Apple HomePod: Everything You Need to Know

apple homepod
image credit: Apple Inc.

The Apple HomePod is Apple's smart speaker for playing music and interacting with Siri. It's a small, Wi-Fi-enabled device that packs a set of powerful speakers and microphones to deliver a top-notch streaming music experience to any room. Think of it like one of those ubiquitous wireless speakers, but built into Apple's ecosystem and given the high-end, high-technology, great-user-experience Apple treatment.

What Music Services Does the HomePod Support?

Apple has so far only mentioned built-in support Apple Music. I'd expect that it will support Apple Podcasts, too. I'd be surprised if it never adds built-in support for other services. Pandora seems like an obvious choice, with services like Spotify likely to take a lot longer (if ever). Given Apple's habits with things like this, don't expect to see native support for any third-party services for a while.

Does It Support AirPlay?

Yes, the HomePod does support AirPlay 2. With AirPlay built into the iOS, this should be the workaround for streaming things like Spotify to the HomePod even if it doesn't offer built-in support for them. AirPlay will also be used for HomePods to communicate with each other when there's more than one in a house. More on that in "Can the HomePod Be Used in a Multi-Room Audio System?​" below.

What Makes the HomePod Good for Music Playback?

Apple has engineered the HomePod specifically for music.

It's done this both in the hardware used to build the device and in the software that powers it. The HomePod is built around a core of a subwoofer and seven tweeters arrayed in a ring inside the speaker. That lays the foundation for great sound, but what really makes the HomePod sing is its intelligence.

The combination of speakers and six built-in microphones allows the HomePod to detect the shape of your room and the placement of furniture in it. With this information, the HomePod can automatically calibrate itself to deliver optimal music playback for the room it's in. This is like Sonos' Trueplay audio optimization software, but it's automatic instead of manual.

This room-awareness also allows two HomePods placed in the same room to recognize each other and work together to adjust their output for optimal sound.

Siri and the HomePod

The HomePod is built around the Apple A8 processor, the same chip that powers the iPhone 6 series. With that kind of brain, the HomePod offers Siri as a way to control the music. You can tell Siri what you want to play and, thanks to the support for Apple Music, Siri can draw from that service's over 40 million songs. You can also tell Siri what songs you do and don't like to help Apple Music improve its recommendations for you. Siri can add songs to an Up Next queue and can also answer questions like "who's the guitarist on this song?"

So This is Apple's Version of the Amazon Echo or Google Home?

Sort of. In that it's an Internet-connected, wireless smart speaker that can play music and be controlled by voice, it very much resembles those devices.

However, those devices support a much wider range of features, and integrate with many more products than the HomePod does. The Echo and the Home are more like digital assistants for running your home and your life. The HomePod is more of a way to improve your experience of music in the home.

Can You Add Features To the HomePod Like With the Echo?

This is probably the major thing that sets the HomePod apart from smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. On those two devices, third-party developers can create their own mini-apps, called skills, that provide additional features, functionality, and integrations.

 As of now, there's no indication that Apple plans to allow third-party developers to create new Siri abilities that users can add to the HomePod. Until Apple does that, the HomePod isn't really in the same category as the Echo of the Home.

Does That Make the HomePod Apple's Version of Sonos?

That comparison seems more apt. Sonos makes a line of wireless speakers that stream music, can combine into a whole-home audio system, and are geared more for entertainment than functionality. The inclusion of Siri makes the HomePod seem like the Echo, but in terms of its functionality—and how Apple is talking about it—Sonos' products seem like a better comparison.

Can It Be Used in a Home Theater?

That's unclear right now. Apple has only discussed the HomePod in terms of its music features. It makes sense that the device could integrate with the Apple TV to create a home-theater system, but that's not an announced feature right now. This is an area where Sonos has a lead. Its speakers can be used this way.

Can the HomePod Be Used in a Multi-Room Audio System?

Yes. As noted earlier, multiple HomePods in one house can communicate with each other over AirPlay. This means that if you've got a HomePod in the living room, kitchen, and bedroom, they can all be set to play the music at the time. (They can all play different music, too, of course.)

Does It Work With Smart-Home Devices?

Yes. The HomePod functions as a hub for smart home (aka Internet of Things) devices that are compatible with Apple's HomeKit platform. If you've got HomeKit-enabled devices in your house, speaking to Siri via the HomePod will control them. For instance, saying "Siri, turn off the lights in the living room" will put that room into darkness.

What Are Requirements for Using It?

The HomePod requires an iPhone 5S or newer, running iOS 11. To use Apple Music, you'll need an active subscription.

What Does the HomePod Cost?

The HomePod retails for US$349. It comes in white and space gray. Both models are priced the same. 

When Can You Buy It?

It goes on sale in December 2017 in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. No official word on availability in other countries yet.