HomePod Lives

Reactions and thoughts on the Information's latest report about Apple's upcoming headset
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Apple today announced HomePod (2nd generation), a powerful smart speaker that delivers next-level acoustics in a gorgeous, iconic design. Packed with Apple innovations and Siri intelligence, HomePod offers advanced computational audio for a breakthrough listening experience, including support for immersive Spatial Audio tracks. With convenient new ways to manage everyday tasks and control the smart home, users can now create smart home automation with Siri, receive notifications when a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm is detected in their home, and control the temperature and humidity of a room – all hands-free.

The new HomePod is available to order online and in the Apple Store app starting today, with availability starting Friday, February 3.

“Using our audio expertise and innovations, the new HomePod delivers rich, deep bass, natural midrange and clear, detailed highs,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With the popularity of the HomePod mini, we’ve seen a growing interest in even more powerful acoustics that can be achieved in a larger HomePod. We’re excited to offer the next generation of HomePod to customers around the world.”

I first want to note how skillfully this announcement is written. Joz’s quote alludes to, ever so slightly, to the fact that Apple is not only updating the HomePod with a new model, but bringing it back after a long absence. But anyone who hasn’t been paying attention would never notice.

The original HomePod had an unusual run to say the least. Announced on stage at WWDC in June 2017, it was originally scheduled to go on sale – initially only in Australia, the UK and the US1– in December. It didn’t actually ship until February 2018 – the first warning sign that something was wrong. And even then, as my review noted, it lacked promised features like multi-room audio and stereo pairing of two HomePods together. These features eventually came in software updates, but months after originally promised.

Throughout its short life, the original HomePod has faced reports of rocky sales and spotty reliability.

Apple took the wraps off the original HomePod in March 2021, a few months after the debut of the HomePod Mini, with no word on the product’s future. It seemed that the HomePod Mini was the only HomePod, but the name Mini suggested that a large HomePod may one day return. In the nearly two years since, the original HomePod received numerous software updates, adding significant features, which at least for me kept hope alive that a true replacement was on the way. And look, here we are.

Conventional wisdom was strongly on the side that the problem with the original HomePod was its price — $350 originally, reduced to $300 in April 2019. Even I gave in to the price-centric thinking in my brief post and noted that it was discontinued. I am now convinced that it was wrong. I got it back in 2018, when I wrote “HomePod’s Priorities”:

The difference between HomePod and Amazon Echo is not that they are in different product categories. They are in the same category. No one but a gadget reviewer will put both a HomePod and Echo in their kitchen. They will have one. It is clearly a competition.

The difference lies in the priorities behind the units. All are intended to be audio players and useful voice-controlled assistants for information, communication and smart home control. They are intended to be adopted quite broadly. But it makes a huge difference in the order of those priorities. HomePod’s first priority is clearly sound quality. That’s why it costs $350. Amazon has prioritized price higher, which is one reason the Echo doesn’t sound good.

The top priority for the original HomePod was its sound quality. The top priority for the new 2nd generation HomePod is still sound quality. It is first a home theater component and then a voice assistant. And I continue to believe that the true HomePod experience costs $600, with a pair of them. I have paired OG HomePods in both my kitchen and living room, and they sound way more than twice as good as a stereo pair than a single HomePod. Last week I got a hands-on experience with the new 2nd generation HomePods, and the same thing is true: one of them sounds surprisingly good for its size and price, but two of them are paired with audio way more than twice as good.

I suspect reliability was the problem with the original models – some sort of design or engineering flaw that sent Apple back to the drawing board years before they expected to need a 2nd generation model. HomePod Minis are fine for what they are, but they’re no substitute for full-size models when it comes to room-filling sound quality. There are also new features in the new HomePod: temperature and humidity sensors and, allegedly, much improved response times for Siri commands. So far, latent temperature and humidity sensors have also been unlocked in existing HomePod Minis with a software update.

We’ll have to wait for actual reviews of the new HomePod to drop before we know if the sound quality is as good or better, and if Siri’s responsiveness and accuracy have actually improved, but just knowing that the HomePod is back makes me happy. It’s a “you have to hear it to get it” product.

Here’s to hoping Apple brings back AirPower next.

#HomePod #Lives

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