Apple HomePod price, specs and where to buy
Apple’s foray into the smart speaker market has officially begun. A whole bunch of retailers have the Siri-powered device available to buy, though you may want to read our full review first to make sure it’s the kind of thing you want in your life.
How to order the Apple HomePod
The HomePod is available at the following retailers:
The HomePod is Apple’s pitch at the burgeoning home assistant market, currently headed by Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. Like those speakers, the HomePod makes much of its built-in AI assistant, in this case Siri.
Users will be able to use Apple’s Siri to do things like send messages, set timers, check the news, sports, traffic and weather. Apple is also emphasising the HomePod’s clout as a high-quality speaker, able to modulate its sound to fit the acoustics of any given room.
The HomePod was originally slated for a pre-Christmas 2017 release, but was pushed back when Apple acknowledged it needed “a little more time before it’s ready”.
We went hands on (ears on, more accurately) with an early model of the HomePod after it was announced at WWDC 17. You can read our thoughts below.
HomePod first look: Apple’s Siri speaker wants to kill Alexa (09/2017)
At 2017’s WWDC event, Apple unveiled the HomePod, a new home speaker that’s firmly targeted at Amazon’s Alexa.
Compatible with other HomeKit accessories, and pre-baked with a large dose of Siri, the HomePod represents Apple’s take on Amazon’s super smart assistant.
When I spent a few minutes with the HomePod in the demo area, I was able to get a good look at both the black and white models of the speaker-slash-Siri-box. The mesh-covered design certainly foregrounds this emphasis on sound – it looks like a Mac Pro that’s decided to join a band.
Within its squat body, the HomePod hides an array of speakers. There are seven tweeters, arrayed around the speaker’s base, along with a 4in bass driver that fires upwards, and six microphones that, like the Amazon Echo, allow the HomePod to pick up your voice as music is playing and from across the room.
Size-wise, it’s somewhere between the Amazon Echo and Google Home, at just under 7in tall. And like those other devices, the aesthetic is innocuous, mantelpiece fare, although the mesh covering gives it a characteristic, sound-system appearance. At first glance, it looks like a bulkier sibling of the UE Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker.
Indeed, it’s not until you notice the throbbing light on the HomePod’s top that you get a hint of its full, home assistant capabilities. This takes on the appearance of the waveform you see when activating Siri on iPhone and, presumably, it moves as Siri speaks. I say presumably, as the demo area didn’t give press an opportunity to interact with the HomePod. Because of this, it’s impossible at this stage to tell how well Siri behaves.
According to Apple, the device will provide updates on news, sports and weather, and work with HomeKit to control smart home devices. Siri will also keep its ears to itself, not sending any data to Apple’s servers until the user says “Hey Siri” and then only with an anonymous encrypted Siri ID. Of course, how all of this will work in practice is something we’ll need to explore after spending more time with the HomePod.
There’s an A8 chip inside the HomePod, which does all sorts of clever stuff to cancel echo and distortion and tune audio to the acoustics of a given space. You can even use two of the devices in tandem and they’ll adapt their sound to work in harmony. After the morning session, I had a chance to listen to the HomePod, comparing its audio against that of the Amazon Echo and the Sonos Play 3.
I can say Apple’s efforts were hands-down superior, with the tinny Echo falling particularly short against the HomePod’s lush, textured sound. After hearing a variety of pop and hip-hop tracks, Apple seems to have done a stellar job in separating direct and ambient layers. There’s an emphasis on bass that brings to mind Beats, but even at its heaviest, there was definition between highs and lows that made the music bloom across the space.
Exactly what you’ll be listening to on the HomePod may have some restrictions. According to Apple, the HomePod is “designed to work with an Apple Music subscription”. Because the HomePod works with AirPlay, there’s nothing to stop you from broadcasting Spotify from your iPhone, but it isn’t clear how this will work with Siri. It might be the case that asking Siri to search and play select tracks will only work with Apple Music, although we’ll need to play around with the HomePod to see if this is the case.
At £319, the HomePod is a considerably more expensive option than both the Amazon Echo and Google Home, although it’s clearly aiming to justify this with a focus on high-quality sound. There’s also the Apple name, and if you’ve already bought into the Apple ecosystem this box might be the Siri-string to tie your devices together. How well it does that will need to be judged at a later date, but for now the HomePod looks to be an attractive, premium-speaker counterpoint to existing home assistants.