Just over a year ago Apple introduced the HomePod mini. A cute, now colorful, smaller than Shoryuken-sized ball of Siri-served music, info, and HomeKit fun. But at the same time they MDK’d the OG HomePod Biggie. Killed it just to watch it die. And, swear to Jobs… I want it back.
I’m Rene Ritchie. YouTube says 70% of you watching still aren’t subscribed, so hit that button and bell so we can make this the absolute best community in tech, together!
Look, I want the original HomePod back. I’m not going to go so far as to say deleting it was a mistake, but I’m also not not going to go so far as to say deleting it was a mistake. I mean, have you seen how hard they are to get on the aftermarket these days? There were problems with it, for sure, both in terms of capabilities and market fit, and I’ll get to all of that in a minute, but there’s also still nothing that can take its place, that can fill that HomePod biggie sized gap. Just rumors, which I’ll also get to in a minute. Well, second minute, because time space. Whatever. Context time.
TL;DR: Apple wanted to take another swing at the home speaker market. iPod Hi-Fi never worked out, but the problem space still existed — Apple made all these personal music products but most people still didn’t have a decent sound system in every room, much less one that was easy to deploy, simple to use, and sounded fucking fantastic. So, they turned to computational audio. It would strip stereo music streams down to their consistent parts, Rick Beato every single note out of them, and then recombine them into a 3-dimensional spacial audio sound stage, constantly adjusted and tuned by bouncing sound waves off of walls and large objects.
Basically, this little bigger-on-the-inside box you could drop anywhere in a room and it would sound great — totally fill that room and blast that base — no matter where it was, and no matter where you were, in the room. Living room, office, bedroom, cabin, kitchen, whatever, wherever. And because it had no display, they figured Siri would be the best way to control it. I mean, I got to talk to Phil Schiller about it at launch, and you could just feel how much he deeply, truly loved it.
And, in some ways, it worked out terrifically well. Siri was still all shades of inconsistent, but the setup was stone stump simple, and the sound was unbelievable, punching way, way far above its weight.
But it also landed with a huge, gravity well of a problem: It had taken Apple like 5 years to develop it, and in that time Amazon had crapped out a ton of super cheap, super tin-sounding Alexa home assistants in a Pringle can, totally commoditizing the market. So, HomePod ended up looking not so much like a comparatively cheap premium speaker with voice control, and more like an incredibly expensive Home assistant that just happened to play great sounding music. Just total market inversion. And unlike almost all of Apple’s other I-can’t-believe-people-pay-this-much-of-a-premium-for-it-products, the general market just didn’t see any value beyond the cost. Especially since Apple chose to alienate a whole entire chunk of the market by not including line-in or Bluetooth.
And because biz pubs that have been covering Apple for decades, but still don’t at all understand Apple, and have built up these kinda toxic love hate relationships, saw an opportunity, the knives came out.
Yes, Apple absolutely brought a premium voice-controlled speaker to a commodity home assistant fight, but even Apple Watch was being covered as a failure and Amazon Echo as the next big thing, when Watch was killing it by the actual numbers. And sometimes, narratives matter.
Ok, I suck at TL;DR, but the bottom line is, Apple shifted to the HomePod mini and shafted the HomePod Biggie. And the mini is great for what it does, but leaves a huge gaping gap for what it doesn’t do — fill the room and blast that base. Even a stereo pair of minis do not a biggie make.
And, turns out, bitterest of ironies, the vast majority of people — the 90% of the world not on tech YouTube or tech Twitter — barely even use the smart part of all the speakers, including Alexa, even Google. They get them, particularly over the holidays, plug them in, play around a bit, and then promptly settle on just exactly what we all secretly in our hearts know they settle on: Basic clock radio stuff. Set a timer, play that tune. Things the HomePod, even the OG, did… does just fine.
Which is why I want it back. Kinda. What I really want is it better. Same computational audio, speaker, and mic capabilities, but with Bluetooth and Line In so that it’s something the mainstream can still drop in, but power users can also add in. I mean, if AirPods Max can handle Bluetooth better than just about anything else, zero excuses for HomePod Max. Because, you just know that’s what the new version has to be called by now, right? That, and a better price. I hate when YouTubers and bloggers say something is too expensive, because they’ve almost never actually studied the cost structure of bringing that thing to market. But it’s absolutely fair to say you don’t see the value in it or you wouldn’t pay that much for it, or like me and my dream Lambo, it’s just out of your price range. Some products just can’t be made affordably for the size of their mainstream market, and that’s fine. But I think, given the time that’s passed and the growth the market has seen, Apple could absolutely fine tune a HomePod Max maybe not for the mainstream, but for the premium segment. All recent audio product pricing to the contrary, sure… It just has to hit that sweeter than sweet spot where the value is seen as greater than the price. You know, the one Apple’s usually so damn good at hitting so damn always.
Now, there are rumors of a HomePod 2.0 and have been for a while. But there are also rumors of HomePod variants. Not to the Alligator Loki extreme, of course, alas, but of one that includes an iPad-style display and Center Stage FaceTime capabilities… a HomePad that’s better suited to things like following cooking videos in the kitchen. Or, whatever it is you choose to do in the privacy of your own bedroom. I’m not the Judge Dredd of you! I’ve always just wanted a HomePod that was set up to dock with an iPad, so they’d work together hands-free, but you could still peel the iPad off to go hands-on. Like the Magic Keyboard, but Smart Connecting to a Speaker instead. But I realize that may just be way too toaster fridge for Apple, even in the kitchen. Or bedroom. Stop it!
Also, mother of all finally’s, an Apple TV + HomePod hybrid. A TheaterPod that would provide Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio for every living room, bedroom, or media room. Like the Apple VR headset, but far field instead of nearfield, for the whole family and not just ourselves. I’d love to see that as well, because I’m currently using two HomePod Biggies in connected mode as my home theater. I replaced a Sonos Home Theater system with them and I’ve never been happier. But I could be, with a proper home theater from Apple, especially — mega huge bonus points — if we can toss some HomePods mini or 2.0 around the room as well, and they just U1-chip spatial position themselves to provide truly immersive, not just room-filling, but room flooding home theater experiences.