If you were to ask someone back in 2001, what type of products “Apple” made, they would likely say computers. Apple still makes computes, but today they are not primarily known for their computers. That is not to say that their computers are not iconic, and often sought after, but it is not their defining product. Instead, they are known for their consumer electronics, primarily the iPhone. Apple’s latest product is also a consumer electronic, but it is not portable. The new product is called the HomePod.
The HomePod is first, and foremost, a music speaker. The HomePod is not just any music speaker, it has smarts. The smarts that is within the HomePod are two-fold. The first bit of smarts within the HomePod is computational in nature. The HomePod has an A8 processor to do its calculations. This is the same processor that is in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and sixth-generation iPod Touch. This is a ton of processing power, particularly just for within a Music Speaker. The A8 is capable of handling all of the processing necessary to be able to create the best sound possible. The second bit of smarts, is Apple’s assistant, Siri. The latter will be covered in a bit. First let us look at how the HomePod sounds.
I am no audio engineer, nor do I ever espouse to being one. The only qualifications I have for being a sound engineer is adjusting the volume on my headphones or my HomePod. Along with not being an audio engineer, it is not easy to describe how a speaker sounds using text. I could do an audio clip, but the fidelity that I would be able to provide is nothing like hearing it in person. Even with all of those caveats, I will attempt to describe, as best as I can via text, how the HomePod sounds.
One of the areas in which the HomePod differs from traditional speakers is when it comes to the way the output sounds. With traditional speakers, depending on where you place them, you will not get sound all throughout the room. This is because most speakers are directional in nature, and while you can hear some sound from the sides, or behind, the speaker, it will likely be distorted. This is not the case with the HomePod.
The HomePod is capable of producing sound that can be clearly heard from nearly all parts of a room. This is possible through the computational audio mechanisms as well as the arrangement of the tweeters, since they go all around the HomePod. The ability to have clear sound throughout an entire room means that if you are having a party, everyone should be able to hear the music without any issue, which is always a good thing.
To me the HomePod produces great sound. It is by no means perfect, but it is the best speaker that I have heard. The sound is generated the one woofer, which points up from the top of the HomePod. The woofer works with the seven tweeters, which are located towards the bottom of the HomePod. The tweeters point outwards, which allows the sound to fill a room.
The HomePod is not your typical speaker. This is because the A8 Processor uses “computational audio”. Computational audio is best used with the faster than real-time streaming to analyze the audio to create a better sound. Along with analyzing the sound, the HomePod also listens to the reverberation from the current audio to adjust the output with the feedback that it hears. The HomePod uses the response time to determine how close objects are to the HomePod. The HomePod will do its best to fill the entire room with sound. With control over the tweeters, the HomePod can reduce the echo that other speakers may produce by tuning the sound coming out of each of the tweeters to be able to reduce the echo, which only adds to better sound.
While the HomePod is primarily a speaker, there are some smarts within it. The smarts are provided by Apple’s voice assistant, Siri. While Siri is available on all of Apple’s iOS devices, as well as macOS, Siri on the HomePod has a smaller subset of functions of all of Siri’s capabilities. In particular, you can ask the HomePod to play music, add items to notes, and you can even send messages to individuals, if you opt to do so.
When you ask Siri to do something on an iOS device, you have to be in close proximity of the device for Siri to hear you. This is definitely not the case with the HomePod. The HomePod has six far-field microphones that are designed to hear you no matter how loud the audio that is playing out of the HomePod actually is. During my testing, I was actually two rooms away and HomePod heard me without any difficulty and I did not have to raise my voice too much to get it to hear me. This is absolutely crucial for any smart speaker to be useful.
When you do use the trigger phrase, “Hey Siri” all of your iOS devices, and the HomePod, will have a very quick conversation to determine which one of your devices will handle your request. One thing that must be done for this to occur, as anticipated, is to have Bluetooth enabled on all of your iOS devices. For those with an Apple Watch, it is likely that Bluetooth would already be enabled on your iPhone. However, if you have another iOS device, like an iPod or iPod Touch, it is possible that you do not need Bluetooth so it will be off.
There are a lot of things you can do with Siri on the HomePod, but a new one has been added. You can say “Hey Siri, play some news”. The HomePod will then begin to play NPR News. There are a few other options for news. You can get news from CNN, the Washington Post, or even Fox News; depending on your preference.
Siri can perform many of the same queries as other iOS-based devices, but there are some that the HomePod cannot do. One of these is ride booking, or identifying the currently playing movie.
HomePod and HomeKit
The HomePod is a HomeKit Hub, which allows anyone within your home to control any of your HomeKit-enabled accessories that are configured in the Home app. and due to its stationary nature may actually be the ideal HomeKit Hub. This is because the HomePod can provide auditory feedback to any request that you give.
There are a couple of limitations to using Siri to adjust your HomeKit accessories. If you have things like a garage door opener or smart lock configured, you can use the HomePod to close or engage the locking mechanism. However, you cannot do the opposite, at least not without confirmation on an iPhone. This is a security mechanism because Apple does not think it should be possible for anyone to come up to your door and say “Hey Siri and have the garage door open.
I only have a couple of lights configured within HomeKit, so my testing on this is limited. However, during my testing it does seem as though the HomePod responds much faster than when the Apple TV was the primary Home Hub, and when I would request Siri turn off my lights from my iPhone or Apple Watch.
There is a simple way to find all of the HomeKit Hubs that are in your home. Although the steps are simple, it can be somewhat hidden. To find all of your HomeKit hubs, perform the following:
- Open the Home app on your iOS device
- Tap on the arrow icon in the upper left corner. You should see a list of Home Hubs
There are only two steps, but finding it is not super easy. Once you do click on the arrow, it should list all of your HomeKit Hubs. The photo below shows the three that I have, my HomePod, which is the “connected” one and the two standby hubs, which are both Apple TVs. One is my Apple TV 4K and the other is my development Apple TV.
The HomePod will automatically be the primary HomeKit hub, if there are more than one hubs in a home. I cannot say for certain, but my guess as to why this is the case is because the HomePod can provide audio feedback and is constantly powered. Any other home hubs you have can still be used, but will say “Standby”.
While using Siri on the HomePod is very helpful and useful, the best thing to play on the HomePod is music. Let us look at that now.
One of the most common functions on the HomePod, and what the HomePod is designed for, is to play music. The HomePod works best if you subscribe to Apple Music. If you do subscribe to Apple Music, you can play any of the 45 million songs available on Apple Music. You can specify an artist, an album, or even a playlist. Playlists are not limited to just those provided by Apple. Playlists can be from your own music library. Your playlists are available because by subscribing to Apple Music the music from your iTunes Library is automatically matched or, if it is not in the Apple Music catalog, it is uploaded to Apple’s servers so it is available from any of your devices.
While third-party audio services are not natively supported on the HomePod, you can use Apple’s AirPlay protocol to send any audio from your iOS devices, or Mac, to the HomePod. There will be more on that in a bit.
I tested the ability to play anything from your library. I have a playlist titled “Elton John”. I asked the HomePod to play this and it was able to find this without any issues and it played the songs on that playlist. I also tested playing something that it is not in the Apple Music Library. I have a recording of a The Ted Talk $8 Billion iPod, by Rob Reid. I attempted to play it by saying “Hey Sir, Play $8 Billion iPod”. It did not play initially. This is because the actual title in my library is “$8 Billion iPod (Copyright Math)”. Once I gave the entire title, it worked as I initially expected. Despite these successes, there were a couple of times when things did not work as expected.
Specifically, I asked the HomePod to play “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves. The HomePod replied, “I couldn’t find ‘Golden Hour’ on Apple Music or in your library”. This is a bit odd, considering that I have been playing a couple of the songs from the album on repeat for the last few days, so I knew it was available.
During my testing the album “Golden Hour” was only available for pre-order, and there is a song by the name of “Golden Hour” on the album. I tried the same thing on my iPhone and got the following response:
I suspect that this is what Siri on the HomePod was also transcribing it to. Since there is no way to see what the HomePod is interpreting requests as, it make it heard to determine. If I said “Hey Siri, play the Golden Hour album by Kacey Musgraves”, it got it without a problem. I am thinking that the reason it was able to get it was because I specified “Kacey Musgraves” and it was able to translate “gold an hour” to “Golden Hour”. But this is simply a guess. Now, let us move on to other ways you can control music on the HomePod.
The primary interaction method for the HomePod is your voice. You can use the trigger phrase “Hey Siri” to adjust the volume, amongst other things. While asking Siri to do things from time to time is fine. But, if you are really enjoying the music using Siri might not be the best experience. Luckily, there is an option for using your iOS device to control the HomePod. There are two locations that you can control the HomePod. The first is in Control Center, and the second is in the Music app.
In order to control a HomePod using Control Center, perform the following:
- Bring up Control Center
- Tap and hold on the “Now Playing” section
- Scroll down to the HomePod you want to control
- Tap on the HomePod you want to control.
Here you can adjust the volume, play and pause, and jump forward or backwards. In order to control the HomePod via the Music app perform the following:
- Open the Music app
- Tap on the “AirPlay” icon
- Scroll to the HomePod
- Tap on the HomePod to connect it
- Tap in the background to close the AirPlay selection window
With the Music app, you can control using the same functions as within Control Center, but you can also choose any song from your music library and you can play any of the songs that you want. Additionally, you can also put any songs in the “up next” queue, so you can create the perfect playlist for your HomePod. This is perfect for parties, or in any situation where you want to play a list of music without having to constantly adjust it.
Once you have performed the steps above, you can now play just about anything to the HomePod. When you do this, you are not using AirPlay to send the music over, instead the HomePod is playing the music directly, and the Music app is acting just like a remote.
There is one specific thing to remember when trying to control music via your iOS device, you cannot connect to the Ho,prod without being on the same wireless network. Having Bluetooth enabled is not enough. You can control who is able to connect to you HomrPod. This is done via the home app. To set limitations on the HomePod perform the following steps:
- Open the home app.
- Tap on the arrow in the upper left corner.
- Under speakers, select “Allow Speaker Access”.
Here you can choose what type of access to allow. The options are, “Everyone”, “Anyone On The Same Network” or “Only People Sharing This Home”. You can also require a password to be able to connect to the HomePod. Enabling a password provides a second layer of authentication. Enabling a password will allow anyone to see the speaker, but they would need the password to connect to it. The password option is only available with the first two options, “Everyone” and “Anyone On The Same Network”.
Even though the Music app is controlling music, you can play any other audio on your iOS device. When you do this, the new audio will take over for the music that was previously playing on the HomePod.
This concludes the first half of my HomePod review. Keep your eye out for the second half, which will cover the HomePod and Apple TV, upcoming features, updating the HomePod, and feature requests.