By Matt Birchler
Topic: homepod
Posts: 31
Page 1 of 4 Older Posts

The Surprising Legacy of the HomePod

The Surprising Legacy of the HomePod

The original HomePod in 2018 was not a successful product, but over the last couple years I've noticed two things that really got kick-started with the HomePod that we now see in basically every Apple product.

The first thing is speaker quality. The HomePod was all about sound quality, and since then you can see major improvements in sound in basically everything from iPads to MacBooks to iPhones. Dave2D just put out a video asking why MacBook Pro speakers are so far ahead of even the best Windows laptops, for example.

The other thing is high quality power cables. For many years, it was common to hear people complain about the quality of cables for charging up Apple devices, and it was very common to see people with dangerously-frayed connectors because the cheap plastic cable just didn't hold up to real world use. I forget the specific review, but I heard one reviewer say something like "and you get a really nice braided power cable, which you'd expect from an Apple device," in their MacBook Pro review. It may be expected now, but oh boy was it not something you could expect even a few years ago.

Anyway, this may not be the most exciting thought in the Apple ecosystem today, and maybe someone is going to "well actually" me on when these trends started. If you think these trends started elsewhere in the Apple lineup, let me know on Twitter.

HomePods + Apple TV: Fun, but I Had to Move On

HomePods + Apple TV: Fun, but I Had to Move On

This was going to be a very long post, but I got bored reading my own post, so I threw it away and here’s the super-short version 🏃‍♂️

I Replaced My HomePods

For the past 4 years I’ve have 2 HomePods next to my TV. They played music, performed Siri things, and acted as speakers for my Apple TV. In 2021 Apple made it so I could have them be the audio output for everything plugged into my TV, which I really liked. Mostly…

Problems Here and There

Due to the completely wireless connection, and there were sometimes issues. Sometimes sync would get off and I’d have to reboot the HomePods, and other times the eARC connection would die and I had to reboot the TV/console/HomePods/etc. until it worked again.

This lead to my wife asking me to unpair the HomePods from the non-Apple TV things because it was too big of a pain to have audio just not work sometimes.

Enter Sonos

Due to some deals and holiday gift cards, I was able to get a Sonos setup going with a Sonos Beam (gen 2) and two Sonos One speakers. These all link up to create a surround sound setup in my living room.

The Beam connects directly to the TV via HDMI and the Ones are connected wirelessly, but not over Bluetooth like the HomePods, over some ad hoc network that seems more reliable. The result is zero issues so far.

Sound Quality?

The two HomePods sound a bit better when it comes to music, and they have move bass compared to the Beam and Ones.

The Sonos Beam on its own is not better than the HomePods, but when you add the Sonos Ones as well, it wipes the floor with the HomePods for TV, movies, and video games. The sound is fuller with more speakers working on it, and the real surround experience is just something a stereo pair of speakers just can’t replicate (no matter how much speaker companies, including Apple, try to convince you they can do surround sound from one sound source). The setup supports Dolby Atmos, so basically everything just works. I’ve watched the highway scene in The Matrix Reloaded and the most recent Book of Boba Fett episode with them and good lord, it’s incredible.

Do I Hate the HomePod?

Absolutely not! I think the HomePod was a good product with bad market fit, and based on the fact owners love theirs but Apple decided it wasn’t worth keeping around, I think that’s a reasonable assessment of them.

But with them being discontinued by Apple, leaving their future uncertain, and the fact that their job as general purpose TV speakers didn’t quite pan out for me, I had to move on to something else.

Recommendation

Well, you can’t buy HomePods anymore, so I can’t really do a “which should you buy” section, but I can talk to those of you who have HomePods as TV speakers right now; should you change over to the Sonos system?

First off, it’s a lot of money. They Beam is $450 and the Ones are $220 each, so if you buy it all at once and for full price, it’s $890, which ain’t cheap (again, I didn’t, but I was still probably $400 out of pocket). You’re already down at least $600 for two HomePods, so that’s not a trivial thing to swap out.

So with the money thing out of the way, I would consider two things: sound quality and reliability.

  1. Sound quality of the Beam on its own is good, quite good, but it’s not as good as the two HomePod setup. If you wanted to spend half as much and just get the Beam, then I would expect to get a slight dip in audio quality. With the Ones around you though, I think it creates a better sound experience than the HomePods.
  2. I’m only a few weeks in, but so for the reliability has been noticeably better than my HomePods. It’s a wash when it comes to playing Apple TV audio, but it’s worlds better when it comes to things like my PS5, which always had about a half second lag at all times (since you can’t buffer ahead when the user is controlling what happens on screen), and it’s perfect with the Sonos setup.

Goodbye, HomePod

Apple announced they are discontinuing the original HomePod, and I’m sad to see it go. I thought it was a good time to look back on the last 3 years of writing about the HomePod and see how things held up. After all, it’s not often I get to look back on my writing that covers the entire history of a product!

Apple’s HomePod looks like a “hobby” device built for a niche, not a mainstream hit

Apple is surely going to do a better job of marketing the HomePod than Sonos has done with their speakers, but I’m still skeptical of their ability to make people care that much about incredible sound quality.

I actually overestimated the marketing angle here. Sonos continues to be the major name in this space and HomePod never really broke through.

2018 Holiday Season Proposal: HomePod mini

Apple should introduce a new model of HomePod, the HomePod mini. They by no means need to make a device to compete directly with the $50 (and less on sale) Echo Dot and Google Home Mini), but they need to get something more affordable out there.

I continue to be amazed how close I was on this article.

Searching for that AirPods Feeling

So while I like the HomePod and think it is a good product in its own right, I just don’t feel that same magic that I was hoping I would. I’m looking forward to see what other people think, but if my response is at all indicative of the average Joe, I don’t know if the HomePod will grow to the level of adoration (and by extent, sales) of AirPods.

Narrator: it didn’t.

My review

The HomePod sounds amazing. I don’t know much about sound quality and the most expensive pair of speakers I ever owned cost $99, so this sounds way, way better than everything I had in my apartment. I did take it over to my parents’ house and compared it to a $500 Bose Soundtouch 30 and I thought it sounded better than that too (my dad disagreed, but said it was close).

And:

The above graphic is as close as I can get to succinctly stating who this is for. If you are an iOS-only user and if you subscribe to Apple Music and if you care more about audio quality than a robust digital assistant, then the HomePod is for you. That sounds a little harsh, but I think it’s accurate.

Narrator: it was.

9 Months With HomePod

When I set up my HomePods as a stereo pair, I was immediately in love. Some people say that the 3D sound stuff Apple is doing makes stereo unnecessary, but that’s a load of garbage. Setting up two HomePods to output in stereo is wonderful, and blew me away with the sound quality improvement.

I still feel this way. That same stereo pair is in my living room and I love it. Apple recently made it easier to keep them permanently paired with an Apple TV, and they’re great! I still wish they had an AUX port so they could work with anything for decades down the road, software updates or not.

HomePod Mini: The Review I’ve Wanted to Write for 3 Years

HomePod Mini: The Review I’ve Wanted to Write for 3 Years

The HomePod mini is something I’ve been campaigning for since November 2017, 3 months before the original HomePod was even released. It just seemed obvious to me that if Apple wanted to get a foothold in the smart speaker market, they needed something lower cost to even get people to consider it.

In November 2020, it’s pretty clear that the HomePod was a solid product that sounded great, but didn’t light the world on fire in terms of sales. So when Apple announced the HomePod Mini this fall, you can imaging how excited I was to finally get the thing I had been hoping for the last 3 years. Apple, as they’re one to do, still surprised me with this product. Let me explain.

Market Position

A lot of the talk around the original HomePod was that “it’s not a smart speaker, it’s a speaker first with some smarts on top.” As I said in numerous ways at the time, that seemed like a needless distinction and that all wireless speakers were smart speakers these days, but I bought a bit into that at the time. My suggested HomePod Mini was slightly smaller than the normal one and cost $199. To my surprise, the actual HomePod Mini is much smaller than I expected, and half the price at just $99.

In terms of getting this into more homes, the $99 price point is a sweet spot, as it puts it into Christmas gift range for some families, and in the impulse purchase range for even more people. As we’ll get into later in the review, this product was not designed to blow you away with sound, it was designed to be convenient. And since they work great together, you could get 3 of these and put them in your office, living room, and kitchen all for the price of one standard HomePod.

I don’t expect to see Apple shoot to the top of the smart speaker market with this product, the $30 speakers will still dominate the unit sale numbers, but I do expect this to take the HomePod from a very niche product to something that a lot more iPhone owners justify adding to their ecosystem of Apple devices.

Set Up

Setting up a HomePod Mini is familiar to all of Apple’s mobile products these days.

  1. Hold the new device next to your iPhone or iPad
  2. Tap through a few prompts, mostly about privacy
  3. Done

The Mini also asks you to hold your camera up to a pattern on the top of the HomePod, much like an Apple Watch.

Features and Design

Your first impressions of this thing will inevitably be, “it’s so tiny!” This little globe is 3.5” tall and is likely smaller than you imagined it in your head. It is definitely more in the size class of an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini than the $100-ish speakers from either Amazon or Google.

It’s round design houses a 360° speaker, much like its older brother. However, this smaller speaker lacks the intelligent configuration that uses 3D sound to figure out where it is in space and adjusting itself accordingly. Instead, it emits the same sound in all directions, which is less fancy, but ultimately works great. What this means in practice is that you can place the HomePod Mini anywhere you want and it will send sound in your direction.

The HomePod Mini matches the inputs of its big brother, letting you tap the middle to play/pause, tap plus and minus icons to change the volume, and hold down on the top to access Siri without asking, “Hey Siri”.

Siri of course is here, and does everything Siri does, which I won’t get into here. It’s Siri. It’s okay for the most part, and very good for smart home stuff.

New this year is a feature called, “Intercom”. This lets you send messages to other HomePods around your home. You can send them from iPhones and iPads (and Macs, presumably), or HomePods themselves. You can send a message to the whole home or a specific speaker, and the recording of your message will play on either all HomePods are just the one you specify. It works well, and I can imagine this would be useful for families in larger homes, but I don’t see myself using this much in the future.

Another new feature this year is an improvement over the original HomePod. You can hold your iPhone up to the HomePod Mini and whatever’s playing on your phone will instantly start playing on the Mini. Hold your phone to the Mini again and it will transfer back to the iPhone. This is very similar to what the original HomePod has, but as anyone who has a 2018 HomePod knows, that works about 1/3 of the time there. On the Mini, it works 100% of the time, and it’s thanks to the U1 chip that lets your Apple devices know where they are in proximity to each other. It’s good enough that I would almost buy a new full size HomePod to replace my old one if they added this feature.

You can pair two Home Pod Minis together, just like the big ones, and they’ll behave like a single speaker, but emit stereo sound. I’ll get more into this in the sound quality section.

Finally, we need to mention two things that these speakers do not have: Bluetooth and an Aux connection. These are not surprises, nor are they different from the original HomePod, but they are worth mentioning. If you are not all in on Apple’s ecosystem, then this product is not for you. Additionally, it’s worth noting that down the road, there’s potential that AirPlay will not be supported in its current form and these will become coasters. This is less of a problem for these since they’re less expensive, but I remain bothered by this in the big HomePods, which are expensive enough to be “keep for the rest of your life” speakers.

Sound Quality

When I got the original HomePod, my initial reaction to the sound was, “how the hell is this a speaker this small making a sound this big?!”

When I got the HomePod Mini, my initial reaction was, “yeah, this sounds about right for a speaker this small.”

I’m not an audio expert, so I’ll spare you the attempts to wax poetic about sound quality, so I’ll tell you how it compares to a few other speakers I can compare it to.

Apple HomePod ($299)

Obviously, it’s much worse. For 1/3 the price, it would be insane to expect that, but it’s worth noting that if you were hoping to get something “almost as good” as the bigger speaker, you’re in for a disappointment.

Google Nest Audio ($99)

This was the comparison I really wanted to make, and I think it’s the most relevant on this list. At the same price point, Google’s audio-focused speaker sounds far better than the HomePod Mini. It’s bigger, no doubt, and the fact that it is a Google product will turn some off, but it sounds way better to my ears. Doing some side-by-side tests between the two really made the HomePod Mini sound bad, frankly. There’s comparatively no low end on the Mini, which just makes it sound like a micro-speaker.

Given how excited Apple sounded about the sound in the HomePod Mini, I expected this comparison to be closer than it was, but it turns out the physics are just too much.

Google Home Mini ($49)

Amazingly, this is the closest comparison I can find in my home for the HomePod Mini. The HomePod definitely sounds better, but it’s not remarkably better. The HomePod Mini gets louder, and it definitely sounds more “crisp” to me, though.

HomePod Minis as Stereo Pair ($198)

The HomePod Mini can pair with one Mini to create a stereo pair. When in this mode, you get real stereo sound, which is great, and it helps add some heft to the sound. It’s still not terribly impressive though, and still falls behind a single Nest Audio to my ears.

Overall Audio Feelings

This speaker feels more like a smart assistant speaker that can play music than a speaker with a smart assistant built in. What I mean is unlike the bigger HomePod which sounds better than it’s size and price point would indicate, the HomePod Mini sounds exactly like you’d expect something this small, and a little worse than you may like for $100.

Recommendation

Apple made a smart speaker, period.

It may be twice as expensive as the Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot, but it’s definitely more in that class when it comes to sound quality and feature set. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, it’s just worth noting.

Do not buy this speaker because it’s the best sounding speaker, buy it because you want decent-sounding Siri-enabled speakers. Buy it because you want to build out a multi-room speaker system with intercom features. Buy it because you’re all in on Apple and you don’t trust any other companies to have smart speakers in your home.

A HomePod with an Aux Jack Would be Heaven

How to output all Mac sound to stereo-paired HomePods, though with drawbacks - 9to5Mac

It’s not a great solution, but it is certainly better than nothing.

Look, I know some people are going to cry bloody murder here, but I'd love for a version of the HomePod that shipped with an aux jack. I know, I know, no one is more invested in getting rid of this, but I would 100% own more HomePods if they had this feature.

As it stands now, HomePods are great for using as media players either on their own, or paired with an iPhone, iPad, or even a Mac paired. But they are useless for a bunch of other things. The Mac is a good example, where they don't act as speakers, but they act as options for the Music and TV apps. Another one would be video game consoles or TVs in general. Even setting an Apple TV to output through a HomePod is a bit of a nightmare as the Apple TV seems to forget this choice as soon as it goes to sleep and you need to change your settings again.

I know this is never going to happen, but it is a shame to me that this great speaker is not able to be used nearly as many places as I would like to. It's doing what it was built to do, don't @ me, but I wish it was built to work in more places.

Enjoy Your HomePod Apple Music Playlist

Back when the HomePod was new, I made a playlist with a bunch of songs I thought would sound great on Apple's then new speaker. Since then, I'm not sure a day hs gone by without me getting a notification that someone has added that playlist to thier library. The thing is that playlist is 3 years old and there has been so much that's come out since then that sounds great on the HomePod too!

Today I spent a few minutes and made a new playlist with 50 songs, most of which came out 2017-2020, that sound fantastic on any nice speaker, including the HomePod. And if Apple does indeed release a HomePod Mini this fall, you can bet these will sound good there too.

Fair warning, this list is made up of music that aligns with my taste, and it also includes a few songs with strong language, so pay attention to those explicit warnings on a few songs.

Try this link if you can't add from the player below.

HomePod and Sonos One: A Cage Match No One Will Soon Forget

HomePod and Sonos One: A Cage Match No One Will Soon Forget

Or, you know, let’s just compare them.

First, a moment on my speaker history. Before the HomePod, the most expensive speakers I’d ever owned were a pair of $99 Bose Companion 2 speakers for my computer. When I got a HomePod in February 2018, it sounded great to me! I got a second one that summer and started using them in a stereo pair. In early 2019 I was using Android more and wanted a speaker I could use from an Android device, so I picked up a Sonos One.

Overall HomePod Impressions

I like my HomePods quite a bit. They sound amazing and have gotten quite a few updates to Siri over the past 2 years to fill in many of the gaps I thought the product had when it launched.

It’s not perfect though, as I wish it was less buggy when acting as an Apple TV speaker, I wish it could talk to my Android devices, and I wish it had a wired connection so I could plug things like my PS4 into it and get great sound from my video games.

The HomePod was $349 at launch, and I thought that was too high. It now costs $299 which is better, but still a bit steep for a lot of people, but if you see it on sale for $249 or less, I think it’s a great buy (so long as you and everyone you live with are 100% bought into Apple’s ecosystem).

Overall Sonos One Impressions

The Sonos One has been kind of a dream for me. It does not sound as good as the HomePod (although not everyone agrees) but it definitely still sounds good. It has less bass, which for music makes it sound not as good to me, but for things like podcasts and audiobooks it makes no discernible difference to me.

The big disappointment for me was that while this does work with Android phones, it only works via the Sonos app, which I deplore. You can’t just be using something like Pocket Casts on your Pixel and cast to the Sonos, instead you have to use the Pocket Casts app inside the Sonos app to play directly on the speaker. This does not sync listening position or anything like that, so it’s a pretty garbage option for Android, in my opinion.

However, as primarily an iOS user, it’s amazing because it’s also an AirPlay 2 speaker which makes it show up right next to my HomePod and it can do all the fancy AirPlay 2 things you’d want.

Here’s my pitch for selling Sonos Ones to iOS folks: The Sonos One sounds great, is a first class AirPlay 2 speaker, and has Google Assistant/Alexa built in. It’s the best assistant with the best wireless speaker tech, all inside something that sounds almost as good as a HomePod. Oh, and it’s $199. And if you don’t care about the voice assistants, Sonos sells the Sonos One SL for $179 and the only difference is it does not have a microphone.

The Comparison

Both of these speakers have similar problems.

  1. Neither has a wired input to act as a dumb speaker.
  2. Neither uses Bluetooth audio to connect with any device you want.
  3. Each is entirely dependent on the internet to really function (aka in 20 years there’s a good chance neither of these function).

But these also share many good features.

  1. They work great with Apple devices since they support AirPlay 2.
  2. They sound wonderful.
  3. They support multi-room audio if you buy a few of them.
  4. They can be configured into stereo pairs.
  5. They look nice.
  6. They have voice assistants built in (and can be disabled if you don’t want that).

The notable differences to my eye (ear?) are:

  1. HomePod sounds slightly better.
  2. HomePod is better at hearing me talk to it over music.
  3. HomePod setup is so much simpler (aka none, compared to a minute long “walk around your room, waving your phone around” Sonos setup)
  4. Google Assistant on the Sonos is so much better than Siri at most things.
  5. HomePod looks nicer, but they both look good.
  6. Sonos has an option for Android users, even if I don’t think it’s a really good option (I’d much rather they make it a cast device so Android users could get a similar experience).

My Recommendation

I think both of these speakers will make most people happy, as long as they know what they’re buying. For me, the Sonos One has a better assistant, works like a dream with my iOS devices, and costs $100 less than the HomePod, so it’s the one I’m likely to recommend first to people. Also, if you ever decide to switch away from the iPhone, it doesn’t become an expensive paperweight.

But don’t discount the HomePod. I think it sounds better by a decent margin, and for some people Siri is going to be a more useful assistant since it is better integrated into iOS’s core services. If they were the same price I think it would be a toss up on which one each person should get. At a $100 premium, I think you really need to care about the HomePod advantages and not have much interest in the Sonos’s differentiators.

Buy whatever you want, of course. Either way, you’re going to get a good speaker that you’ll probably enjoy.

The Sonos One is Basically a HomePod with Google Assistant

Abner Li writing for 9to5Google:

Sonos speakers are a step up for most home audio systems and the just added Google Assistant support makes the products even more appealing. The Sonos One and Beam are now frustratingly close to being a better Google Home, but ultimately are not direct replacements, especially if you’re already invested in the Google ecosystem.

Li's main complaint is that Sonos devices still don't support casting, which means they are not good for taking content on your phone or tablet and transferring it to the Sonos speaker. This is totally fair, and I sympathize with the frustration.

But here's the deal, the Sonos One has AirPlay 2, so it’s a perfect device for sharing audio from iOS or macOS. And now that they have added support for Google Assistant, it does everything you can do with Google’s…assistant. that means playing music from Spotify or YouTube Music with your voice, or adding tasks to your Google account, or doing more elaborate information queries, or all the other great things Google Assistant can do.

I think that there are people out there who want something like a HomePod. They want something that sounds good, looks nice, can play the music they want, has a voice assistant built in, can play music across multiple rooms, can be paired to add stereo sound, and the like, but they don’t want Siri and they don’t use Apple Music. For those people, a HomePod was not going to work because it simply couldn’t do the things they wanted to do.

But with Google Assistant built in,these folks can spend $100 less than a HomePod and get great sound (not as great, but in the same ballpark), but with the assistant they prefer and the music services they use. And on top of that, they don’t lose any of the AirPlay 2 magic that you get with a HomePod. You can still “cast” to it like a HomePod and you can still ask Siri on your phone to play something on the Sonos speaker. Hell, I have 2 HomePods in the living room and constantly have them paired with a Sonos One in the kitchen to play something everywhere and it’s just as easy as if it was another HomePod in the kitchen.

I still really like my HomePods and I don’t think everyone should go out and buy a Sonos instead, but if you want AirPlay 2 for your other iOS devices and you’re either deep in Google’s ecosystem or prefer Spotify for your music, then this is a really compelling HomePod alternative.


I’ll add here at the end that i kind of agree with Li about it not being as great a Google Home alternative. The fact you can’t Chromecast audio to it and it lacks Bluetooth entirely means your only option on Android is to use the Sonos app, which I very much find to be the worst way to use any of the services that work with it.

Apple Music Coming to Google Home

I saw this this story on MacRumors tonight and immediately thought about selling my HomePods. I immediately went to my Google Home app to see if I saw the same thing.

Hell yeah!

Now, I probably won’t, as I enjoy AirPlay 2 enough to probably keep them around, but Apple Music is the primary factor that keeps HomePods in my life. I use a lot of Google services and since I’m constantly moving between phones, it’s more than a little annoying to have a speaker that straight up does not talk to any non-Apple products.

I’m not making any moves yet, but I’m a hell of a lot more interested in the Google Home Max than I was a few hours ago. It works with iOS, Android, and I can plug my PS4, Switch, and TV into it as well to get the best audio in my house from the same speaker.

A Minor HomePod Annoyance (timers with multiple HomePods)

https://youtu.be/TPEc1R6BbdU

The biggest current annoyance I have with the HomePod is how the interact with each other. Basically, if you have multiple HomerPods, none of them know what timers the others are running. So if I set a timer in the kitchen, I can’t make it stop from my HomePod in the living room. There may be some design behind this decision, but it feels wrong and is unlike how the other smart assistants on the market behave. I’d love to see Apple make this work more seamlessly for people like me who are living the multi-Pod lifestyle.

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