Story by Parker Hall, via or partner site, Digital Trends /
Apple has begun an all-out attack on home audio by announcing at its 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference the company’s highly anticipated new smart speaker, the HomePod. The HomePod takes aim at new smart speakers that have been dominating the market in recent years, including devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home, while simultaneously looking to capture the high-end (and home-filling) sound of Sonos’ multiroom speakers.
The speaker’s design doesn’t deviate much from the smart-speaker playbook, looking very similar to multiple wireless speakers on the market as of late. The speaker stands just under 7-inches tall, and is covered in acoustically treated mesh. Inside is a 360-degree array of seven tweeters along the base and a 4-inch, upward-facing woofer claimed to combine for excellent, room-filling sound.
In addition, onboard processing via Apple’s A8 chip means that the speaker offers spacial awareness to automatically tune itself to any room. Multiple speakers can also be synced together, including pairing two of the speakers in stereo, a la Sonos’ Play:1 speakers, among many others.
And of course, we can’t forget the smart functionality via Apple’s sassy assistant Siri. With an array of microphones inside and Siri on board, the HomePod will integrate seamlessly with the company’s Apple Music streaming service, allowing users to ask questions like, “What was the top song in 2015?” or more ambiguous requests like “Play something new.” Thanks to cloud connection, users can also ask the HomePod the same questions they might ask an Echo or Google Home device via Apple’s Homekit protocol, ranging from simple requests like reminders to complex smart home controls, whether you’re in your home or abroad.
Unlike its typical closed-ecosystem approach, Apple is also casting a wide net for its new multiroom listening system, coming with Airplay’s second generation. In addition to the HomePod, the company announced the new “Airplay 2” protocol Monday, which will integrate with iOS 11 to allow listeners to select a variety of Airplay-supported speakers to play back music in their home at any given time, both manually, and via Siri. The Airplay 2 functionality will also support third-party applications.
Like Google’s Cast, the new multiroom audio functionality will integrate with Apple TV as well, allowing those who own Apple’s video streaming box to control playback on their larger screens.
As far as third-party speakers are concerned, the company has announced an expansive list of high-end audio partners whose devices will be supported, including acclaimed manufacturers like Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, McIntosh, Bowers & Wilkins, Polk, and even the ultra-pricey Devialet brand.
This new, inclusive approach represents a significant difference between Apple’s new multiroom functionality and that of industry-leading multiroom speaker maker Sonos, which takes a top-down approach to its speaker systems, requiring listeners to buy Sonos-branded speakers to create their full-home speaker setup.
Needless to say, we’re excited to see the new speaker and multiroom functionality in action. The HomePod is set to cost $350 and will be available in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia starting this December, with further international rollout following in 2018. The new Airplay 2 functionality will hit the market with iOS 11 this fall. Those interested in learning more can check out Apple’s website.