Apple announced its second generation HomePod on Wednesday, almost two years after it discontinued its first smart speaker, the HomePod. The new version is a full-sized speaker with improved acoustics and smart home capabilities compared to the existing HomePod Mini. Both Apple smart speakers rely on Siri, the company’s voice assistant, to play music and execute voice commands.
Simply called HomePod, the new speaker is now up for pre-order at the Apple Store for $299 and will be available Friday, Feb. 3.
Although the design looks similar to the original full-sized HomePod speaker that was discontinued in 2021, the new HomePod is said to offer a range of key upgrades. Inside is a custom woofer and five tweeters that use beamforming to direct audio and improve immersion, according to Apple. You can link two HomePod speakers to create a stereo pair, although doing so requires two HomePods of the same model (you can’t combine an original HomePod and a new one to create a pair, for example). Multiple HomePods can be linked throughout the home for multiroom audio with AirPlay 2.
The speaker also supports spatial audio, Apple’s term for 360-degree effects that include Dolby Atmos music available on Apple Music. Atmos is a surround-sound standard used both in movie theaters and the home, and more recently has been used to remix albums.
The speaker has a couple new smart home extras up its sleeve too. A feature called Smart Recognition, coming via spftware update this spring, “can listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and send a notification directly to the user’s iPhone if a sound is identified” according to Apple. The speaker also has sensors for temperature and humidity, and users can set up triggers to close the blinds or turn on a fan automatically when the room reaches a certain temperature.
In addition to support for Apple’s HomeKit, the HomePod also supports the new Matter standard, an open-source protocol that works with numerous smart home devices.
Users can bring an iPhone close to the speaker to hand off whatever is playing, from a song to a podcast to a voice call, to the speaker (that feature requires iOS 16.3). The phone will also surface personalized song and podcast suggestions when a user beings it near the speaker. The HomePod supports Apple’s Find My feature so you can ask Siri to play a sound on a misplaced device, or ask for the location of friends or family who share via the Find My app.
Apple has been rumored to be working on a speaker dubbed the “HomePod 2” since at least June 2022. The company has has only released three other speakers in the last 20 years — the iPod Hi-Fi, the original $350 Apple HomePod and the $99 HomePod mini, which remains on sale for $99.
The $299 HomePod will compete with higher-end smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Studio and Sonos One, both of which cost $200. Meanwhile The current HomePod mini is price competitive with Google’s larger Nest Audio, though it is undercut by the $49 Google Nest Mini and most Amazon Echo models.
Apple’s digital assistant Siri may be dominant in the mobile space but the company has struggled to translate this success to smart speakers. In terms of smart speakers it is Amazon’s Echo series and Google Nest speakers which jostle each other for first and second place.
We look forward to reviewing the new Apple HomePod soon.