By John Gruber
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Apple today announced HomePod (2nd generation), a powerful smart speaker that delivers next-level acoustics in a gorgeous, iconic design. Packed with Apple innovations and Siri intelligence, HomePod offers advanced computational audio for a groundbreaking listening experience, including support for immersive Spatial Audio tracks. With convenient new ways to manage everyday tasks and control the smart home, users can now create smart home automations using Siri, get notified when a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm is detected in their home, and check temperature and humidity in a room — all hands-free.
The new HomePod is available to order online and in the Apple Store app starting today, with availability beginning Friday, February 3.
“Leveraging our audio expertise and innovations, the new HomePod delivers rich, deep bass, natural mid-range, and clear, detailed highs,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With the popularity of HomePod mini, we’ve seen growing interest in even more powerful acoustics achievable in a larger HomePod. We’re thrilled to bring the next generation of HomePod to customers around the world.”
I first wish to note how deftly this announcement is written. Joz’s quote alludes, ever so slightly, to the fact that Apple is not merely updating the HomePod with a new model, but bringing it back after a long absence. But anyone who hasn’t been paying close attention would never notice that.
The original HomePod had an unusual run, to say the least. It was announced on stage at WWDC in June 2017, and originally slated to go on sale — initially only in Australia, the U.K., and U.S.1 — in December. It didn’t actually ship until February 2018, though — the first warning sign that something was amiss. And even then, as my review noted, it was missing promised features like multi-room audio and stereo pairing of two HomePods together. Those features eventually came in software updates, but months after originally promised.
Throughout its brief life, the original HomePod faced reports of rocky sales and flaky reliability.
Apple end-of-lifed the original HomePod in March 2021, a few months after the debut of HomePod Mini, with no word on the product’s future. It seemed like the HomePod Mini was the one and only HomePod, but the name Mini suggested that a big HomePod might someday return. In the nearly two years since, the original HomePod did receive numerous software updates, adding significant features, which, for me at least, kept hope alive that a true replacement was forthcoming. And lo, here we are.
The conventional wisdom was strongly on the side that the problem with the original HomePod was its price — $350 originally, reduced to $300 in April 2019. Even I succumbed to that price-centric thinking in my brief item noting its discontinuation. I am now convinced that was wrong, though. I got it right back in 2018, when I wrote “HomePod’s Priorities”:
The difference between HomePod and Amazon Echo isn’t that they’re in different product categories. They’re in the same category. No one other than a gadget reviewer is going to put both a HomePod and Echo in their kitchen. They’re going to have one. It is, most certainly, a competition.
The difference is in the priorities behind the devices. All of them are meant to be audio players and useful voice-driven assistants for information, communication, and smart home control. They’re intended to be adopted fairly widely. But it makes a huge difference what order those priorities are in. HomePod’s first priority is clearly audio quality. That’s why it costs $350. Amazon has placed a higher priority on price, which is one reason why Echo doesn’t sound great.
The top priority for the original HomePod was its audio quality. The top priority for the new 2nd-generation HomePod remains audio quality. It’s a home theater component first, and a voice assistant second. And I continue to believe that the true HomePod experience costs $600, with a pair of them. I’ve got paired OG HomePods in both my kitchen and living room, and they sound way more than twice as good as a stereo pair than a single HomePod. Last week I got a hands-on experience with the new 2nd-generation HomePods, and the same thing is true: one of them sounds surprisingly good for its size and price, but two of them paired together sound way more than twice as good.
I suspect that reliability was the problem with the original models — some sort of design or engineering flaw that sent Apple back to the drawing board years before they expected to need a 2nd-generation model. HomePod Minis are great for what they are, but they’re no replacement for the full-size models in terms of room-filling sound quality. There are also new features in the new HomePod: temperature and humidity sensors, and, purportedly, much-improved response times for Siri commands. Heretofore latent temperature and humidity sensors have also been unlocked in the existing HomePod Minis with a software update.
We’ll have to wait for actual reviews of the new HomePod to drop before we know whether audio quality is as good or better, and whether Siri responsiveness and accuracy are actually improved, but just knowing that HomePod is back makes me happy. It’s a “you need to hear it to get it” product.
Here’s to hoping that Apple brings back the AirPower next.
English language being the obvious connection. ↩︎