Five things I want to see in HomePod 2

iPhone, Apple TV, iPad, Apple Watch — all of them were super interesting new products that, inevitably, were followed up with even better second-generation versions. iPhone got 3G and GPS and went international. Apple TV switched to iOS and streaming. iPad got significantly lighter and faster. Apple Watch got brighter, longer-lasting, GPS, and became swim-proof.

HomePod is a super interesting new product as well — but if past is prologue, the next version will be even more interesting.

In this case, though, I don't think it'll take full-on, next-generation hardware to get it there. Apple can do a lot to improve the first gen HomePod simply through software updates. So, consider this more of a HomePod 2.0 wish-list than a pure HomePod 2 one — though I'll sneak a little of that on at the end.

See HomePod at Apple (opens in new tab)

1. Apple TV magic

The moment HomePod was announced, many of us Apple TV owners immediately imagined pairing the two together.

I used to use a fancy Dolby 7.1 system, but the moment it fell out of warranty, it began blocking all content with false HDCP flags. Total loss. So vowing to never fall prey to that again, I went all in on a SONOS home theater system. Just one little optical cable from TV to the soundbar, mesh to the sub and surround Play:3, and all my TV filled my room.

I hoped HomePod could replace even the need for that one optical cable and those four separate speakers, provide room-filling, computationally mapped sound all on its own. Or, better still, two HomePods as a matched pair to really fill up the room.

Others, those who didn't have a wired receiver or existing wireless speaker system imagined getting HomePod as their first, best, and only Apple TV speaker.

The dream was, HomePod would pair was automagically with Apple TV as AirPods do with iPhone and, once you paired them, they'd go into TV priority mode and just work for all your home theater needs.

Alas, no such specialized pairing exists at present.

You can absolutely stream from your Apple TV to your HomePod over AirPlay. Eventually, you'll be able to stream to a pair of HomePods over AirPlay 2. But that's all it'll be with the current implementation. A stream. And issuing non-TV commands could be interruptive to say the least

Devoting an entire HomePod to an Apple TV may not be the most flexible use of its capabilities, but it's what some segment of users wants to do and it would be great if Apple figured out a way to let HomePod and Apple TV make magic together.

2. SiriKit for media... and more

SiriKit is Apple's application programming interface (API) for Siri, its personal digital assistant. With it, third-party developers can integrate their apps and services so that Siri can control them. It's not an endless list of simple skills but a robust infrastructure that allows for variances. At launch, HomeKit supports SiriKit extensions for messaging apps (like WhatsApp), to do apps (like OmniFocus or Things), and note-taking apps. But that's it.

Ride-sharing, payments, reservations, exist on iOS but haven't shown up yet on HomePod. And they should.

What HomePod is screaming for, though, is SiriKit for audio apps.

  • Music apps, like Spotify and Google Music.
  • Podcast apps, like Overcast and Pocket Casts.
  • Spoken word apps, like Audible and Anchor.

Apple could always partner with services to bring then onto HomePod, but SiriKit would open it up to all services, new and small.

3. Unified mesh Siri

Right now, there's a different Siri for different devices, all with different capabilities. Siri on Apple TV is far more limited than iPhone or iPad, but has deep media knowledge and can even handle multi-language queries where, for example, a French speaker asks for a movie with an English title. Siri on Mac can interact with files and persist results but, frustratingly, can't control HomeKit.

Not being able to count on Siri to do something regardless of which device you ask to do it's bad for users. It creates uncertainty which chills usage.

Having all those Siri-capable devices could and should be a huge strength.

Apple devices can already quickly communicate with each other to determine which one should respond to "Hey Siri." They keep in contact using their own short-range network and "vote" on which device they think you're addressing.

Also, Apple Watch can already offer to send answers it's not capable of displaying on its own to your iPhone via Continuity.

The best solution would be for all devices to be able to display (Siri-specific views) or read out all responses to all queries, harnessing the capabilities of any Siri device within range. In other words, surfacing the network as a mesh assistant voting not only on which device should answer, but which one is best capable of answering. In cases where those legitimately differ, Siri could even offer to send results to another device.

For example, HomePod: "I've found a list of movies playing nearby. Would you like me to read them to you or send them to your iPhone for you?" Then you could choose to browse and even take the results with you.

(Especially because, in a unified world, all devices would have some way to bookmark or pin Siri results the way Mac can.)

4. Voice ID and deep, personal context

Apple has been working on Voice ID for Siri for a long time. It shipped the first version with iPhone 6s and "Hey, Siri" and it's gotten better over time. HomePod, at least at launch, doesn't seem to have any Voice ID capability, and that greatly limits what it can do in a multi-user environment like the home.

Perhaps it's iOS' historic lack of multiple account support — only Apple TV offers even basic multiple account handling — or perhaps it simply isn't rock solid yet. Either way, it seems inevitable. The ability to use biometric voice prints to authenticate different family members opens up HomePod to being truly useful for everyone in the family.

That way, one roommate doesn't get another roommates messages, or parents don't get the favorites playlist filled with Raffi instead of Reggae.

(Though individual users will still have to decide if the contents of their messages, for example, from something as innocuous as planning a surprise party to as compromising as a liaison or illegal activities should really be read out loud at all, ever.)

Importantly, it would let Siri start to build up individual profiles for us. Right now, AI assistants aren't that intelligent. They can learn to better understand what we're saying when we ask for a Lyft but they don't really learn that we prefer Lyft to Uber. Likewise, they can start a connected shower for us when asked, but they don't really learn that we always want a shower started when we finish a workout. Deep context and prescience are next steps, not current tech.

But, to get there, Siri will need to safely, securely, privately start learning and understanding us far, far better. Siri Sync, which currently makes sure the training we do on one device carries over to the next, is a good framework to build on. And Apple's policy of tokenizing identify, encrypting traffic, and not leaving data around for commercial use, is reassuring.

But there's still a ton of work that needs to be done.

5. HomePod mini

HomePod isn't an Amazon Echo competitor any more than MacBook Air was a netbook competitor. Both had some of the elements people liked about the other products but neither had the bargain basement prices that defined them. MacBook Air was thin and light, but it wasn't cheap. HomePod can be controlled by your voice, but it isn't $50 a pop.

Apple historically doesn't compete for customers for whom lowest price is the most important feature. While Apple doesn't do cheap, though, the company has done less expensive. iPod mini is, perhaps, the quintessential example. iPad mini is another one. HomePod mini could be another.

Not everyone wants or needs a room-filling speaker. For some, a smaller speaker for the kitchen, bedroom, or children's room, or to travel with and take in the camper or to the hotel room, would be ideal.

It still wouldn't be a $50 Amazon Echo competitor — Apple wouldn't do cheap speakers any more than it would do cheap netbooks — but it would be a less expensive speaker for those who want to fill smaller rooms and nooks.

It's just as likely Apple will follow the typical iOS device strategy instead: When a new HomePod is released, the old one will be price-dropped by $100, or a new but less expensive version will be introduced — like iPhone 5c or Apple Watch Series 1 — that fills that price point in the lineup.

But I like the idea of a HomePod mini as well. Like iPhone SE, it's not just about a lower price but a smaller profile.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

14 Comments
  • I like where your head's at with regards to a HomePod 2, but I get the sense that the HP hardware won't be updated as frequently as other Apple devices. I think we're more likely to get a HP Mini before an update to the current HP hardware. I think much of your wants for HP2 is likely to be done via software for the current HP, but I'm curious at how long that will take given the length of time for AirPlay 2.
  • Re the idea of a "HomePod mini", the HomePod is actually only 6.8 inches high. You can't get much more "mini" than that. Also, there are not many corners to cut regarding the electronics and other components in HomePod that give it that best-in-class audio. It's highly unlikely that Apple would produce another version of the HomePod that doesn't live up to the same audio quality.
  • You can get a lot smaller than almost 7" high ..
  • In terms of actual hardware changes, I would like additional form factors. 1. Alarm Clock: much smaller HomePod with a small screen ($99).
    2. Sound Bar: with HDMI input for zero latency, along with Dolby Atmos processing ($499). Can talk to other HomePods for more discrete surround sound with ultra low latency.
    3. Pro: much larger HomePod for audiophiles with audio input ($999).
  • So much needs to be done with Siri. Sometime I think Apple isn’t even trying to compete. I remember your Podcast With Brian Roemelle. Does Apple have even 5,000 people working on Siri? I kind of doubt it. Apple needs to open up a Siri campus with thousands in someplace like Pittsburgh (CMU) or Austin (UT). Amazon isn’t opening up a second HQ so that they can sell more books. It’s surely so they can expand their IT initiatives. I think a “Prime 1” phone in a few years is inevitable And they will be coming after Apple with it.
  • Good thoughts, RR, but the Achilles for advancement is SIRI. You know it, Apple knows it, we all know it. Once that platform is improved to at least be on par with what's out right now, advancement can take place. Wide deployment will never matter as long as it's sub-par.
  • Excellent thoughts. It's unfortunate that Apple has squandered it's significant head start in the voice assistant space; nearly all of Apple's products suffer because of it. No matter how technologically advanced Siri may be, in every day use, it continues to be very very frustrating, which is why people have just given up on it and only use it to set reminders and alarms. My one difference with your points is that I don't see Apple creating a more mini version of HomePod. I don't think there's really any place that you would want a Home Pod, but would't want quality audio. For all the other places the watch and phone will do just fine. What I would want is a much larger speaker so that I can enjoy quality music and movies at high-volume. And of course a larger Home Pod would be great for parties and entertaining. For the commenter that wants an alarm clock.. the Apple Watch with the Apple Watch Stand is perfect for this, esp if you put it on the corner of your mattress, where the accelerometer allows you to tap the bed next to it to activate the watch face if you need to check the time at night.
  • > I don't think there's really any place that you would want a Home Pod, but would't want quality audio. For all the other places the watch and phone will do just fine. My nightstand has Apple Watch on Apple's Magnetic Charging Dock and iPhone nearby that has "Always On" Siri enabled. While this is entirely functional, there are limitations. 1. Apple Watch or iPhone's screen is not always on. While Apple Watch's typically "wakes up" to some movements, I don't want to wave my arms or yell "hey Siri, what time is it?" early in the morning.
    2. Some members of the family do not have Apple Watch or walk around the house with iPhone in their pocket. It would be nice to be able to walk into the room and say "Hey Siri, turn on the light" or "Hey Siri, lower the window shade". Since HomePod Alarm Clock is assigned to a room, it would know which room (no need for "Hey Siri, turn on Mike's bedroom light").
    3. HomePod Alarm Clock can serve as an intercom ("Kids, dinner is ready!").
    4. HomePod Alarm Clock can tell you when someone is at the front door and show video of the door bell camera.
    5. HomePod Alarm Clock can extend the range of certain HomeKit devices, especially Bluetooth.
  • Interesting thoughts. But you're saying that you wouldn't want high quality audio Home Pod in your bedroom? I feel like it would definitely be worth it, and I'll probably end up getting one for my bedroom at some point. The one I got that's arriving 2/9 will probably go in the kitchen/living space first. As for turning on and off lights, I think a much better option is to use actual switches along with Apple Watch, phone, homepod, scenes, whatever. I have a ton of phillips lights in my house, and they are all able to be controlled by both Siri as well as the Phillips switches. It's a fantastic, best of both worlds, 1+1=5 setup.
  • I spoke with an Apple rep yesterday, who confirmed that I cannot airplay my iTunes library to HomePod. I can listen to music I purchased from Apple, but not the thousands of albums I've ripped from CDs. I'd really like to try out HomePod, but not unless I can access all of my music.
  • this cannot possibly be correct. the HP is an airplay endpoint, you can beam any airplay content to it, like from itunes or the iTunes Remote app (which access your Mac’s or Home Sharing’s library).
  • Incorrect jahall721 If you have All your music stored on an airplay capable device you can simply send it via AirPlay to the HomePod exactly the same way you would send it to any other Airplay enabled receiver. Easy peasy
  • @Renée - Call me crazy, but imagine if HomePod had SiriKit integration with an app also made by Apple.... iTunes!
    I'm probably being unreasonable. It's got to be near impossible to engineer compatibility between HomePod and a MacOS app, right?
    I can always dream.
  • I'm not sure how that was not a review. It was a great review, thanks! I wish I could get a HomePod. Aside from Canada inexplicably being left out of the launch, I have two deal killing gripes. Just as you felt that Google Assistant was coercing you into giving up privacy, I feel that HomePod is trying to coerce me to leave Spotify. I disagree with that. Also I have a four year old so without voice ID that's a no-go.