I just spent a moment with Apple’s new HomePod intelligent speaker, which kind of looks like a mesh-wrapped Mac Pro. It comes in black and white, and it’s cute. Like a cute little ovoid thing. It has seven tweeters in the bottom, along with a four-inch woofer, and six microphones at the top. It’s about the size of two large grapefruits stacked on top of each other, I guess, if I needed to describe it. Smaller than a breadbox, anyway.
When you say “Hey, Siri,” it lights up at the top with a little waveform, and you can ask for a lot of Siri-type things, like reminders, timers, and random questions. Or at least, it’s supposed to do that. In the “demo” area, I looked around at all the Apple representatives, said “Hey, Siri” in a clear voice, and all I heard in response was the sound of their laughter. Nice try, Dieter.
The bit on top that lights up is neat, though. It looks a lot like the waveform you see on Siri when you speak to it on your phone — though, of course, this doesn’t look like a complete LCD here. You won’t be getting any visual answers out of the HomePod.
There’s also an A8 chip inside that does automatic EQ and echo cancellation with beamforming for the tweeters — it detects the size and shape of a room to tune the best sound. Again, this isn’t something Apple is showing in the demo area, but given the company’s ability to make great hardware, I bet it works well. I’m actually more curious to know how Apple is handling multi-room setups — something no company not named “Sonos” has really figured out.
Apple’s also promoting the privacy aspects of the HomePod — it doesn’t send anything to Apple until you say “Hey Siri,” and then it sends data using an anonymous encrypted Siri ID. We’ll have to learn a lot more about what that means, of course.
Apple’s billing the HomePod as a home music speaker first of all, connecting it to the iPod, iPhone, Apple Music, and AirPods. So there’s a lot of focus on Apple Music integration. Even still, with integrated microphones and Siri, it obviously competes with Amazon’s various Echo devices and Google Home, and Apple hasn’t really discussed in detail how Siri and HomeKit will match the extensibility of those platforms. But it’s exciting, and we’ll see when it ships in December for $349.
Unfortunately, that’s about all we can say about this thing for now. The HomePods are here in the demo area, but they’re nonfunctional beyond lighting up. I plan on going back into the demo zone and hollering “Hey Siri” again, and I’ll report back if anything there changes.