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Second-Generation HomePod Supports Spatial Audio, Temperature/Humidity Monitoring, and Sound Recognition

Continuing the surprise announcements for the week (see “New Mac mini and MacBook Pro Models Powered by M2 Pro and M2 Max,” 18 January 2023), Apple threw back the curtains on a product few people expected—the second-generation HomePod. The new full-size HomePod supports spatial audio with Dolby Atmos for music and video, includes temperature and humidity monitoring, and promises an upcoming Sound Recognition feature for later this year. It comes in white and midnight (which replaces space gray in a distinction with little difference).

Users will be able to leverage the new temperature/humidity sensor in the Home app to create automations that close blinds or control fans automatically based on the ambient environment. Apparently, this capability is also being enabled on the HomePod mini, perhaps in an upcoming HomePod Software update. Other HomeKit-compatible products already provide such sensors, but having the capability built into the HomePod should encourage more people to dabble with smart home automation. The updated HomePod also supports Matter (see “Matter Is Here, but Does It Matter Right Now?,” 4 November 2022).

More interesting is the new Sound Recognition feature. It enables the HomePod to listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and send a notification to the user’s iPhone when the sound is detected. The feature is a focused use of what’s in iOS in Settings > Accessibility > Sound Recognition, which can recognize various sounds and alert the user. However, Apple says it won’t be available until a software update that arrives “this spring.” It will also require the new Home architecture, which Apple released with iOS 16.2 and promptly pulled a few days later (see “Apple Releases iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2, macOS 13.1 Ventura, watchOS 9.2, and tvOS 16.2,” 13 December 2022).

Sound Recognition in iOS

You can still configure two HomePods to create a stereo pair, but note that the feature requires two HomePods of the same model. So you can’t pair an original HomePod with a second-generation model or mix a HomePod mini with either.

The second-generation HomePod is available to order now for $299, the same price as the original HomePod, and will ship starting 3 February 2023.

A Triumphant Return?

After years of disappointing sales, Apple dropped the original HomePod from the lineup in 2021—see “Apple Discontinues Original HomePod, Focuses on HomePod mini” (15 March 2021). As I wrote in that article:

Although the HomePod was a tremendous feat of engineering and delivered excellent sound, it wasn’t price-competitive with smart speakers from Amazon and Google at either its original price of $349 or the $299 to which Apple later dropped it.

So why did Apple bring back the full-size HomePod, and why now? A close comparison of the specs shows that Apple trimmed the parts list for the second-generation HomePod to lower the cost of production and increase the profit margin. While retaining a very similar industrial design (it’s 4 mm shorter and 200 g lighter), the second-generation HomePod has the following:

  • An array of five—down from seven—horn-loaded tweeters (the world only stands to benefit from fewer horn-loaded tweeters anyway)
  • An array of four—down from six—microphones for far-field Siri
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi instead of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi in the previous model

There are other differences as well, though it’s hard to know whether they reflect less expensive parts or are merely different ways of describing similar capabilities. For instance, the first-generation HomePod has a “high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier,” while the second-generation model advertises only a “4-inch high-excursion woofer.” Similarly, each original horn-loaded tweeter (I can’t express how much I enjoy visualizing the phrase “horn-loaded tweeter”) had its own “custom amplifier,” whereas each of the new ones has a “neodymium magnet.” Cheaper? Better? More jargony? If you’re an audio engineer, please speculate in the comments.

Apple says the second-generation HomePod is powered by the S7 chip, likely backed up by a U1 chip for Ultra Wideband support (for tapping a U1-equipped iPhone to the top of the HomePod to transfer audio). The original HomePod had an A8 chip (see “HomePod Arrives February 9th, Multi-Room Audio to Follow Later in 2018,” 23 January 2018), whereas the cheaper HomePod mini relies on the S5 and U1 chips (see “Apple Introduces $99 HomePod mini,” 13 October 2020). I suspect that the S7, which powers the Apple Watch, is far less expensive than the A8 was back in 2018. It’s also the reason for dropping from 802.11ac to 802.11n—the latter is all that’s supported by the S7 chip.

My guess is that Apple found that it could leverage the computational power of the S7 to provide the same level of sound quality and Siri responsiveness even with less hardware. Given the kind of scale that Apple can bring to manufacturing, the company presumably was able to make this new HomePod sufficiently profitable to warrant bringing it back. Of course, the question is if the new HomePod’s quality and performance are as good as the original’s—I’m sure we’ll get comparisons soon.

Apple took a lot of flak for the initial $349 price of the original HomePod, and even at $299, it didn’t compete well against much cheaper smart speakers from Amazon and Google. That prompted the development of the $99 HomePod mini and the discontinuation of the original HomePod.

But late last year, news reports revealed that Amazon’s hardware team was on pace to lose $10 billion in 2022. Although the Echo speakers were among the best-selling devices on Amazon, most were sold at cost. That’s better than losing money on each sale but making up for it in volume, but not a lot. So Apple’s willingness to charge a price that reflected its costs was probably more sensible, if not effective for garnering market share.

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Comments About Second-Generation HomePod Supports Spatial Audio, Temperature/Humidity Monitoring, and Sound Recognition

Notable Replies

  1. …and even at $299, it didn’t compete well against much cheaper smart speakers from Amazon and Google. That prompted the development of the $99 HomePod mini and the discontinuation of the original HomePod.

    So is there an argument why sales should now improve? Isn’t it much rather so that if they had trouble selling these at $299 before, they now—in an inflationary environment with a recession looming — stand to see even less success? The article does a good job of illustrating how Apple trimmed down the BOM so they could increase their profit at $299, but I see very little to argue that this thing will now sell well at the exact same price point it failed to sell before.

  2. As I pointed out a while back (and again today, on the internal TidBITS Slack), the price is not necessarily out of line. High-end audio speakers are not cheap: back in the late ’70s when I bought my old Rogersound Lab mini monitors, they cost about $80 each—they would cost $284 each in 2023 when the price is adjusted for inflation. The mini monitors were pretty good (good enough for a home recording studio) but my original HomePods have somewhat better sound for roughly the same price: and I can talk to them! :wink:

  3. According to the specs (footnote 2), the first generation can also do Spatial Audio.

    I did try testing this with my HomePod pair that sit on top of the left and right tower speakers in my living room. However, my tin ears cannot really distinguish between stereo and Spatial Audio (Dolby Atmos) unless the surround speakers become active. So, the only thing I can say is that if the stereo Home Pod setup is trying to simulate a full Dolby Atmos setup, the surround simulation is very weak. Of course, that’s hard to do with speakers only in the front of the room.

  4. For price comparison, cp. for instance these Genelecs.

    Is the accelerometer new?

  5. Well, that was news. Apple released an updated Homepod (2nd gen).

    Anyone find where its compatible with Gen1 ?
    Anyone else think $299 is still out there in price? ($199 ok, or 2 for $300 would make them sell).
    Soundbars with Airplay are around $300 and up so…

  6. I think the point that I perhaps failed to make sufficiently clearly in the article is that presumably the HomePod sold well enough to be worthwhile as long as Apple could increase the margins.

    Apple cares about revenue, not volume of sales. In contrast with Amazon, apparently. :slight_smile:

  7. Meh… Too little too late. I already invested in Sonos and that is what I want. I don’t care about voice response and disable it in Sonos and I don’t care about HomeKit stuff either. All I want is a quality set of wireless speakers with ease of use and reliability. Something Sonos truly delivers.

  8. Let’s say instead of a TV sound bar, I get a HomePod. Is the HomePod a good sound bar replacement?

    A top quality sound bar can be $250 (for a budget one) to $700. I can buy two HomePods for that. Even a single HomePod might out perform a midrange TV sound bar which can range from $150 to $300.

    So, can I use a HomePod as a sound bar replacement for a non-Apple TV even one that offers Bluetooth connectivity? Even if I happen to have an AppleTV, how does a HomePod sound compare to a typical TV sound bar? How does a $99 HomePod Mini compare?

    If I can replace a sound bar with a HomePod or a pair of HomePods, it might help justify the $200 price.

    Also, why in the heck don’t they just combine the HomePod with an AppleTV? Could they offer a combo for that $99 price?

  9. Are people here seriously considering a HomePod to be equivalent in sound quality to high-end studio monitors?

    It sounds good compared to other consumer products, but I would never consider them a replacement for any high-end product.

  10. Are they comparable, for example to Bose hardware? That would seem to be their target market (or rival market) in terms of price. They’re not high-end speakers, of course, but they do sound good (in the store) and the first gen. got quite good reviews for sound reproduction.

  11. Ray

    One reason I would consider something like the HomePods or a sound bar is my wife, who is very non technological. I currently have an Apple TV connected up through a receiver and 7.1 speakers. Of course I had to configure everything to be able to use the Apple TV, Blu-ray (and my Wii and Switch). But as I am getting older I am looking at my entertainment system (as well as my computer system) and wonder if it will be able to be used if I wasn’t around to configure it. She thought it was easy when we had our Harmony remote, though that actually took some programming from the computer to get working.

    Though I relish good sound, a way to remove the receiver from the system and simply things may be “good enough”.

    Of course HomeKit does not make anything easy when a device will stop responding or like last week when my Linksys disabled my HomeKit, but that is another story.

  12. For my home theater, I wrote a document describing what each device (TV, receiver, etc.) needs to be set to in order to use each connected media source.

    But most recently, I’ve found less of a need for this, at least with my HDMI-connected devices, thanks to CEC support by the receiver and TV.

    For instance, when I push the power button on my Apple TV remote, the receiver powers on, switches to the ATV’s input, and then sends a power-on signal to the TV. Similarly, that button powers off everything. The ATV’s volume control adjusts the receiver’s volume, without any special configuration (beyond enabling CEC).

    The Blu-Ray player’s remote is similar - powering everything on/off and its volume buttons adjusting the receiver volume.

    And the TV remote will power-off the receiver and currently-selected device (but will only power-on the receiver). Its volume buttons adjust the receiver’s volume. It’s play/pause buttons work on the currently-selected input device.

    I realize that older equipment doesn’t implement CEC as well (or at all), but when all the pieces come together, the result is wonderful.

  13. A downgrade to Wi-Fi 4? Shame! I know these things are Internet-tethered right now, but I do wish Apple would think about more utility offline with local, home-shared libraries like Apple TV. If Siri is going to define the capabilities, why should the new model do any better than the previous? Do they really believe the current combination of expensive, requires subscription, uses Siri, and chugs along at Wi-Fi 4 speeds is really going to make sense to anyone? Perhaps they should just release a dedicated Siri device that hooks up to existing audio equipment and has the microphones and sensors, in the style of Amazon Echo Input. The Mini can be for everyone else. Or am I just being totally unreasonable?

  14. I would, if they measured as well or better than those 3" Gennies, and for all I know they do, given all that Tom Holman processing magic inside them. Let’s keep an eye out for the data . . .

  15. Although the original HomePod sold for $300 from 2019, originally it cost $350. As @ace says, it could be that at $300 Apple simply wasn’t making enough profit to justify producing in the volumes it was selling at. If it was designed as a $350 product but the market forced them to cut $50, the equation of whether to go on is very different than for a product designed to be sold at $300.

  16. The Apple I know does not sell at a loss. They would never have lowered that price if that meant they would no longer be making a profit.

    If they found a way to make profit at $299 in 2019, they can be expected to make profit at that same price in 2023 after stripping the BOM. Perhaps they stripped that BOM down so well, they will now be making more profit thus making it worth their while. Entirely possible.

    But the question remains why they believe they will now sell more of these, when back in 2019 they could hardly move them beyond the warehouse.

  17. Further to this, here’re some measurements for the original HomePod and here is what Genelec puts out for their 8010As. Without getting too far into the weeds (lack of integration with external devices like subwoofers and dedicated EQs, for instance), I’d say that if you’re looking for a stand-alone, Apple friendly speaker the new HomePod will likely be the better value for money.

  18. A friend has a Fosi audio DAC/amp that does bluetooth, and connected to a pair of HS5 Yamahas. Also has another pair off a reference amp for his music room. He jokes that the speakers are too good for bluetooth (he can hear the compression on some tracks, I cannot)

    I wouldn’t use Homepods for reference. I use them for music in rooms like my kitchen but the house isn’t made for “audiofiles” (outside noises, wood flooring, etc).

    I am very glad I got my pair of Gen 1 Homepods when I did. Yet, if I have to add more Apple devices, the minis just might be good for a spare guest room.

  19. As it happens I am reading this article while listening to Beethoven for Three via stereo original Homepods and an Apple TV 4K. This is my main home entertainment system and I am very happy with it. I was dismayed when Apple dropped the original Homepods, knowing that I couldn’t replace it if one broke. Now I have a solution.
    BTW IMHO Spatial Audio is impressive with these Homepods - Abbey Road sounds like you are in the studio!

  20. To answer my own question: it is. MacRumors reports that “a built-in accelerometer . . . detects movement to allow the speaker to readjust its room analysis” if it’s moved.

    [edit] A MacRumours comment wonders whether this works if you unplug it to move it. Good question.

  21. Sounds like the same thing, doesn’t it?

  22. “Sounds” is so true.
    I think Apple is hoping that consumers will simply compare the new Homepod with Homepod Minis and won’t be aware of the specs/capabilities of the original Homepod.

  23. Possibly, although for me the Mini (I own two) is a completely different use case and price category. But you got me curious and I see that it’s actually hard to parse Apple’s specs of the old model and the new one in more than one respect. The old model’s specs, for example, don’t list any “Sensors” much less an accelerometer, nor is “Room Sensing” listed under “Audio Technology.” :man_shrugging:

  24. What do you want to send to a HomePod that 802.11n would not provide sufficient bandwidth for?

    You can play local files through AirPlay 2, no internet connection required.

  25. It makes sense for Apple to think about profit margins as well as gross $$$$. The margins on the original iPod were rather small, and the record companies that signed on to the original iTunes did so because they thought that might as well scrounge a few bucks off of Apple for what they thought would turn out to be a major disaster. Apple didn’t make its biggest fortune off of the iPod hardware, but they broke the bank on iTunes as Steve Jobs knew they would.

    Yet Apple kept cranking out iPods until recently:

    “More than 20 years after Apple introduced the first iPod, the company officially discontinued its iconic line of portable music players on May 10, 2022. That means Apple will no longer make the iPod touch, which will, however, remain available until it eventually runs out of stock. The iPod touch has been the last iPod standing ever since Apple discontinued the iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano in 2017.”

  26. ALAC, basically, from a central library. It’s not just the speed, but also the reliability.

    AirPlay is an option, however, I’d be inclined to use the Remote app to stream from the library instead of going via iOS, also for reliability. But, I was thinking of some sort of offline Siri, or controls directly on the device using the screen.

  27. I suppose you mean in crowded wifi environments? Possibly, although as I understand it there’s a trade-off with distance . . .

    Never had any trouble reliably streaming ALAC from my server to 802.11n devices using AirPlay (HPod Minis, ten year old Apple TV) myself. Audio doesn’t seem to require much bandwidth.

  28. I get some of the skeptics and the pros for the newer model. I am curious about how Apple knows that we don’t need the extra .2kilograms. (that’s the weight savings of Gen2 vs Gen1). Does Apple know that dropping 2 tweeters is best for listeners? Or that the Gen1 was over-engineered? Does Apple know most Gen1 owners are on 802.11n and not 802.11ac? Are they collecting this data from you and I? I couldn’t find the Gen1 spec’s of the woofer dimensions, but some say the Gen2 is larger-4inch High Excursion.
    But I know that it appears that this model has some new feature and less features compared to the previous model, and still the same price.
    Here’s a Forbes article on the differences of 802.11n vs 802.11ac. Its informative and yes, we won’t see the 'lab speeds" rating, however what you listen to, how you listen where you listen and what your age/condition of hearing will determine the quality you hear.
    I’m curious to whomever picks up one or pair of the Gen2 Homepods, if the powercord is no longer permanently attached or removable?

  29. I don’t think it is permanent. When I got the original, the attached cord SEEMED built-in, but it comes off. Don’'t know if it was ever ‘Permanent’.

  30. This is solely because the old HomePods ran on the A8, and the new ones are using the Apple Watch S7 SoC, which only supports 802.11n. The watch works fine on 802.11n; for the amount of data used by HomePods, they will be fine as well, I’m sure. (The HomePod mini reportedly is.)

  31. “Offline Siri” - sacrilege. How would Apple sell their subscription services! :blush:

  32. In my 35 years as an Apple user the HomePod 1 was my greatest disappointment I still cannot believe that one day it was working and the next day it was a brick, Apple’s response was also ultra disappointing in that they essentially ignored the problem. Apple stores had no solutions and cold only offer a replacement at the same price as the original, shame on Apple for this.
    My new HomePod will be delivered early February I have bought Apple Care and just hope the experience will not be repeated.
    Notwithstanding all of the foregoing I remain a complete Applephile and am long on the stock.
    Kung Hei Fat Choy to all at TidBITS

  33. Wild speculation: Apple didn’t make (enough) money off of the original HomePod at $299; they dropped the price solely to see if it would sell well enough at that price, then discontinued it when they ran out. They then reengineered it to make (enough) profit at $299.

  34. Maybe it did sell at that price, but they discontinued it because it wasn’t profitable enough.

  35. It most certainly was permanent!

  36. Jason Snell has a review of the second-generation HomePod now, and he finds that it sounds very similar to the original model.

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