Know Thy Basics

Everything You Need to Know About Your New Apple HomePod


February 9, 2018 Tech By

If you were one of the first to order a HomePod, it should be delivered to you, well, any moment now.

Setting up the HomePod ($349) isn’t exactly rocket science — just plug it in, place your iPhone nearby, wait for the pop-up of the HomePod to automatically appear on your iPhone screen and follow the setup instructions. It takes just a few moments. If you own a pair of AirPods then the setup process will be very familiar.

You also don’t even need to worry about typing in a wi-fi network password, either, as the HomePod automatically grab all the info it needs from your iPhone. But now what? Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s first smart speaker right now.

The Upshot

If you care about great audio quality and use Apple Music, iTunes and podcasts, the HomePod is the speaker to buy. If you’re committed to Spotify or another 3rd-party music provider, need a multi-room wireless speaker setup right now, then you should look elsewhere.

What’s Great About the HomePod

• Superb sound in a small package
• Tight integration with Apple Music, iTunes Music & Podcast, and iTunes Match – all running on the device
• Robust privacy features
• Works with HomeKit
• AirPlay streaming (AirPlay 2 is not available yet)

What to Watch Out For

• On-device Integration with any service besides Apple (e.g. Spotify)
• Does not offer Bluetooth streaming
• Not compatible with Android
• Limited voice command features
No line-in or hardware input

Services that work directly out of the box

• iTunes Music purchases
• Apple Music (subscription required)
• iCloud Music Library with an Apple Music or iTunes Match subscription
• Podcasts
• Beats 1 Live Radio
• Content via AirPlay to HomePod from iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Mac

What doesn’t work right out of the box

No Support for Multi-room Audio or Stereo Pairing
The HomePod has launched without all the promised features including multi-room audio and stereo pairing. It cannot take or make phone calls yet. It can’t set more than one timer at the same time. These features will be available with AirPlay 2 which is “coming later this year”.

Limited Siri Capabilities
You can’t ask it to play a show on your Apple TV. And Siri can’t recognize different voices like Siri on your iPhone (this is the feature that enables your iPhone to only respond to your particular voice and not on other phones). These capabilities will come in a future iOS update.

Also, Siri-commands will only ever work with Apple Music — you can play certain songs, playlists and ask questions about specific artists or songs. With other music services like Spotify or Tidal, you’ll only be able to play/pause, skip tracks and adjust volume.

No Support for Multiple iCloud Accounts
The HomePod doesn’t have multi-user support. You can only set it up with one iCloud account. This means it’s not able to access different users’ calendars to tell individuals what they have scheduled for the day. It’s very much a smart speaker that’s tied to one person’s account and one person only and that will disappoint households with multiple iCloud accounts who want to access the HomePod. This also means that Siri’s touted musical learning capabilities will be restricted to that single iCloud account.

How to turn off “listening” and Personal Requests

When you initially set up HomePod, it’ll ask you to “Enable Personal Requests.” This will allow anybody within speaking distance of the HomePod to have access to iMessages, Notes and Reminders. If you don’t want other people to have access to these things – which most of you probably will not – just select “Not Now.” If you do enable these personal requests, but then have seconds thoughts later on, you can go to the Home app on your iPhone, select the Home icon, select your profile and then turn off “Personal Requests.”

How to move your Spotify playlists over to Apple Music

If you bought a HomePod, there’s a good chance you’re already an Apple Music subscriber. However, if you’re a dedicated Spotify user the easiest and best way to seamlessly switch from Spotify to Apple Music is to use an app, like Stamp or SongShift, which will carry over your playlists.

The Best Place to Setup Your HomePod

Anywhere. The HomePod is inconspicuously sized and it is a very simple device. The acoustic intelligence will ensure it sounds best in any room you use it in. Apple provided one for us to test at the time of this writing and we found it worked well in both large rooms and our most echo-y conference room that’s full of hard surfaces like a wood table, big windowpane glass windows and hardwood floors. The HomePod sounds great even in acoustically challenging rooms. In real life that means it’ll sound great in your bathroom, your bedroom or right in the middle of your kitchen or living room. The omnidirectional speaker setup allows it to fill rooms with rich sound.

Yes, It Works With Apple TV

Apple TV supports AirPlay and AirPlay is the only input into HomePod. If you have an Apple TV just hold down the play button on your remote and select from the available speakers. It’s worth noting that this will only work with Apple TV. If you have a cable box (we haven’t cut the cord either) you will not be able to use the HomePod as your standalone audio source.

Should you replace your Sonos, Google Max or Amazon Echo?

HomePod is a direct competitor to all of these devices and we have all these devices in our office including the new Devialet Phantom, which was dropped off in our office earlier this week. Right away we were able to switch between the MegaBlast, Devialet Phantom, Sonos One and (for fun) the original Apple iPod Hi-Fi. The HomePod sounds immediately better than you would expect from a diminutive device. On one end, it cannot match the Devialet for sheer performance nor can it match the Amazon Echo 2 for voice commands. We expect most people who interact with the HomePod will never even notice it.

If you’ve committed to a Sonos setup you should feel comfortable sticking with your system. While the HomePod software capabilities are still undercooked and knowing Apple, it won’t be very long before we’re all saying “remember when HomePod didn’t have multi-room audio?” in the same way we remembered the original iPhone launched without a copy/paste function. If you’re currently using an Amazon Echo (or Echo 2) and are more passionate about audio quality than voice skills then the HomePod is a great upgrade if you can easily switch or use iTunes or Apple Music. Finally, if you do not currently have a smart speaker, care about privacy settings, are committed to the Apple ecosystem (even if you use Spotify) and desire robust audio performance at premium but achievable price ($349) then we feel the HomePod is a great investment that will last a long time with Apple’s continued software upgrades.

Pro Tips

• It’s tempting to pause after saying “Hey Siri”. You do not need to pause before finishing your command. Just talk as if you were speaking to a person who’s already paying attention to you.

• If you ask to play volume levels louder than 85, Siri will ask if you’re sure. We get why. At 100%, Siri is very, very loud and surprisingly distortion free.

• You can find further HomePod settings inside the Home app. They are not in general settings on your iPhone where you may be tempted to look.

Notable Reviews

“Apple’s speaker is certainly an impressive piece of hardware. Audiophiles will appreciate that it has a woofer with a custom amplifier and seven tweeters. The result is a speaker with a deep bass and rich treble that is loud enough to fill a large room with superb sound. HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google’s Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison…But Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it. Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Siri doesn’t even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone.” — Brian X. Chen, The New York Times

“Audio quality is what Apple is hanging HomePod’s hat on, and to my ears, they’ve nailed it. In a side-by-side comparison in a fairly representative residential room during a product briefing with Apple last week, HomePod sounded better than an Alexa-powered Sonos One ($199) or Google Home Max ($399), and so much better than a second-generation Amazon Echo ($89) that it proved only that HomePod and Echo are at opposing ends of the product category.” — John Gruber, Daring Fireball

“The HomePod is a remarkable new kind of audio device. It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before, and it really, truly works. But unless you live entirely inside Apple’s walled garden and prioritize sound quality over everything else, I think you’re better served by other smart speakers that sound almost as good and offer the services and capabilities that actually fit your life.” — Nilay Patel, The Verge

Watch Highsnobiety‘s HomePod video review, here.

Additional contribution by Eric Yang

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