This new model is a comeback for the HomePod, which was discontinued in 2021 after it struggled in the marketplace despite a price cut.
Critics and consumers felt that while the HomePod delivered outstanding audio quality and great ease of use within the Apple ecosystem, its inability to elegantly play back non-Apple content, the limitations of Siri compared to Alexa or Google Assistant, and the speaker’s steep price made it unappealing compared to more affordable smart speakers from Sonos, Amazon, or Google.
Apple went on to sell a cheaper cousin to the HomePod called the HomePod mini, which fared better but still didn’t dominate the market.
As far as we can tell from what Apple has said so far, the new full-size HomePod doesn’t do much to change its place in the market where the big complaints about its predecessor are concerned. It does, however, add a bunch of features. Some of them are familiar from the HomePod mini, but others are new.
Most notably, it supports the wireless Thread protocol and the Matter smart home standard, which was arguably the star of the show at CES earlier this month. Apple has been pushing smart home functionality across its product line lately. To that end, the HomePod has humidity and temperature sensors that can be used in our smart home automation flows. (The HomePod mini has technically always had this capability, and that has now been activated for that device, too.) Later on, it will also be able to detect carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, but that feature is coming in a future software update.
The new speaker includes Apple’s S7 chip, which we previously saw in the Apple Watch Series 7. In some other ways, though, it’s an apparent downgrade from its predecessor. It has five tweeters, down from seven in the 2018 model, and five microphones, also down from seven. It’s unclear how much of a difference that will make, though, given that the HomePod’s audio prowess is as much about computation as anything.
The second-generation HomePod is available in white and a black-adjacent color called “midnight.” It costs $299 and is available for order. The first units will ship to buyers on Friday, February 3. The 2020 HomePod mini remains in Apple’s product lineup for $99.