How the HomePod’s Sound Recognition Makes Smoke Alarms Way More Useful

Get alerts about your alerts even when you're not home

  • Apple's HomePods can now listen for smoke and CO alarms and send an alert to your iPhone. 
  • It's good for people with hearing challenges and when you're not home. 
  • The iPhone already recognizes lots more sounds than this. 
An Apple HomePod sitting on a flat surface with a man sitting behind it out of focus.


A new update means that your HomePod can now listen for smoke alarms and alert you when they go off. 

That might seem dumb. After all, if your HomePod can hear the alarm, then so can you, right? But what if you can't hear it? People with hearing challenges can now have a vibrating or visual alert on their phone or watch whenever the smoke alarm sounds. And here's one for everybody: you can also get those alerts even when you're not home. This new ability is a part of one of the neatest sets of Apple accessibility features in the past few years: the ability to recognize sounds and act on them. 

"The alerts are very valuable because we cannot always rely on sound to share alerts," Nandita Gupta, accessibility product manager at Microsoft, told Lifewire via email. "Receiving alerts on the phone regardless of whether one is home is crucial to not only maintain the safety and security of people in and around the house but even potentially pets, guests, or workers present at home."

The HomePod is Always Listening

This feature arrived with a recent update to the HomePod software. The next time you open the Home app, you will be prompted to switch it on. 

Once activated, the HomePod will listen and alert your phone when it hears a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm. To achieve this, the HomePod (or HomePod mini) microphone is on and always listening. And just like with Hey Siri, the audio is processed locally, not streamed to a server, which protects your privacy. 

The importance of receiving notifications of alarms even when not at home cannot be overstated.

The advantages are clear, as we already mentioned. 

"As a personal injury lawyer, I've witnessed first-hand the devastating consequences that can arise from an inability to hear alarms. For instance, I once represented a deaf client who was severely injured in a fire because they didn't hear the smoke alarm going off," injury attorney Jonathan Rosenfeld told Lifewire via email. 

And because your HomePod is always at home listening, no matter where you are, it can save your home from disaster. 

"The importance of receiving notifications of alarms even when not at home cannot be overstated. Imagine a situation where a fire breaks out in your house while you're away, and you receive a timely notification through your HomePod. This would allow you to immediately alert the fire department, potentially saving your home and your pets' lives," says Rosenfeld. 

Combined with Homekit cameras, which would let you check whether there actually is a fire or if the smoke alarm has just gone crazy again, this is a real winner. 

An Apple HomePod on a countertop with two people standing out of focus nearby.


Could HomePod Recognize More Sounds?

What would be really great is for Apple to extend the recognized sounds. The iPhone can already listen for much more than just smoke and CO alarms. Inside the Accessibility section of the Setting app, you will find a section called Sound Recognition. This has all kinds of sounds that the phone can listen for and then alert you when it hears them. 

They include house sounds like the kettle boiling, glass breaking, running water, and more. It can recognize car horns, the doorbell, cats and dogs, and also shouting, coughing, and babies crying. You can even add custom sounds by recording them to teach the phone to listen for them and then build automations using the Shortcuts app, triggered by any recognized sound. 

It shouldn't take you too long to come up with some neat uses for those alerts. It might just be that you never hear the doorbell and always miss your deliveries. If a HomePod near the door could hear it for you, then you'd never miss another visit. 

Or perhaps your neighbor's dog barks every time somebody passes your floor of the apartment building. That's as good as any alarm, and you could get an alert whenever it happens, even while not at home. 

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