In an unexpected move, Apple announced the second generation model of its HomePod smart speaker. Though rumors had been swirling about a 2023 release date for a new HomePod, few expected Apple to announce as early as it did.
It’s been two years since the original speaker was discontinued, and the re-appearance of the full-sized HomePod means there’s the choice of a smaller speaker, or a bigger hi-fi speaker for the home.
The HomePod series is back up to its former stature, but how much of an upgrade is the second gen speaker over the original?
It’s both less and slightly more expensive
The original HomePod went on sale for £329 and many felt it was too expensive for a speaker that had limited functionality outside of the Apple ecosystem. A few years later it received a price cut of £50 (£279) to try and boost sales.
The new speaker is priced at £299, so this second generation HomePod is less expensive than the original speaker was when it first launched, but more expensive than it was when it was officially discontinued. We suspect that some will still find it too expensive, but the HomePod benefitted from a series of updates, and this latest speaker will start on that stronger foundation.
It’s received an audio boost
It was widely regarded that the original HomePod was one of the finest-sounding smart speakers of its ilk, and it looks as if Apple intends to extract even greater performance from is full-sized HomePod.
It features a custom-engineered high excursion woofer, built-in bass-EQ mic and beamforming array of five tweeters around its base. Despite rumors of it using the S8 chip, Apple has confirmed its using the S7 version, with software and system-sensing tech that takes advantage of more “advanced computational audio” for a better performance.
If that sounds familiar it’s because it is. The original speaker had a similar set-up (7 tweeters instead of 5), which served it well according to our review. The use of room sensing technology sees the speaker analyze reflections from nearby surfaces to determine its position in a room and then adapt the sound in real-time, again like the original.
Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos for both music and movies is included, and stereo pairing is back again with another HomePod of the same model (ie two second gen HomePods),
How much of an improvement the second gen is over the original remains to be seen, but Apple seems confident.
It’s getting Matter support
The Matter smart platform makes it easier for smart home products to communicate with each other across various ecosystems “while maintaining the highest levels of security”. One of the issues with previous Apple products was that they were very Apple-centric and sat in their own walled-garden, unwilling to share their toys with others, but Matter support changes that.
The HomePod (2023) will be able to connect to and control other Matter-enabled accessories, and you’ll even be able to access the speaker (and related devices) when you’re outside the home.
The new HomePod can hear danger
Other smart-related features include Sound Recognition, which allows the HomePod to listen out for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and ping a notification to the user’s iPhone if there is a sound.
There’s also a new built-in temperature and humidity sensor that measures the climate of indoor environments, giving users the means to create automations when a certain temperature is reached (like, closing the blinds).
Automations can be created via hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ commands and the Home app has received a redesign to make it more intuitive to navigate, view and organize accessories. It’ll also have Ultra Wide Band support for seamlessly linking up with devices in close proximity to it.
There’s no real way of knowing how much better the new HomePod sounds until we hear, but by all accounts the original was a terrific sounding smart speaker and this is likely to be more of the same unless Apple has made a pig’s ear of it (which is unlikely).
It’s the improved smart features and Matter support that might pique the interest of potential adopters the most however. The previous HomePod was too bound to the Apple ecosystem, so with this latest effort potentially working in conjunction with a Philips Hue Bridge or a smart thermostat, it could hold more appeal as homes become smarter.
Has Apple finally cracked the smart speaker market? We won’t have too long to find out as the Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) goes on sale in February.