Apple has announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the US, UK, and Australia. It’ll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring.
The company’s first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold — but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple’s speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon’s and Google’s primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos’ high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market.
Despite the delay, Apple doesn’t appear to have made any changes to the HomePod — the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker’s intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors’ products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple’s implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what’s present on other devices.
Multi-room audio will come in a software update later in 2018
Even though the speaker goes on sale this Friday, there are still some key details we don’t know. Apple has designed the speaker to work with Apple Music first and foremost, and it’s not clear how the speaker will work if you’re, say, a Spotify subscriber instead. It’s very possible that voice just won’t be supported. Siri also isn’t as capable here as it is on other iOS devices, with the voice assistant limited to certain categories of third-party integrations. While those don’t seem to have changed since launch, we likely have to wait for Apple’s next developer conference to get a sense for quickly the company intends to expand what it can do.
Apple also says that multi-room audio won’t be supported until later this year, with a software update. While this was once a rare feature, the ability to synchronize playback across multiple wireless speakers is something that has slowly been added by most other smart speaker makers and is now pretty much an expected feature. Stereo playback, for when two HomePods are present in the same room, won’t be available at launch either and will have to wait for this update.