Apple ends the suspense, promises HomePod ships Feb 9

Here comes the HomePod

Apple’s HomePod systems will ship in the US, UK, Australia from February 9,

You’ll soon be yelling, “Hey Siri, play me some of my favorite tunes,” while you’re in your den, as Apple has confirmed it will ship its slightly delayed 7-inch HomePod product on February 9, but the bad news is, it’s not yet feature-complete and will only be available in the US, UK and Australia, at least at first.

Multi-room? Not just yet

Apple buries the lede a little in its press release, but if you dig down you’ll see it warn:

“Coming this year in a free software update, users will be able to play music throughout the house with multi-room audio. If HomePod is in the kitchen, users can ask Siri to play jazz in the dining room, or play the same song in each room — perfectly in sync. If there’s more than one HomePod set up in the same room, the speakers can be set up as a stereo pair for an even more immersive sound experience.”

In other words, the system isn’t yet smart enough to provide you with the multi-room playback experience users will probably want, though at $349 per speaker I guess most of us will balk at buying too many of the first sets to ship.

I also think it’s a shame Apple hasn’t said anything about AirPort Express/AirPlay compatibility, as I’d quite like to be able to use HomePod as a way to ask for music to be played through any of my connected systems. (I have an Apple TV 3 in one room, Apple TV 4K in another, a stereo connected to an AirPort Express system and so on.

I’d quite like Siri to be smart enough to pipe music from my HomePod through any of those systems, rather than being subtly directed toward making multiple purchases of a HomePod I only just learned I might need, but I digress. You do at least get access to Apple Music, but I see nothing about how to share the device in households that own multiple Apple Music accounts.

All the same, if you have an Apple Music account you might want one of these.

Above: Here’s Apple’s promotional clip

Siri is getting smarter

Apple’s HomePod press release also hints at a looming upgrade to Siri, with particular focus on music and music playback commands. That’s really important, given recent claims Siri falls short of competitors when it comes to the accuracy of understanding music playback instructions.

“The team has worked to give Siri a deeper knowledge of music so that you can ask to play virtually anything from your personal favorites to the latest chart-topping releases, simply by saying ‘Hey Siri’,” said Apple’s chief marketer, Phil Schiller in the boiler plate quote in the AAPL press release.

The company has also managed to make the system sensitive enough that it will hear a Hey Siri instruction from across the room, even during loud music playback, the company said.

The company also said:

“Siri, now actively used on over half a billion devices, has developed a deep knowledge of music and understands your preferences and tastes.”

That statement makes me anticipate some quiet improvements in Siri on all iOS devices, though as Siri is a server-based system, we may not immediately notice these enhancements. Basically, I see this as meaning it will get much better at music recommendations to fit your personal taste.

Home Assistant

Siri is also being tweaked to be a more effective home assistant on HomePod. It will add things to your grocery list, remind you of domestic tasks,  and integrates with HomeKit devices to give you control of your smart homes.

The system will also let you send messages, set timers and reminders, check the weather and listen to Apple Podcasts. The latest business news, headlines and sports updates stream directly to HomePod from NPR, CNN, ESPN and others. HomePod can also be used as a speakerphone with iPhone for crisp and clear audio quality.

HomePod’s killer advantages are..

For all of this, HomePod’s three primary advantages in comparison to smart speakers from other manufacturers seem, at this stage, to consist of far superior audio playback technology, much better privacy and Apple’s typically industry-leading build quality.

On security, Apple states:

“Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of Apple hardware, software and services. With HomePod, only after “Hey Siri” is recognized locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.”

This is important as other systems will send information automatically in a form that can easily be linked to your identity, creating the scene for a major privacy train wreck that will one day take place. All the same, it also seems pretty clear these machines will become more responsive to your needs as you make more use of them.

Apple says audio and security

Apple promises high level audio quality and security in its Apple Music friendly product.

Audio advantages are described thusly:

  • Packed with Apple-engineered audio technology, HomePod uses advanced software for real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, echo cancellation and more, powered by Apple’s A8 chip, delivering a wide, spacious soundstage. Using spatial awareness to sense its location in the room, it automatically adjusts the audio to sound great wherever it is placed.
  • HomePod features a large, Apple-designed woofer for deep, clean bass, a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters that provide pure high frequency acoustics with directional control, and powerful technologies that preserve the richness and intent of original recordings. With an array of six microphones, HomePod can hear “Hey Siri” from across the room, even when loud music is playing.
  • Setup is as easy and intuitive as setting up AirPods — simply hold an iPhone next to HomePod and it’s ready to start playing music in seconds. The Siri waveform appears on the top to indicate when Siri is engaged, and integrated touch controls also allow easy navigation.

(Verbatim from the press release).

What will Siri on HomePod do?

Here’s a list of some of the commands you can ask Siri to perform on your HomePod:

  • Hey Siri, who’s the drummer in this?
  • When does [team] play next?
  • How windy is it out there?
  • What time is it in XXX?
  • Set a three minute timer?
  • Text [name] meet me at [insert time]
  • How long will it take to drive to [place]?
  • Remind me to…
  • What’s the football score?
  • What are the most popular mountains in?
  • What is the best local Thai restaurant?

The tech specs:

  • 7 beam-forming tweeter array
  • 1 4-inch, Apple-designed woofer
  • 6-microphone array
  • 11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
  • Multiroom speaker support with AirPlay 2
  • Capacitive touch controls on device

Are you going to get yourself a HomePod system? Let us know in this poll:

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Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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