Everything You Need to Know About Apple HomePod

Apple's smart speaker uses Siri and Wi-Fi to offer streaming music

The Apple HomePod is Apple's smart speaker for playing music, interacting with Siri, controlling the smart home, and more. Think of it as Apple's competition for the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other smart speakers.

The HomePod is a small, Wi-Fi-enabled device that packs a set of powerful speakers and microphones to deliver a top-notch music experience to any room. It's a bit like one of those ubiquitous wireless Bluetooth speakers, but built into Apple's ecosystem and given the high-end, high-technology, great-user-experience Apple treatment.

apple homepod
Apple Inc.

Which Music Services Does the HomePod Support?

The only streaming music service the HomePod supports natively is Apple Music, including Beats 1 Radio. Native support, in this case, means that you can play music from Apple Music and Beats 1 by interacting with Siri. You can also control both platforms via an iPhone or other iOS devices.

Are There Other Native Sources of Music?

Yes. While Apple Music and Beats 1 are the only streaming services supported by HomePod out of the box, you can also use a number of other Apple-centric music sources. With HomePod, you can access all of the music you've ever bought from the iTunes Store, your iCloud Music Library with all music added to it via iTunes Match, and the Apple Podcasts app.

Does It Support AirPlay?

Yes, the HomePod does support AirPlay 2. AirPlay is Apple's wireless audio and video platform for streaming music from one device to another, such as speakers. It's built into iOS and so it's present on the iPhone, iPad, and Macs.

Can I Stream Music from Other Apps?

While Apple Music is the only natively supported streaming service for the HomePod, any other music service whose app supports AirPlay can be used with the HomePod, too. For instance, if you prefer Spotify, connect to the HomePod via AirPlay and play Spotify to it. You just won't be able to use Siri on the HomePod to control Spotify.

HomePods also use AirPlay to communicate with each other when there's more than one in a house.

Does HomePod Support Bluetooth?

Yes, but not for streaming music. The HomePod doesn't work like a Bluetooth speaker; you can only send music to it using AirPlay. The Bluetooth connection is for other kinds of wireless communication, not for audio streaming.

What Makes the HomePod Good for Music Playback?

Apple has engineered the HomePod specifically for music. It's done this both in the hardware used to build the device and in the software that powers it. The HomePod is built around a subwoofer and seven tweeters arrayed in a ring inside the speaker. That lays the foundation for great sound, but what really sets the HomePod apart is its intelligence.

The combination of speakers and six built-in microphones allows the HomePod to detect the shape of your room and the placement of furniture in it. With this information, the HomePod can automatically calibrate itself to deliver optimal music playback for the room it's in. This is like Sonos' Trueplay audio optimization software, but it's automatic instead of manual.

This room-awareness also allows two HomePods placed in the same room to recognize each other and work together to adjust their output for optimal sound given the shape, size, and contents of the room.

Apple HomePod internals
Apple Inc.

Siri and the HomePod

The HomePod is built around the Apple A8 processor, the same chip that powers the iPhone 6 series. With that kind of brain, the HomePod offers Siri as a way to control the music, though Siri does a lot more than that in the HomePod.

You can tell Siri what you want to play and, thanks to the support for Apple Music, Siri can draw from that service's millions of songs. You can also tell Siri what songs you do and don't like to help Apple Music improve its recommendations for you. Siri can add songs to an Up Next queue. It can also answer questions like "who's the guitarist on this song?" or play songs based on knowing just some of the lyrics.

Is HomePod Apple's Version of the Amazon Echo or Google Home?

Sort of. In that it's an Internet-connected, wireless smart speaker that can play music and be controlled by voice, it very much resembles those devices. However, those devices support a much wider range of features and integrate with many more products than the HomePod does. The Echo and the Home are more like digital assistants for running your home and your life. The HomePod is more of a way to improve your experience of music in the home with some extra smarts added on.

Can It Be Used in a Home Theater?

Yes, but there are some things you need to make this work. First off, you need an Apple TV to serve as the centerpiece of this home-theater setup. The HomePod won't work as a "dumb" speaker attached to a standard TV.

After that, you'll need more than one HomePod connected to the Apple TV. While you could use a single HomePod as the audio output for your TV, that's not really a home theater. You need multiple HomePods to create a multi-channel home theater system.

Can the HomePod Be Used in a Multi-Room Audio System?

Yes. Multiple HomePods in one house can communicate with each other over AirPlay. If you have a HomePod in your living room, kitchen, and bedroom,you can set them all to play music at the time.

Can You Add Features To the HomePod Like With the Echo?

This is probably the major difference between the HomePod and smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. On those two devices, third-party developers can create their own mini-apps, called skills, that provide additional features, functionality, and integrations. 

The HomePod works differently. It has a set of built-in commands for tasks like controlling music, checking your calendar, sending and receiving texts with Messages, and making calls with the iPhone's Phone app. Developers will be able to create similar features.

The primary difference between the HomePod and Echo or Home, though, is that these features are not on the HomePod itself. Rather, they work with apps running on the user's iOS device. Then, when the user speaks to the HomePod, it routes the requests to the iOS app, which performs the task and sends the result to the HomePod. So, the Echo and Home can stand on their own, while HomePod depends on an iPhone or iPad.

Apple HomePod
Apple Inc.

Is Siri the Only Way to Control the HomePod?

No. The device also has a touch panel on the top to let you control music playback, volume, and Siri.

So Siri Is Always Listening?

Like with the Amazon Echo or Google Home, Siri is always listening for spoken commands to respond to. However, you can disable Siri listening and still use the other features of the device.

Does It Work With Smart-Home Devices?

Yes. The HomePod functions as a hub for smart-home devices that are compatible with Apple's HomeKit platform. If you've got HomeKit-enabled devices in your house, speaking to Siri via the HomePod will control them. For instance, saying "Siri, turn off the lights in the living room" will put that room into darkness.

What Are Requirements for Using It?

The HomePod requires an iPhone 5S or newer, iPad Air, 5, or mini 2 or later, or a 6th Generation iPod touch running iOS 11.2.5 or higher. To use Apple Music, you'll need an active subscription.