I always loved the look of the old HomePod. It was a slick cylinder covered with a mysterious-looking, sonically transparent fabric honeycomb. It was also, at the time, unapproachably expensive.
At $350, it was the kind of price that never really made sense, especially when you compare it to the prices of the competitors around it. When you've got products like the Amazon Echo that not only has more features but a much, much lower prices, the HomePod never really made much financial sense.
I only got mine when they dropped to $120 or so on eBay - and for that much, it makes a little more sense. The new one looks to shake up the price a little with a new, lower $299 price point. This is, indeed, lower.
A new, lower price
But it's still not really low enough. Let's take a look at how the new HomePod compares to its closest competitor, the Amazon Echo. If the HomePod 2023 sounds anything like the old one, it will be rich, bassy, and warm. There will be oodles of detail, and, to most, it will sound excellent. Put in technical terms that computers understand, the HomePod will have 5 tweeters and a 'custom engineered high-excursion woofer'. Lovely, numbers.
The Echo Studio is probably the device that's most closely matched to the HomePod, and it comes in at $189. That, if you're keeping track, is $110 less than the HomePod. Hm. Sound-wise, it's also going to sound warm, bassy, and detailed. It's not got quite the body of even the first model HomePod, but it's good. It's also, if you prefer the numbers again, got an active woofer to go with 5 tweeters. Curious.
The place where the HomePod makes even less sense is when you compare the two and their voice assistants. The Echo is built into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, by far and away the best voice assistant out there (if you don't mind always on mics throughout your home). You can play games with it for goodness sake, even Skyrim.
The HomePod... won't do that.
Siri needs to be better.
In order to charge $110 more than the Amazon Echo Studio, Apple needs to improve Siri so that it matches up to Amazon's Alexa. What Siri does, it does very well, but it simply doesn't do enough to make it anywhere near as compelling as Amazon's option. While you can control your HomeKit-connected devices with Siri, there are far fewer 'if this, then that' options that make home automation fun.
I can ask Siri to tell me a joke, but if I ask who the president of the US is I have to check the web results on my phone. I can ask for a timer, and check in on it throughout the runtime how long I've got left, but I can't ask for music from Tidal. All of these things I can do with Alexa.
Sure, there are still privacy concerns with Amazon's option, but there's simply no denying that it's a better smart assistant than Siri. After all, these devices are supposed to be the center of the home, controlling everything while playing your music over top-quality sound hardware. The HomePod 2 is likely only going to be one of those things, while the Echo is good at both.
It's more than the voice assistant
Forgetting the Echo for just a second, there are other problems that you can already see with the HomePod 2. It's weirdly lacking in internals compared to the original model, for one. The first model HomePod had 7 drivers in addition to the active woofer, and it sounded great. The new model only has 5 drivers, and while Apple has likely worked some audio black magic, it'll be interesting to see how the two models compare sound-wise.
Mics too have been removed. The old model had 6 microphones, while the new one only features 4. The Mics on the old model meant that it was spectacular at keeping up with where you were in a room and also listening to commands during loud parties or busy events. It was almost uncanny. The new lower mic count feels strange. Again, maybe there's some kind of software witchery that sees the HomePod just as capable of listening to you with its fewer mics, but it remains to be seen.
That's to not even mention that half the new features that aren't going to be present at launch. The Sound recognition feature, which sees the speaker send your phone a notification if it detects a carbon monoxide or fire alarm going off in the house while you're out. It sounds super useful, and it won't be available until a couple of months after launch. Sure, it's cool that it's going to have it - but it should be there when it's delivered.
Even when not compared to its competitors, the new HomePod doesn't seem worth the price when compared to its own predecessor - something that you can pick up for around $120 in good condition.
What price point would make it make sense?
The obvious answer would be $189. It's the same price as the Amazon Echo, after all, and you still have to pay the Apple tax. But that price continues to be weird, considering the extra features you'd get with the Echo. It's at least closer to the price you might actually want to pay.
Even then, if you want Apple stuff around the house, you'd still be better off buying two HomePods Minis. At least you'd get stereo as the two link together.
It simply doesn't seem worth it
So the new HomePod is cheaper than the old model. $349 is, after all, $50 more than $299. But that price drop simply isn't enough to make it in any way more compelling than the alternatives. It isn't anywhere near as feature-rich as the Amazon Echo Studio, and in a way doesn't offer enough new features to make you get a new one instead of an old one from a certain online auction site.
In some ways, in fact, we've discovered that it's slightly worse. There are features that it just won't launch with, and there seem to be fewer drivers and mics on the inside of the speaker. None of this will make it worse, with any luck, than the old model, but it doesn't make it something you'd want to pick up instead of the alternatives.
Honestly? Pick up an Echo Studio, or even pop on eBay and grab a second-hand first model. Or, if you want something new, buy a HomePod Mini. It still sounds good and it will do pretty much all the same things. The new HomePod simply doesn't make sense, even with its new price point.
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As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.