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Apple

Apple’s “Hi, Speed” Event Recap

Apple had their “Hi, Speed” event today and it had a lot in a short amount of time. Apple only covered two items today, HomePod and iPhone. Let us look at each in turn starting with the HomePod.

HomePod

The HomePod is Apple’s smart speaker for the home. Back in 2017, Apple introduced the HomePod and released it in February of 2018. Since then, the speaker itself has not changed. Today, there is a new addition to the HomePod line, the HomePod Mini.

The HomePod Mini is a much smaller version of the HomePod. It stands at 3.3 inches high and 3.9 inches wide. This much smaller size means that the weight has also been significantly reduced. The HomePod mini is now 0.76 pounds versus the larger HomePod size of 5.5 pounds. The physical characteristics are not the only thing to change. The internals have changed as well.

The larger HomePod has 7 tweeters, and you cannot fit 7 tweeters in the small size of the HomePod mini. Instead, there are two tweeters with a new “acoustic waveguide”, which will direct the sound where it needs to go. The new HomePod Mini is powered by Apple’s S5 chip. The same one that powers the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series 5. This also includes the U1 chip, which will help detect the proximity of your iPhone.

What the U1 chip will do is allow you to move throughout your home and your audio can follow wherever you are. This means that you can go about doing housework without needing to carry around anything with you. The

There is also a new feature to the HomePod called Intercom. Intercom is a way of being able to address all of the HomePods in a home so you can get everyone’s attention. When someone hears an Intercom message, they can also respond back. The Intercom feature is not limited to HomePods. It can also work with iPhones as well as CarPlay devices. Additionally, you can address an individual room with an Intercom message.

Ultimately, the much smaller package comes with a smaller price tag as well. The new HomePod mini is $99 and comes in Space Gray or White. It will be available for pre-order starting on November 6th, with delivery the week of November 16th. Next, let us look at the iPhone.

iPhone

Apple unveiled a slew of iPhones, four in total. These are the iPhone 12 Mini, the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Let us look at these in two groups, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. Before we do that, let us look at the commonalities between all of the models.

iPhone 12 Common Features

Even though Apple introduced four new iPhones, within two different groups, there are some commonalities between all of the iPhone 12 models.

Internals

All of the iPhones have the A14 Bionic. This processor has six cores, a faster neural engine, and is built on a 5 nanometer process. According to Apple:

the A14 Bionic features a 16-core Neural Engine — for an 80 percent increase in performance — that is capable of completing 11 trillion operations per second, enabling improved performance on even the most intense ML models.

5G Connectivity

The biggest among the commonalities is the inclusion of 5G. All four models have 5G cellular radios within them, and in the U.S. the millimeter-wave variant of 5G will be supported. 5G will allow faster downloads and uploads. This includes up to 4Gbps download and 200Mbps upload. These are in ideal conditions, which means you will likely see speeds a bit slower than the ideal ones.

5G connectivity will use more battery, so if you do not need the speed, your iPhone 12 will automatically switch to LTE in order to save battery.

Cameras

The ubiquity of smartphones means that everybody has the potential to take pictures. One of the more common types of photos taken is the selfie. While some, myself included, hate taking selfies, there is a large contingent of people who like taking them. The entire iPhone 12 line has a new TrueDepth sensor array, including the front camera. With this new sensor comes a new option, the ability to take Night Mode selfies.

The new front camera will allow better low-light shots so you can take good selfies even if you are in a low-light area. To go along with this new night mode selfie option, you can now also take time lapse pictures and video with Night Mode enabled.

There are more changes with the cameras, but those will be covered in a bit.

Environmental Impact

Even though Apple introduced four new iPhones, within two different groups, there are some commonalities between all of them. The biggest among them is the inclusion of 5G. All four models have 5G cellular radios within them, and in the U.S. the millimeter-wave variant of 5G will be supported. All of the iPhones have the A14 Bionic. This processor has six cores, a faster neural engine, and is built on a 5 nanometer process, which allows for better efficiency of battery.

One of the areas where Apple is attempting to help the environment is by reducing waste. One way to do that is to not include some items in the box. Much like the Apple Watch, the iPhone 12 line will not include a power brick within the box. Furthermore, there will no longer be headphones included in the box. All of this means that the iPhone 12 boxes should be significantly smaller and will allow more to be packed onto a pallet, which should reduce fuel consumption overall.

A charging cable is still included in the box. But this has changed slightly. In the box will be a USB-C to lightning cable. This means that you will need to get a USB-C power brick, if you do not have one, or you can use wireless charging. Which all of the iPhone 12 models include.

The most interacted item on an iPhone is the screen. All of the iPhones have some similarities in their screen. All of the iPhone 12 models will have an HDR display that has a Wide P3 color gamut and supports True Tone.One of the experiences that all iPhone owners will likely eventually have is when they drop their phone and the glass breaks. Apple has made the glass a bit tougher over the years, but this year is a larger jump in protection with the new Ceramic Shield.

Ceramic Shield

The Ceramic Shield is a new feature that you will not see directly, as it is it built into the glass on the iPhone 12 line. This protective coating is designed to make the glass four times more resistant to breaking. This means that if you accidentally drop your iPhone it is less likely to have the glass break. According to Apple,

the Ceramic Shield front cover, which goes beyond glass by adding a new high temperature crystallization step that grows nano-ceramic crystals within the glass matrix, increases drop performance by 4x.

Whether or not the Ceramic Shield will indeed limit breaking of the front glass has yet to be seen, but it could prove interesting and a great enhancement. That concludes all of the common features, next let us turn to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.

iPhone 12/iPhone 12 mini

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini are essentially the same phone, except for the size. The iPhone mini has a 5.4-inch screen with a resolution of 2340-by-1080 pixels. Whereas the iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch screen with a 2532-by-1170 pixel screen. Both models come in three storage options: 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB.

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have an aluminum shell that will be pretty sturdy. The back will continue to be glass and, as mentioned above, the front will be the Ceramic Shield. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will come in a variety of colors, let us look at those now.

Colors

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will be available in five colors. These colors are:

  • Black
  • White
  • (PRODUCT)RED
  • Green
  • Blue

The iPhone 12 mini’s price depends on your carrier. There is a $30 instant discount for AT&T and Verizon subscribers. Here is the pricing for AT&T and Verizon for the iPhone 12 mini/iPhone 12:

  • 64GB is $699/$799
  • 128GB is $749/$849
  • 256GB is $849/$949

Pricing for T-Mobile, Sprint, or Sim-Free is $30 more.

  • 64GB is $729/$829
  • 128GB is $779/$879
  • 256GB is $879/$979

The 6.1-inch iPhone 12 will be available for pre-order this Friday, October 16th and will begin arriving on October 23rd. The iPhone 12 mini will be available for pre-order on November 6th, and will begin arriving on November 13th.

iPhone 12 Pro/iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are very similar in features. The only difference between the two models is some features on the cameras. Before we dive into the differences in cameras, let us look at a new feature to the iPhone 12 Pro line, LiDAR.

LiDAR

LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, is used to measure the distance from one object to another. This is done by measuring the amount of time taken for the reflection of a light to bounce back to the source. LiDAR is not new to Apple products, as the 4th Generation 12.9-inch, and 2nd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro models are equipped with it. However, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the first iPhones to have the technology.

LiDAR is used heavily with Augmented Reality and allows you to map out a scene in extensive detail. You can then take this data and use it to build an Augmented Reality scene. Having LiDAR on the iPhone 12 Pro models will allow the technology to be used more heavily within the iOS ecosystem. Next, let us look at the other changes regarding the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Cameras.

iPhone 12 Pro/iPhone 12 Pro Max Cameras

One of the biggest uses of any iPhone is its camera. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max have similar cameras, but they are different. To quote Apple:

iPhone 12 Pro features the new seven-element lens Wide camera with an ƒ/1.6 aperture, the fastest ever on an iPhone, for 27 percent improved low-light performance in photo and video; the Ultra Wide camera with a 120-degree field of view, perfect for capturing more scene in tight spots or epic landscapes; and a 52 mm focal length Telephoto camera, great for framing portraits, bringing the optical zoom range to 4x.

iPhone 12 Pro Max takes the pro camera experience even further. The new ƒ/1.6 aperture Wide camera boasts a 47 percent larger sensor with 1.7μm pixels for a massive 87 percent improvement in low-light conditions. It also includes the expansive Ultra Wide camera and a 65 mm focal length Telephoto camera for increased flexibility with closer shots and tighter crops. Combined, this system offers 5x optical zoom range.

Both of the iPhone 12 Pro models can shoot photos in a few feature called Apple ProRaw. Apple ProRaw is a way of taking RAW photos, like you would on a non-smartphone camera, and combine it with Apple’s Machine Learning to provide a combination of the two technologies.

The two iPhone 12 Pro models have the same camera setup of three lenses of Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto lenses. The Ultra Wide lens features an ƒ/2.4 aperture with a 120° field of view and the Wide lens has an ƒ/1.6 aperture.

Here is a breakdown of the differences between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro, in terms of camera features. These will be in the format of iPhone 12 Pro/iPhone 12 Pro Max.

  • Telephoto lens: ƒ/2.0 aperture ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Optical Zoom in: 2x/2.5x
  • Optical Zoom out: 2x/2x
  • Optical Zoom Range: 4x/5x
  • Digital Zoom: 10x/12x

The above differences are for still pictures. There are some variations between the two when it comes to video as well. The iPhone 12 Pro has a digital zoom up to 6x for video, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max has up to 7x digital zoom for video.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max wide camera sensor has exclusive feature to it, Sensor-shift optical image stabilization. The Sensor-shift optical image stabilization will allow minor vibrations to be compensated for, so you will not get blurry and bouncy images when using the Wide sensor.

One of the differences for the iPhone 12 Pro models, as compared to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, is the back and shell. The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro max have a Textured matte glass back and stainless steel design. The stainless steel edges should allow the color iPhone you choose to really shine. Speaking of colors, let us take a look at the options.

Colors

Similar to the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available in four colors. These colors are:

  • Silver
  • Graphite
  • Gold
  • Pacific Blue

The iPhone 12 Pro models will come in three different storage options, 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. The base storage has been doubled from last year. Unlike the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max pricing is a bit simpler. The base price remains unchanged from last year, however, the higher storage options have actually been reduced in price. The pricing for the iPhone 12 Pro/iPhone 12 Pro Max is:

  • 128GB is $999/$1099
  • 128GB is $1099/$1199
  • 256GB is $1299/$1399

The 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro will be available for pre-order this Friday, October 16th and will begin arriving on October 23rd. The 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available for pre-order on November 6th, and will begin arriving on November 13th.

Let us turn to one additional thing that is new, and that is one last item that is common to all of the iPhone 12 models, MagSafe.

MagSafe

There is one thing that is featured on all of the new iPhones and that is a new MagSafe connector. This connector allows you to more easily position your iPhone on a wireless charger, meaning that you will be able to get an efficient charge. MagSafe is built into all of the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models. To go along with this is a new set of cases. There are cases for each size in a variety of colors. These colors are:

  • Black
  • Clear
  • Cyprus Green
  • Deep Navy
  • Kumquat
  • Pink Citrus
  • Plum
  • PRODUCT(RED)
  • White

These will be available for $49 each. Sometimes you want to travel with as few things as possible. There is a new accessory that allows you to leave your wallet at home, and that is the new “iPhone Leather Wallet with MagSafe”. These leather additions have a MagSafe connector on the back of them and allow you to put the important items in the wallet and attach it to the back of your iPhone. These wallets will come in four colors:

  • Baltic Blue
  • California Poppy
  • Saddle Brown
  • Black

Each of these Leather Wallets will be $59. While Apple is producing MagSafe accessories, other manufacturers are not being locked out. They are free to create new accessories that will work with the MagSafe charger on the iPhones 12 line.

The image at the top of this section is called a MagSafe Duo. There is no release date, nor pricing on this, but it should be able to charge both an iPhone as well as an Apple Watch.

Older iPhones

It is not uncommon for Apple to keep older iPhone models around, however they have not done so the last few years. This year is an exception to that. The iPhone XR, and iPhone 11 will remain in the lineup of iPhones, but at new prices.

The iPhone XR is still available in its six colors:

  • White
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • Coral
  • (PRODUCT)RED

It is still available in two sizes, 64GB or 128GB. The 64GB model is $499 and the 128GB model is $549.

Similarly, the iPhone 11 is still available in its six colors:

  • White
  • Black
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Purple
  • (PRODUCT)RED

The iPhone 11 is also still available in its three storage sizes, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB. The prices for each is $599, $649, and $749 respectively.

The iPhone SE is still $399 for the 64GB model, and $449 for the 128GB model, and $549 for the 256GB model. It is still available in the same three colors, White, Black, and (PRODUCT)Red.

Closing Thoughts

The new iPhones are great additions to the existing lineup. The fact that Apple kept the older models around will be good for those who may not want, or be able to afford, the latest technology but still may want a great phone. The fact that the only changes are the prices means that you can still get your favorite colors.

If you do want the latest iPhone technology but do not want a large phone, the new iPhone 12 mini may be a great solution for you. The iPhone 12 mini is identical to the iPhone 12, except for the screen size. The 5.4-inch screen should be a nice happy medium between the iPhone SE, which has a 4.7-inch screen, and the iPhone XS, which had a 5.8 inch screen.

The iPhone 12 is a solid upgrade to the iPhone 11, with the new A14 processor and new night mode selfie options will be great updates for everyone. The iPhone 12 Pro line has the new LiDAR sensor as well as the new Apple ProRaw feature. Although ApplePro Raw will not be available until later this year.

The new HomePod mini should be great addition to the HomePod line, and the $99 price tag should allow you to add HomePods in more rooms of your home.

The 6.1-inch iPhone 12 and the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro are available for pre-order this Friday, October 16th. The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, and HomePod mini will be available for pre-order on November 6th.

Source: iPhone 12 & iPhone 12 mini, HomePod mini, iPhone 12 Pro & iPhone 12 Pro Max

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Apple HomePod

Additional HomePod Availability

Apple has announced that the HomePod will go on sale in Greater China, including Hong Kong, this Friday, January 18th, 2019.

The HomePod supports AirPlay 2, which allows applications to send music to the HomePod. There are many apps available that can send their audio to the HomePod. Specifically in Greater China there are some apps available including:

  • QQ Music
  • DeDao
  • iHuman Story
  • Dragonfly FM and Penguin FM in mainland China
  • Spotify
  • KKBOX
  • JOOX
  • Podcasts (in Hong Kong)

These are just some of the apps available for use with the HomePod. Besides these audio apps, there are also China specific programs available. One is called the “New Artist of the Week”

The New Artist of the Week”. This program provides new talent with a prominent platform across greater China for their work to be discovered. Since launching in 2015, Apple Music has featured the debut releases of popular new artists coming from all over Asia, with music spanning a wide variety of genres and languages. New artists from mainland China include Corsak, Chace, Lucie Cheung, Gong, Dean Ting and Lu Xianghui. Popular playlists include The A-List International Pop, Today’s Hits, Best of the Week, The A-List Mandopop and Mandopop Replay, containing recent Mandopop hits from the past five years.

The HomePod will be available for HK$2799 or RMB 2799 and is available in both white and space gray. AppleCare+ is available for the HomePod for HK$349 or RMB 329.

HomePod is currently available in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain. HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s or later, iPad Pro, iPad Air or later, iPad mini 2 or later, or iPod touch (6th generation).

Source Apple
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Apple Apple TV HomeKit HomePod

HomePod Review: AirPlay, Apple TV, and Additional Thoughts

This is part two of my HomePod Review. You can read the first part that covers the Sound, Siri, and Songs.

AirPlay and Bluetooth

The HomePod does not have any physical input mechanism. This means no line-in jack, and it cannot connect via USB. The only way to get audio to the HomePod is through AirPlay, Apple’s propriety protocol. Despite AirPlay being propriety, Apple does make it available for third-party companies to use for connecting to AirPlay-enabled devices.

The HomePod does have a Bluetooth 5.0 chipset inside it, but it cannot be used as a Bluetooth speaker. The Bluetooth is only used for the initial setup and communication between iOS devices for when the trigger phrase “Hey Siri” is used. It would be a nice addition if the HomePod could just be used as a Bluetooth speaker for non-AirPlay devices, but I do not foresee this as being a feature that Apple will include at any point. If there was no AirPlay, then it would be a no-brainer, but in a world with AirPlay it is not likely to occur because this provides an advantage for Apple allows them to control the ecosystem.

HomePod and Apple TV

One of the functions of the HomePod is to act as an AirPlay destination. One possible AirPlay source is the Apple TV. Most people, when they use their Apple TV, use the speakers on their TV or if their TV is capable, a sound bar.

There are those that do use an even more involved setup, like a receiver, and surround sound speaker system. Even with this setup being an option for many, it can be complicated to setup and maintain for some. Setting the HomePod as the audio output from an Apple TV is simple.

  1. Wake up the Apple TV.
  2. Begin playing some media.
  3. Swipe down on the Siri Remote Trackpad.
  4. Select the HomePod

 

That is all it takes to connect an Apple TV to a HomePod. It does not take many steps and it is possible for anyone to be able to connect an Apple TV to a HomePod. There is an alternative method. You can perform the following:

  1. Wake the Apple TV.
  2. Navigate to Settings.
  3. Scroll down to “Video and Audio”.
  4. Click on “Video and Audio”.
  5. Scroll down to audio output.
  6. Click on “Audio Output”.
  7. Select the HomePod you want to use an an output.

This second method allows you to set the HomePod as the audio source before you begin playing audio. You can also select the output while playing music as well. This can be done by selecting the device name in the upper left, clicking, and you will get a list of all of the AirPlay destinations, including the HomePod.

HomePod and Apple TV Issues

I did notice one thing that seems to be a bit strange and does not seem right, but I do not know if there is a fix for it. Whenever I set the HomePod as the AirPlay destination for my Apple TV, I always have to turn the volume way up on the HomePod in order to be able to hear anything. This really is not a big problem, but it does seem a bit odd. This only occurs when playing video and if the HomePod is set as the output for the Apple TV. Now, if I switched the HomePod to play music, even from the Apple TV, the sound would be super loud. Just like commercials used to get on television before rules were changed so the commercials could not be louder. I know why this occurs, it is because the HomePod is playing the music natively from the HomePod and is not getting the audio from another source. The whole situation just seems strange, considering that the HomePod is receiving audio and can intuit the source, it should be able to accommodate for that and have the audio be louder.

It could be that this is just due to the current limitations of AirPlay and may be changing when AirPlay 2 arrives. In particular, because AirPlay 2 will buffer audio as fast as you can provide it, so there may be some adjustments possible there. It is also possible that this may be an enhancement that may be coming to a future, and yet unknown, version of AirPlay.

Features to Come

When Apple announced the HomePod at WWDC 2017, they indicated that multiple HomePods could be used within a single room to make the sound even better. This would be available through a protocol called, AirPlay 2. AirPlay 2 has some significant benefits over AirPlay. The biggest of the benefits is “faster than real time” audio transmission. When AirPlay 2 is available on the HomePod, this means that you will be able to use AirPlay to send long form audio to the HomePod, and it will continue to play even if the original source is no longer in range.

A second feature that is available with AirPlay 2 is the ability to use multiple HomePods as a stereo pair. This would allow even better sound because the two HomePods can work in unison to produce the best sound for the room.

Also with AirPlay 2, you can control multiple HomePods from the same device and play different audio on each, or play the same audio on all of the speakers simultaneously. Again, because the HomePods would be communicating and the audio could be synchronized across all of the HomePods.

AirPlay 2 is expected to be released later this year. I am sure that Apple had hoped to have it released when the HomePod shipped, but that was not the case. AirPlay 2 will be available through a firmware update on the HomePod, let us look at how to update the HomePod next.

Updating the HomePod

Even though there have not been any updates to the HomePod, when there is an update, it will be a straight-forward task. To see the current firmware version and check for updates, perform the following:

  1. Open the Home App.
  2. Tap the Arrow icon in the upper left corner.
  3. Scroll down to Speakers.
  4. Tap on Software Update.

Here you will have one option, “Install Updates Automatically”. By default, this option is enabled. You can turn it off, if desired. When you bring up this screen it will check for any HomePod update. If there is no update, the current version and build will be shown. As of this writing the latest firmware is 11.2.5 (15D59). This is the version that the HomePod shipped with. If there is an update, you will have an option to update the firmware.

The Physical Specs

When you look at speakers that generate good sound, it is entirely possible that the speaker would be quite large. If you happen to only look at photos of the HomePod it is possible that you might presume that the actual device is quite large. However, the HomePod is actually rather small. Specifically, it is 6.8 inches tall, and is only 5.6 inches around. Even with its diminutive size is shockingly heavy at 5.5 pounds.

When you remove the HomePod from its box, it is a lot heavier than you might think. Even though five and half pounds may not seem like much, and in reality it is not, it is a bit heavier than expected. This should not be an issue for most, since in most cases the HomePod will remain in a single place during its usage, but it is something to be cognizant of.

There is a single cable for the HomePod, that is the power cord. Unlike most other consumer devices, the cord on the HomePod is actually wrapped in a cloth. This is so the HomePod is more aesthetically pleasing and can be more easily hidden.

Feature Requests

Even with the HomePod having great sound, there is still one big feature that would be nice to have, which could be handled via software. That feature is the ability to tune the amount of bass. I love my Beats Solo 3 Wireless headphones, and while Beats tend to be heavy on the bass, the amount of bass coming out of the HomePod is a bit much for some songs.

You can reduce some of the bass by using the “Sound Check” feature within the HomePod settings, but this feature only makes all of the songs have the same volume, as per this Apple Support article. This can help a bit, but having finer control over the bass would be nice. I do not think that having a full blown equalizer would be beneficial, since the HomePod is dynamically tuning itself based upon the room and the song. This means that any equalizer settings that you would manually set would likely ruin, and not enhance, the sound being generated.

Trigger Phrase

I completely understand and recognize the fact that Siri is a brand that Apple wants to keep consistent across all of its products. In doing so, if you say the trigger word, “Hey Siri” all of your iOS devices, as well as any HomePods will all hear you. Each of the devices will then have a “discussion” and one of the devices will be the one that responds to you. Which one responds is based upon a couple of different factors; how recently you used the device, and which ones are within range. Given the far-field voice recognition capabilities of the HomePod, it is likely to win more often.

While using the same trigger phrase created a consistent experience and makes it easier for those accustom to using Siri on their iOS devices, having all of your devices make sound when you say “Hey Siri”, can be bothersome. What I would like to see is the HomePod get its own trigger phrase, or at least an option for a different trigger phrase.

It could be something like “Hey HomePod”, or “Hey Speaker”, or “Hey Assistant”, or something similar. could even be based upon the current location of the HomePod. For instance, if your HomePod is in the living room, you could say something like “Hey Living Room, play this song.”

I understand that this could ultimately cause confusion for users and result in a non-optimal experience, it would provide an option for those users who decide to enable it to be able to target a specific device.

Even though I would like to see this, I honestly do not see Apple creating a distinct phrase for the HomePod, mostly because it would bifurcate the “Siri” platform. Even though it might do so, it would be better than having four different devices going off all at once when I want to ask the HomePod to do something.

Beta Request

Apple is constantly working on new features for the HomePod. It would be nice to have the HomePod be on the same version as iOS betas. The HomePod is a brand new product, so it is possible that Apple will allow the HomePod to be on beta versions. There is one potential problem with having a HomePod on a beta. It is the same issue with the Apple TV 4K.

There is no user accessible port, so if a beta installation were to fail, the only people who would be able to repair the device is Apple themselves. Apple has been pretty good with the updates, but the HomePod is the newest device and there could be some edge cases where things do not work as expected. It is entirely possible that this is already going to happen with the next version of iOS, but we are not at that point yet.

The Future of HomePod

Even though the HomePod has recently been released, there is no issue with thinking about its future. When Apple announced the HomePod back in June of 2017, they indicated that indicated that multi-speaker AirPlay would be released at the release of the HomePod.

With the HomePod having an A8 Processor, it is likely that the A8 will be the base for iOS for at least a couple more years. It is also possible that the HomePod will still be updated to the latest version of iOS even if iPhone 6/6 Plus/iPod Touch with A8 are no longer supported on the latest version of iOS.

I hope Apple is looking to make a smaller version of the HomePod, even if it does not fill a room with sound as the current HomePod does. A smaller HomePod would be great for places like kitchens, offices or other areas where sound is needed, but it does not necessarily need to be room filling, or places where the current HomePod is a bit too overpowering. The advantage to having a smart assistant in every room is one that could come in quite useful for many.

Closing Thoughts

Even though the HomePod does not have multiple speaker support, the HomePod is still a great speaker on its own. It is not the cheapest speaker on the market, but it also attempts to solve an issue that many other speakers do not; filling an entire room with sound and have it sound great in every part of the room. The HomePod accomplishes this with ease.

When I first got the HomePod I moved it from room to room, but it has now found its home in the master bedroom where I consume most of my media. This has had a couple of different consequences. The first is now that the HomePod creates great sound, I want to use it with everything. I already use it all the time with the Apple TV. I use the Apple TV to consume most of my media, so connecting it to the Apple TV is not an issue. This does result in not wanting to watch DVDs or Blu-rays, since my Xbox One, which is my Blu-ray/DVD player, does not connect to the HomePod. This has resulted in either converting my physical media, or buying a digital copy. I do not do this for all titles, but those I really want to watch I do.

The HomePod is capable of being more than just a speaker, it also includes Apple’s Smart assistant Siri. Siri can perform many of the same tasks for you as your iPhone or iPad. You can ask Siri the weather, current news, what song is playing, what movies are playing, or even control you HomeKit enabled devices, and much more. The reduction of the audio when Siri is active is a nice touch. If you have multiple iOS devices, they will communicate and decide who will handle your request, which can be rather annoying after a while. Another option for a trigger phrase would be nice, but it is not likely to occur.

There are many hidden options and features to the HomePod that are exposed through the Home app. These include who can access your HomePod, whether or not to require a password, and an option to setup the HomePod as a Home Hub.

If you are thinking of getting a HomePod, you have to be content with its current capabilities and not what it necessarily could do in the future. When the HomePod was announced, Apple indicated that it would be available by the end of 2017, but this did not occur. It is not due to the hardware, but instead the software. Currently, the HomePod does not support HomePods configured in stereo. The HomePod supports Apple Music, and any other audio that can be transmitted via Apple’s AirPlay protocol. If you are an Apple Music subscriber, and really want a good quality speaker for music, you cannot go wrong with the HomePod.

Categories
Apple HomePod Review

HomePod Review: The Sound, Siri, and Songs

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.

The Sound

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.

Siri

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.

Siri Commands

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.

HomeKit Hubs

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:

  1. Open the Home app on your iOS device
  2. 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.

Playing Music

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.

Controlling Music

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:

  1. Bring up Control Center
  2. Tap and hold on the “Now Playing” section
  3. Scroll down to the HomePod you want to control
  4. 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:

  1. Open the Music app
  2. Tap on the “AirPlay” icon
  3. Scroll to the HomePod
  4. Tap on the HomePod to connect it
  5. 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:

  1. Open the home app.
  2. Tap on the arrow in the upper left corner.
  3. 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.

Stay Tuned

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.

Categories
Apple HomePod Technology

Additional White Rings Issues

Yesterday I wrote about the HomePod leaving white rings on surfaces. There are some additional clarifications regarding the white rings.

The type of surfaces that are affected by this are surfaces that have been treated with wax or oil. This issue does not affect Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) wood, or any sort of other treated wood. This means that most surfaces should be okay.

The second clarifications that is needed is that this is not an Apple-specific issue. This type of issue also affects Sonos speakers as well as Amazon Echo devices. So this is not exclusive to Apple, but it can also affect Apple products.

The primary issue that is causing these white rings is the interaction of the silicone base with the wax or oil-treated wood. The chemical reaction that occurs between the two surfaces is facilitated by the vibration of the device and is the primary cause of the white rings.

Ultimately, what this means is that users who have oil-treated or wax-treated woods in their home will need to put something under their home pods, or other speaker device, it could be something as simple as a cloth, or even a paper towel. I would recommend something soft, like felt.