Other improvements to Apple’s smart home efforts, include, simpler, and more comprehensive automations, and a big bump in Find My applications, and uses.

HomePod can now be used to find your friends & family. Assuming the person you are looking for has opted in to share their data, then just by asking the speaker where such-and-such is, you’ll be given an approximate location.

Wrapping up

And this is where I think I was misguided in looking at HomePod as merely a speaker.

It is a home hub first, that doubles up as a speaker.

Apple is clearly moving in this direction, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m sure they have various irons in the smart home fire right now.

For me, and my luddite ways, it will act primarily as a speaker for my TV and living room entertainment needs. I can’t wait to get it up and running to let you have my thoughts. But is it for you?

If Apple is in your life, and home, and you like a decent speaker, with improved Siri voice commands, then yes, it may be for you. I’m expecting good things from the audio, based on the pair of minis I’ve been running this past year.

But even at $300, they are clearly not within everyone’s budget, and if you want that pair….

Hopefully, they’ll have sorted out the reliability issues that plagued the first model, and last for more than five years. I guess it will come down to the simple choice of what do you want most – a good sound, or a good speaker?

The new HomePod goes some way to scratching both itches, but it still comes at a price. Is that a price you are happy to pay, and where do you sit on Apple Music versus Spotify?

The first attempt at HomePod broke no records for sales. Is HomePod mini, and the various competition, still too tough for it to be a success the second time around?

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