Apple has hired a former HomePod engineer, Afrooz Family, to head up the team developing HomePod software, according to Bloomberg, which could signal a renewed effort from Apple to make the HomePod more competitive. The company released HomePod software version 15 in September, bringing some welcome features like the ability to use one or a pair of HomePod Mini speakers as the default with an Apple TV 4K. But Apple’s smart speaker line faces stiff competition, particularly from Amazon’s and Google’s speakers that are equipped with their smart assistants.
Family left Apple in 2016, where he was a senior audio engineer, to co-found audio company Syng with ex-Apple designer Christopher Stringer. (A Financial Times article about Syng described Family as the company’s “secret weapon.”) Syng’s claim to fame is its Cell Alpha connected speaker, which offers spatial audio in a Death Star-like design, but it comes with a steep $1,799 price tag. Family left Syng earlier this year, Bloomberg reports.
The first HomePod, which was released in 2018, was lauded for its sound quality but was criticized for its high price, and Apple discontinued it in March. The company released the cheaper and smaller HomePod Mini last year.
Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.