On the list of subjects Apple could talk about during its WWDC address, it’s thought that they could announce a new HomePod smart speaker
The original HomePod is two years old, but the world moves fast and it’s been left behind by Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home speakers.
So far we’ve heard reports that Apple could be launching a mini version of the HomePod, due out this year; or it could be a full-sized replacement as Apple looks to try and beef up their presence in the smart speaker market.
The HomePod is one of the best-sounding smart speaker available, but it’s software and usability aren’t at the level of the Echo range. That, and success has been hard to come by, as the HomePod hasn’t sold as much as Apple had hoped.
We could see a new smart speaker at WWDC. Here’s what we know so far about the rumoured HomePod 2/HomePod Mini.
When will the HomePod 2/HomePod Mini be released?
While the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed several launches, the HomePod 2 – if announced – could be available before the end of the year.
According to Bloomberg report from earlier this year, a HomePod Mini has been in development for months (perhaps even years) and be delayed several times. Bloomberg doesn’t go into the reasons why it’s been delayed.
If Apple are going to reveal a new HomePod then its WWDC keynote on June 22nd is the next best opportunity. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be available there and then, but any announcement would indicate it’ll be here sooner, rather than later. The real question is, in what form?
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How much will the HomePod 2 cost?
Apple reduced the price of a HomePod smart speaker by £50. That price reduction led to some to believe that a new model was on its way. As is probably clear, that’s not the case. If Apple is to take onboard some of the learnings from the original HomePod, the price needs to come down, ideally to the price you can find it online now: £199.
The original HomePod cost a whopping £319. Compare that to Amazon’s Echo Studio (£190) and Google’s Home Max (£249), and the HomePod doesn’t come close to offering as much value. Considering those two speakers have a better smart ecosystem too, if Apple wants to competitive it has to bring the price down to around £200.
A price of $150-$200 was mooted by MacRumours all the way back in 2018, which led to speculation that the HomePod 2 would take on a smaller form factor and become a HomePod Mini. Whatever the size, the HomePod 2 has to be a great deal cheaper.
What will the HomePod 2/HomePod Mini look like?
Several reports since 2018 have pointed towards the HomePod 2 being a HomePod Mini. The Mini would be half the size of the original.
The original is already comparatively small compared to similar devices, and this reduction is said to be a response to Amazon and Google’s smaller speakers that are more affordable price. That makes a certain degree of sense as a smaller footprint would mean less room for multiple drivers/electronics, and less costs. But fewer drivers could mean audio quality suffers.
The general look is is thought to not differ much from the original. The current HomePod has a sealed mesh fabric design and touch capacitive buttons. A patent suggests Apple is looking to fuse the design and controls together with invisible controls that are part of the fabric and light up when needed.
Apple also lodged a patent, all the way back in 2017, regarding gesture controls for a speaker. If it’s smaller, then perhaps there’s no need for physical buttons. There have been rumours of Face ID integration, too.
One thing we’ve complained about on the current HomePod is the capacitive power cable. It can’t be detached, so if the cable becomes damaged the whole speaker needs to be sent back. That is not ideal.
What features would we like to see in the HomePod 2?
In terms of features, we don’t really know what the HomePod 2/HomePod Mini could have up its sleeve. But we certainly have a wishlist of things that could be improved.
Apple runs a walled garden and while that’s unlikely to change, we’d like to hope that Bluetooth 5 could be used for more than just device setup or connecting to other Apple devices. It’s a far-fetched dream but you never know.
There’s been no word on what chip will be used. Given the HomePod uses an A8 chip, it’s a rather old chip (2014). If Apple wants to future-proof it, the new HomePod needs one that’s much more up to date.
There’s no means of connecting the speaker to another device via digital or analogue inputs. Again, that feels unlikely to change but it’s appearance would grant the speaker more flexibility.
The HomePod is configured to work with Apple Music, but in age where people subscribe to several other music streaming services, that seems very stingy. Of course you can connect to those services through AirPlay 2, but embedding Spotify, Tidal or Pandora would make it much easier. Bloomberg reported that Apple is looking to add additional music services, so perhaps this is possibility.
Siri needs to be improved across the whole of iOS devices. Apple has been acquiring AI startups left, right and centre and perhaps we’ll see the fruits of their labour at WWDC 2020. The Cupertino-based company is thought to be revamping its smart home services.
Another issue is that Siri isn’t supported by Amazon’s Ring or Google’s Nest. HomeKit isn’t supported by as many devices, either and both could use improvements in that regard. Having the HomePod as part of either system would help make it an easier sell.