Apple HomePod 2 - Release Date, Price, Rumours and Everything Else You Need to Know
Could be HomePod Mini | Possible features | what we'd like to see | and more
Published: 23rd Aug 2019
The smart home market is a highly competitive space dominated by Amazon, Google and Apple. In fact, Amazon and Google have also released sales data indicating that the potential for this market is enormous.
By the fourth quarter of 2018, Amazon held a 35.6% share of the smart speaker market while Google had 29.9%. In contrast, Apple’s shares were 4.2%. In an effort to keep up with the competition, could Apple be on the verge of releasing a new version of its smart speaker, the Apple HomePod?
If you are wondering what the technology giant has up its sleeve, this article will shed light on everything you need to know about the HomePod 2. We will dissect the rumours and clues relating to the release, its likely release date, price, possible features and much more.
Lead image by Martin Hajek, more on that below.
HomePod 2 Release Date
The first generation Apple HomePod was announced on June 2017 at the WWDC but came into the market in April 2018. At Apple’s annual iPhone launch in September 2018, there was no mention of when the market should expect the next HomePod.
According to a Bloomberg report, Apple had been working on a new HomePod since as early as June 2018. The device was slated for launch in spring of 2019 together with new over-the-ear Apple headphones and new AirPods.
The new AirPods have now been launched but a new HomePod has yet to even be announced. At WWDC 2019, Apple spoke at length about new software features for the device that would come with iOS 13. But it did not make any mention of a new model coming to market. The new software updates are expected at the September 2019 iPhone launch.
Is there a possibility of seeing a new HomePod then? We cannot rule it out. It is also possible that the next Apple smart speaker could launch in spring 2020. In fact, since the announced updates are expected on the original HomePod, a 2019 launch might be unlikely. Additionally, the fact that there was no mention of it at this year’s WWDC, makes a 2020 date more likely.
HomePod 2 Price
The first-generation HomePod came into the market at a price point of $349. But by April 2019, prices had been reduced to $299. Ordinarily, it would be logical to expect a roughly similar price point for an upgrade.
Though production and material costs might be lower than they were two years back, the company might incur additional costs in implementing upgrades.
From a market share perspective, a much cheaper alternative would get a much better market reception. In fact, the best strategy for Apple could be to mimic its competitors by introducing a range of devices at varying price points.
For instance, having a HomePod Mini at $99, the HomePod at $199 and a HomePod Max at $299 would be a great idea- three different price points for different segments. It might sound like an unlikely hope but take into consideration that Apple has done this in the past. The iPod, the iPod Nano, Mini, Classic and Touch were all produced as variants of the same product to target different market segments.
Blayne Curtis, a Barclays analyst, believes that Apple will indeed launch a “cheaper HomePod in 2019” so as to get “broader appeal.” In his view, the HomePod’s performance has been “underwhelming.”
HomePod 2 Possible Features and What We Want to See
HomePod 2 Design
There are lots of possibilities in as far as the design of the new HomePod is concerned. One possibility is that it could be much smaller and cheaper. After all, great things come in small packages.
It would be popular if Apple produced a relatively premium HomePod Mini which would compete with the Amazon Echo Plus. The new product does not necessarily have to be cheap but being more sensibly priced could give it an edge in the market. We’ll discuss the HomePod Mini in greater detail below.
According to a Forbes report, Apple filed a patent that does not mention a smart speaker but clearly explains the design of a new device. The patent reportedly makes reference to “cylindrical housing structures with a cylindrical surface.”
It also refers to a “fabric that overlaps the sidewall wherein the fabric has first openings through which the sound passes and second openings through which light from the visual output device passes to display the moving visual information on the middle region of the sidewall of the housing.”
The quote suggests that even though there might be changes in size and other physical aspects, the overall cylindrical shape will remain. An interesting aspect has to do with the aspect of LEDs passing visual information.
This would be a major change from the original as it does not refer to the touch panel which sits on the top of the current model. Rather, it specifically says that the LEDs will be behind the fabric in the sidewall.
The concept is not necessarily new as Sony already has a speaker on which LEDs display information through the fabric on the sides. Apple seems to have something similar in mind, which might display song title, weather information, news and sports scores.
The lights would also provide visual confirmation when the smart speaker has heard the wake word, “Hey, Siri.” This would be a useful enhancement as currently, you can only get visual confirmation if you are in a position to view the top of a speaker.
Sound Quality vs. Price
At the moment, high-quality sound is the highlight of the original HomePod. It stands at 7 inches in height and a width of 5.6 inches. In spite of its small stature, the unit boasts seven tweeters, each of which has individual drivers as well as precision acoustic horns. It also has a four-inch woofer, which together with the other features offers remarkable sound.
If the HomePod was to go any lower in price, it would likely have to be a bit smaller. It might then consequently need to lose the impressive array of speakers by settling for fewer tweeters.
The current model senses when it’s moved using accelerometers so it can shape the sound for the new space. A cheaper model might have to pare down on this as well. Another way to cut down the price would be to reduce the number of microphones from six.
Therefore there is a possibility a cheaper or smaller model would have to sacrifice sound quality.
With the launch of the original HomePod, users complained that the device lacked some features that competing devices from Google and Amazon had. During the launch of iOS 12 in September 2018, the HomePod software was updated to incorporate some essential changes.
Here are some of the new features implemented with the update and which will feature in subsequent smart speakers from the company:
- Making calls directly from the HomePod
- Setting multiple timers simultaneously
- Listening to voicemails from the HomePod
- Improvements in language support
- Changing the wireless network to which the smart speaker is connected
- Transmitting audio from FaceTime group calls
- Activating Siri shortcuts using the HomePod
- Asking Siri to find your iPhone and play a sound on the device
- The ability to search for songs by lyrics
- Playing live radio stations
- Using Handoff to transfer the music (or other content) you are listening to from the iPhone to the HomePod by simply holding the phone close to the speaker
Improvements for Siri
Other complaints about the original device had to do with Siri limitations so with a future launch, it is hoped that Siri will be more functional. For instance, she should be better able to recognize the voices of different users.
Another limitation is the fact that she does not have as many language versions as would be necessary for global use. Developing the assistant to understand and use more languages could make a big difference.
Apple should also enhance the assistant’s voice wizard capabilities. Better Siri controls to ascertain greater compatibility with streaming music services would also be a big plus.
In multi-user households, having a voice assistant who recognizes the different family members’ voices offers a major advantage. It would be great if Siri could manage multiple accounts with different voices to enhance functionality.
Fortunately, Apple has incorporated this into the iOS 13 update. Siri will be able to recognize the voices of up to six users. With this feature in place, she will only reveal private information to specific users.
Similarly, thanks to its anticipated support of multiple users, it will be possible to tie more than one user’s Apple ID to the device for customized responses and tailored music.
Note that if Siri can recognize voices, the speaker would be a lot more child-friendly, supporting limited commands for young users. Furthermore, without voice recognition, everyone can access your personal information such as calendar, emails and text messages.
Even if you have nothing to hide, having your child accidentally send an email to your employer may be slightly embarrassing.
Face Recognition and Face ID
Face ID has been on the wishlist since the launch of the original device. According to David Ho, President of Inventec Appliances, the builder of smart speakers for Apple, future models might support this.
"Engineers are designing smart speakers that will not only come with voice recognition but also incorporate features such as facial and image recognition. Such AI-related features are set to make people's lives more convenient and to make the product easier to use," he said.
Though the firmware of the first-generation referenced the feature, it did not appear in the original version.
Mood Analysis and Use of Emojis
Picture having a HomePod that shows emojis through the fabric; wouldn’t that be a neat and fun feature? The next Apple speaker could go even further, using voice analysis to determine the speaker’s emotions and react accordingly.
For instance, if it detects that you are sad, it could show a smiley emoji to cheer you up. In addition to showing an emoji, it would also adjust the colour and brightness of its visual output. By being able to detect stress in the voice of the user the HomePod tries to create a calming environment. Alternatively, it might also try to mimic your mood if you are upbeat.
Note that even though this feature is discussed at length in an Apple patent, it does not make any reference to a speaker and may or may not come to fruition.
Closely related to the above feature is the possibility of gesture control. Using the same capability that would enable face recognition, the HomePod could recognize hand gestures.
If this feature were to be implemented into the next model, it would be possible to hold up your hand to stop a track. It might also be possible to wave your hand to adjust the volume. The features would come as no surprise given the fact that Apple acquired PrimeSense in 2013.
PrimeSense is the company which introduced the body movement tracking technology that was originally used in the Xbox 360. Apple filed a patent application for the technology in 2017, and it became public in 2019, confirming that such technology might appear in the new HomePod.
It would make a great alternative to voice control. It will likely be used for basic controls such as skipping to the next track, volume and simple playback control. That would be much better than adding unsightly buttons to the unit.
If you are wondering when this would come in handy, think about a situation where you have picked up a call at home only to realize that your music is too loud. Shouting at Siri would get the volume down but would also interrupt or upset the speaker on the other end. A simple gesture would be the perfect solution.
The Apple HomePod is one of the best-sounding speakers in the market today. Audio quality was initially the main differentiating factor between Apple and the rest of the smart speaker market.
But with time, the competition has inevitably caught up with Apple with even better sound quality. Sonos is now in the picture, offering impeccable audio and both Google and Amazon are placing greater emphasis on sound as well.
Stereo Sound Improvements
Apple HomePod has what it takes to create an amazing stereo sound. However, the main problem of this feature could b the price: it would require two speakers with both having full functionality and few people can afford to pay for two HomePods at the current price.
Given the capabilities of the smart speaker to analyze its surroundings and customize its sound quality accordingly, it would be great to experience its stereo sound. With this in mind, Apple is reportedly working on technology that may make it possible to create a stereo sound effect with just one speaker.
This will not just work for one person but for everyone in a room. The new technology will direct sound at each individual HomePod detects in a room so that they get the optimal channel. According to an Apple Insider report published in April 2019, “Multiple people can experience a stereo audio effect no matter where they are seated.” In the future, it might even have the capability to detect when people leave the room and turn the music off.
You can connect your HomePod to your iPhone and use it to play your music even if the two devices are not on the same Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, you cannot play music from a non-Apple device on the HomePod.
This is because the HomePod does not offer support for connecting devices via Bluetooth, in spite of the fact that it has all of the necessary components to make this possible. If Apple were to activate Bluetooth support on the smart speaker, it would greatly enhance the capabilities and appeal of the device.
For instance, its alluring audio would draw in non-iPhone users and extend its market share. Android users, for instance, could use the speaker to play music and enjoy the superior sound quality.
Remember that in the early days of iOS, Apple seemed to attempt to suppress Bluetooth functionality. Back then, it was hidden deep in the device ‘Settings’menu, possibly because Apple preferred that its users use its own offering of AirPlay tech instead.
But with the passing of time, the feature has gained front and centre appeal, just as it has on Android. Hence, it appears somewhat odd that HomePod does not support Bluetooth though everyone knows it has the technology inside. This makes it extremely restrictive when the device is in use in a communal space and is one of the limitations Apple would do well to address.
One of the rumours surrounding the possible launch of a new HomePod suggested that there would be Beats branding on the smart speaker. After all, since Apple purchased Beats in 2014, there have not been any remarkable Beats-branded releases.
A cheaper HomePod would offer an opportunity for Apple to make use of the name while at the same time repackaging their smart speaker for a different audience. Beats would likely appeal to a younger target audience and give Apple a share of the under-exploited market. It might also help cut down production costs and thus create a cheaper alternative to the original.
There has been no confirmation to back up this rumour, but it makes a great addition to our wishlist.
Wireless charging is another great feature that would add tons of functionality to the HomePod. AirPower was a charging mat that was initially announced in 2017 but died before launch.
As a wireless charging mat, it would plug into the wall then transfer charge into devices by mere contact. This means if you had a compatible device, you would simply need to place it on the mat and it would charge with minimal fuss, and more importantly, without wires.
There are already lots of Qi charging mats in the market, but AirPower would have extended the wireless charging feature to devices that are not Qi-compatible, like the HomePod. Having wireless charging capabilities on the device would make it more portable.
Users would then be able to easily carry the Homepod from room to room.
Will it be a HomePod Upgrade or a HomePod Mini?
The device we are waiting for might be an upgrade to the HomePod, but it might also be a smaller, cheaper version of the HomePod. After all, Google and Amazon both have low-cost offerings of their smart speakers.
There are lots of reasons why Apple needs a HomePod Mini. According to an April 2019 Canalys report, there could be about 207.9 million smart speakers by the end of 2019 in homes around the globe.
While this spells potential for Apple, it currently only has a 6% share of the American smart home market. In contrast, Amazon has 70% of the same market and Google holds the remaining 24%. Among the reasons for this is the fact that Apple arrived late on the scene.
In the past, this has not been a hindrance for the company as it took over the market with both the iPhone and the iPod in spite of its late arrival. However, in the case of the HomePod, it came late, at a high price point and an ill-prepared Siri.
As such, its product mostly appeals to the die-hard Apple fanbase and its performance compares with Google and Amazon’s premium smart speaker models. Though the company is not so keen on the low end of the market, it has cheaper options for the iPhone and iPod. Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility of a cheaper HomePod.
Over 50% of the Amazon and Google smart speakers that have been sold to date are the low-cost options, selling for less than $100. A majority of buyers, therefore, seem to focus more on the price point than the sound quality. Furthermore, many users want speakers in multiple rooms while others want stereo sound.
Apple has so far not addressed these concerns but it’s about time it does.
Imagining the Future of the HomePod – A Family of HomePod Concepts
So far, Apple has retained a one-size-fits-all approach to its smart speaker product line. This will inevitably change with the introduction of HomePod2, if and when that eventually happens.
But as Apple's smart speaker competitors Amazon and Google have demonstrated, there is massive potential for exploration in this market. If there is ever going to be an entire family of smart speakers under the Apple brand, what would they be like?
These speakers would certainly have to align with the Apple tradition. But they would also have to bear significant differences from the HomePod, and from each other, if they are to gain market traction.
Let us take a moment to imagine what these variants might look like and the features they might have.
Last year Martin Hajek a concept designer published some pretty amazing renders of what he thought Apple's new smart speaker may look like.
Apple HomePod Plus
One key differentiating factor between smart speakers has to do with size. So, for starters, let us imagine a larger version of the HomePod, the HomePod Plus.
Size in itself would not make much of a difference, but it offers lots of opportunities. In order to retain the uniqueness of the brand, the speaker would retain a form factor that is fairly similar to the original. The main difference in size would be in the width, to create a little more room for innovation.
With a wider body, the speaker would have some room to improve its audio output. Though it is already one of the best smart speakers in terms of audio, there is always room for improvement. Plus, you never know when the competition might up their game and upend the status quo. With better audio than the original HomePod, this speaker would remain unbeatable; at least for a while.
Another opportunity that comes with a wider body is a wider top, creating even more room for innovation. How about making this top a wireless charging station for the iPhone? It could make use of AirPlay technology for this and add functional appeal to the device.
While we are at it, why not address one of the top concerns that users have raised with the HomePod – the absence of an I/O port? On this speaker, we could include both a line-in and a LAN port to make it the ultimate all-in-one.
Apple HomePod Express
A difference in size also creates an opportunity for introducing portability to the Apple HomePod family line-up. So, why not create a smaller version of the HomePod, packing most of the goodness of the original in a to-go package?
One of the best places to find inspiration for this would be from another Apple icon, the iPod. In the spirit of portability, the HomePod Express would come with a loop accessory just like some iPod models did.
With a smaller version, the market would expect a difference in price. To make this possible, Apple could start by replacing the touch panel on the top with classic buttons.
For any portable gadget, a rechargeable battery is one of the most important components. So, the HomePod Express would come with a built-in battery.
However, considering its small size, it would be best not to cramp its style with unsightly ports. To avoid this, it would charge wirelessly and, therefore, come with a charging base as part of the package.
Completing the Apple Smart Speaker Family
The differentiating features between these models would likely appeal to a new crop of users and give the brand a competitive edge. So, with these two new additions, the Apple family would be one step closer to being complete.