OPINION: There’s never been a better time to buy the original HomePod, but Apple has sent it to the glue factory. For me, while this is definitely a huge mistake at present, it also offers a few hints at Apple’s future plans.
When Apple launched its original HomePod speaker in 2018 we loved the great sound and sleek design, but at £340 (now £279) it didn’t tick all the boxes. It wasn’t exactly a one-trick prick pony, but it didn’t have too many strings to its bow, compared to the best smart speaker rivals offering the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Basically, unless you had an iPhone, used Apple Music, and relied on HomeKit smart home gear Apple’s smart speaker wasn’t for you.
By all accounts, it hadn’t sold well, especially when the £100 HomePod mini arrived seemingly correcting course with a dinkier design, that punched about its weight for sound quality and offered new Thread networking tech for the smart home.
As such, in March, Apple confirmed it was discontinuing the original HomePod and only selling it while stocks last. Some reports claimed these remaining devices might from the original production run, casting a dim view on the sales figures Apple never confirmed. Few were surprised it was taking an early bath.
Old dog, new tricks
But then things started happening. Good things. Fantastic things.
In the last week or two, the first-gen HomePod has gained a new lease on life. It’s positively skipping out of the grave. Firstly, we learned that when paired with the new Apple TV 4K, HomePod 2018 would can handling any audio hooked up to the television set. Be that a next-gen games console, 4K Blu-ray player, A/V receiver or the television itself. Not a bad trick. Essentially it becomes a soundbar of a different shape.
It’s a pretty big deal, especially when you think two HomePods can be paired to create stereo sound. One at each end of the telly and you’re sorted. Even better, the original HomePod already received an update to support Dolby Atmos (the mini has not). Suddenly, if you’ve got one or two HomePods, you’ve got an immersive home cinema system with the en vogue 360-degree sound.
Speaking of Dolby Atmos, Apple recently announced Apple Music will soon be pumping out Dolby Atmos tracks to those very same HomePods. If that wasn’t enough, Apple confirmed it would be updating its original HomePod and HomePod mini to support the new Apple Music Lossless tier, launching in June.
Considering the sound comes straight from a Wi-Fi connection rather than a Bluetooth link from a phone to headphones or speakers, the HomePod range is one of the few Apple devices that will support the CD-quality directly, without the need for an external Digital to Analogue Converter as a go-between, and with the speaker quality to enable listeners to truly hear the benefits. It’s a perk owners of the fancy new AirPods Max over-ear headphones will not receive, despite their £500+ outlay.
HomePod 2 hints?
So, you see, HomePod is seemingly getting better by the week, and who knows what else is to come? Why is Apple quitting on its debut smart speaker just as it showing its true quality? That answer, I suspect, is more about what’s to come, than what has already arrived.
My feeling is that this is more of a timing issue; that Apple plans to replace the original HomePod with a HomePod 2 boasting all of these qualities and perhaps quite a lot more. Then, the original HomePod can then naturally float out into the either knowing its true successor has taken on the mantle.
Apple VP Tim Twerdahl recently reiterated to Mobile Syrup the company was “committed to making great audio products for the home.” That suggests there’s more to come. A recent Bloomberg report said Apple is working on an all-encompassing HomePod slash iPad for starters. Twerdahl saying “products” makes us hopeful we’ll get an official HomePod 2 with a full-sized speaker rocking Dolby Atmos, Apple Music Lossless, Apple Music Spatial Audio, Apple TV 4K audio passthrough and a more agreeable price point.
However, until that happens, we can’t help think Apple has been a bit hasty. The original HomePod is coming into its own as a tremendous companion for some of Apple’s newest products and most exciting technologies. It’s never looked like a better device.