Apple’s $349 HomePod smart speaker is now available to preorder through the Apple Store app, with shipping slated to start on February 9th. Despite the delay in the speaker’s launch, the HomePod will ship without features like AirPlay 2, which allows pairing and multiroom audio. Apple says those features are “coming this year in a free software update.” HomePod is powered by Apple’s A8 chip (that first appeared in the iPhone 6) and features built-in Siri, six microphones, HomeKit support to control your compatible smart home devices, and the ability to automatically optimize sound for a given room.
We briefly played with the speaker last year. My colleague Dieter called it “a cute little ovoid thing” that “sounds really good in the demos” with “more bass than you expect from such a small speaker.” But we’ll need to spend some real time with it before we can say it’s worth $349.
Apple’s smart speaker offering is the most expensive of its rivals at this size. The much larger and more powerful Google Home Max costs $399, while the standard Google Home is $129, and Amazon Echo is $99.99. HomePod is also rivaled by the Sonos One smart speaker. To ruffle Apple’s feathers, Sonos is offering two Sonos One speakers for $349, the price of a single HomePod. Sonos One supports Amazon Alexa integration, and it’s promising Google Assistant integration sometime later this year.
The HomePod is available for preorder now in the US, UK, and Australia in black or white. The smart speaker will be available in France and Germany this spring.