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Apple HomePod 2: Everything we know so far and what we want to see
Apple was late to the smart speaker game, and when it finally made it, it botched its initial play. Don’t get us wrong — the 2018 HomePod still sounds amazing, but it launched at $349. That made it costly next to other high-end options, never mind the $100 Amazon Echo. And its features were so limited that you couldn’t even set multiple timers, much less use Siri commands for non-Apple music. Price cuts couldn’t save it from being discontinued in March 2021.
The HomePod Mini has enjoyed a better response, thanks to a lower price tag and improved software. Still, approaching two years since the Mini’s release, the Cupertino company may be nearly ready to take another crack at a larger smart speaker with the Apple HomePod 2.
Here’s everything we know so far about the HomePod 2 and a few things we want to see from Apple’s next smart speaker.
Will there be a HomePod 2?
Almost certainly. While Apple has remained tight-lipped as usual, well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that we can expect a new model, and Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman says the same. iOS 16 beta code contains a reference to an “AudioAccessory6,” which is notable since the original HomePod is “AudioAccessory1” and the Mini is “AudioAccessory5.” There may even be multiple new HomePods if rumors are to be believed (more on this later).
In any case, Apple needs a new HomePod if it intends to stay in the smart speaker game. The Mini isn’t built to be the centerpiece of an audio system, and rivals like Amazon, Google, and Sonos are continuing to evolve while already offering a diverse range of products at different price points.
When will the HomePod 2 release date be?
There are two alleged windows at the moment. Kuo is forecasting late 2022 or early 2023, while Gurman claims we’ll have to wait until early 2023. Since multiple models have been discussed, one, both, or neither of them could be right.
The existing HomePod launch record isn’t of much help. Apple tends to save most of its consumer hardware announcements for March and September events each year, shipping products the same month or a month later. So far, both HomePod launches have been outliers.
- HomePod (1st gen) — February 2018
- HomePod Mini — November 2020
What features and specs will the HomePod 2 have?
Kuo claims there “may not be much innovation in hardware design,” which implies a product similar to the Mini or original HomePod, just up-to-date with Apple’s latest specs. If so, expect a faster processor, better sound, Spatial Audio, and support for the Thread wireless standard, which the Mini already includes. Since Apple is a backer of the Matter universal smart home protocol, we’ll probably be getting Matter over Thread for wider platform compatibility.
Kuo’s statement is echoed by Gurman, who suggests the speaker’s main upgrades will be an S8 processor and (possibly) a new multi-touch display on top. The Mini is based on the S5 chip. The S8 will presumably debut in the Apple Watch Series 8.
Gurman has also hinted at development of a separate, TV-connected device merging HomePod, Apple TV, and FaceTime features, effectively turning your set into a giant smart display. That would be similar to Meta’s existing Portal TV, but (presumably) with the addition of a built-in speaker.
Most recently, the reporter has said Apple is considering a Mini refresh as well. No specs have been mentioned. It would make sense for it to switch to an S8 processor and multi-touch display to keep up with its bigger sibling.
What will the HomePod 2 price be?
A new full-sized HomePod will probably fall below the original’s $349 if Apple wants to avoid repeating history. The 2018 model was cut to $299 before its demise, so that seems like a plausible ceiling, though it could go higher owing to inflation.
Any Mini refresh will probably hover around the current model’s $99. It would be hard to justify going much higher, given tough competition at that price point from Amazon and Google.
If Apple is indeed planning a device that merges Apple TV and FaceTime functions into a speaker, it could easily cost over $300. The Apple TV 4K already starts at $179, never mind adding a speaker and camera system into the equation.
- HomePod (1st gen) — $399
- HomePod Mini — $99
Apple HomePod 2: What we want to see
There’s no getting around it — to break into serious market share, the HomePod 2 needs Spotify as a Siri voice control option, mirroring rival speakers from Amazon and Google. Spotify remains more popular than Apple Music, and while you can technically stream it on a HomePod via AirPlay, part of the point of a smart speaker is freedom from phones and tablets. It feels bizarre that you can set a service like Pandora as your voice default, but not the one most people want.
To break into serious market share, the HomePod 2 needs Spotify as a Siri voice control option.
The reason, of course, is competition. Apple and Spotify have been at odds for years, fighting over topics like in-app revenue sharing to the point that Spotify lodged a European Commission complaint in 2019. Spotify has even been dragging its heels on adding AirPlay 2 to its iOS app, despite there being no technical obstacles in the way.
Apple and Spotify may not make peace in time to help a HomePod 2 launch. Still, both parties probably recognize the benefits of dropping barriers.
More connection options
Regardless of form factor, the HomePod 2 could stand improved connectivity. The Mini lacks 3.5mm, HDMI, or optical ports, and even its Bluetooth radio is used for Apple’s Handoff feature, not direct music playback. That means you can only ever push music to it via AirPlay, i.e. by using other Apple devices.
A 3.5mm port is unlikely, since Apple treats this as a relic technology, but HDMI or optical would expand home theater possibilities, and be unavoidable on a TV-connected product.
Something we’re really interested in seeing is how Apple will implement Matter. It should, in theory, allow the HomePod 2 to connect with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but Apple is notoriously resistant to playing nice with third-party platforms.
Apple is shutting out a large portion of the market by offering zero Android support — you need an iPhone or iPad for HomePod setup. Sure, those devices are popular in the US and Canada, but they’re not omnipresent, and there are many countries where Android reigns supreme.
Apple is of course trying to lock current customers into its ecosystem, but it could potentially rope in new ones if they got a taste of it through a smart speaker. The difficulty would be in creating an Android-compatible setup method. At the moment you need the Apple Home app for iOS, which interweaves Siri, HomeKit, and your Apple ID. The obstacles aren’t insurmountable, yet it’s doubtful that Apple is willing to alter this arrangement when it knows many Android users will choose Alexa- or Google-based speakers anyway.
A more capable Siri
Siri is the worst of the big three voice assistants. That sounds harsh, but while Siri is functional and slowly improving, it’s not as responsive or versatile as its rivals. Many knowledge questions result in a web link rather than a vocal answer, and it just can’t compare with Google Assistant in understanding context, never mind supporting multiple commands in the same sentence (e.g. “Set the volume to five and play NPR radio”).
To be useful as the centerpiece of a smart home, a speaker has to support the services people use, and not treat third parties like some sort of intruder.
Part of the explanation lies in Apple’s strict privacy policies. Compared to other companies, Apple doesn’t collect much data about its users or their voice activity. So while the company touts its machine learning, it’s tough for Siri to evolve when there’s less data to learn from.
Siri also links with fewer outside apps and services, which is where Apple deserves a little blame. To be useful as the centerpiece of a smart home, a speaker has to support the services people use, and not treat third parties like some sort of intruder. Spotify is, as we said, the biggest gap on HomePods, but there are others, and it’s going to be a long time before Siri can catch up to the huge volume of Alexa skills, if ever.
While we’re at it, Apple should implement alternate or fully custom wake words. “Hey Siri” works well enough, but accidental triggers do happen, and some people are actually named Siri.
The HomePod Mini contains an unused temperature and humidity sensor. It stands to reason, then, that Apple might want an active sensor in the HomePod 2, so people who have appliances like fans and dehumidifiers can set up HomeKit automations without needing separate sensor units.
Another nice addition would be an Echo-style motion sensor. That would mostly be useful for turning on lights when you enter a room, but technically speaking, the possibilities would be limited only by your imagination.
Which upgrade would you want most on a HomePod 2?
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