Siri's coming home: meet Apple's HomePod
Virtual assistants like Google Now, Cortana and Alexa have been making the switch from smartphones to your living room thanks to smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home – and now, Apple are getting in on the action.
In Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this year, the company announced a new in-home smart speaker, the HomePod, powered by Siri – the virtual assistant that sits inside our iPhones.
Today, we find out just what makes the new Apple HomePod stand out from the crowd – and how it'll work inside your house.
What is a smart speaker?
The term 'smart speaker' usually refers to a wireless speaker and microphone system that can connect to your home Wi-Fi, as well as your smartphones and other connected gadgets in your household.
The microphone is used to listen for voice commands that a virtual assistant can manage, like asking for a specific song to play or for the lights in a particular room to turn on. The speaker, on the other hand, is the 'mouthpiece' – where your virtual assistant can reply to your queries and commands, as well as playing music or reading out weather updates.
Smart speakers are most often used in 'connected homes' – homes that are networked so that different smart appliances can communicate with each other. Think of a wireless heating system you can control from your smartphone – that's a connected home technology!
A smart speaker gives you more control over your connected home – so you could control your heating by simply talking to it, instead of having to walk to the thermostat or pull your phone from your pocket. Connected homes aren't just about wireless thermostats though: our own Agent Truluck recently gave us some insight into his own high-tech connected home, which you can read about here.
The Apple HomePod
Apple's first smart speaker, the eye-catching HomePod, was announced earlier this year at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference.
Set to tie in to the HomeKit collection of connected home accessories, the HomePod can take control over the sound, heat and lighting in every room of your house – among plenty of other features!
Featuring seven tweeters, six microphones, a subwoofer and a powerful A8 processor, the HomePod is set to be one of the best-sounding and most user-friendly smart speakers yet.
The six microphones are to help the HomePod listen to your queries and demands, which are then processed by Siri – the same virtual assistant you will find on an iPhone or iPad.
One special feature of the HomePod is that it can hear your voice over whatever music you have playing, thanks to some rather innovative signal processing. The layout of the microphones means you can be heard wherever you are in the room — no matter which direction the HomePod is facing.
What I find most impressive about the HomePod is the fact it can work out the size and shape of the room it's in, and change the sound and volume to match it. It can even work out when it's placed near a wall and will turn down the wall-facing speakers to reduce echos and improve the sound quality.
Interestingly, if you place more than one HomePod in a room with each other, they can communicate wirelessly in order to balance the sound between all your HomePods. This means you'll get a consistently good sound for your music, no matter where you're stood in the room.
If you'd rather have a speaker in multiple rooms, rather than multiple speakers in one room, you'll be pleased to know that HomePods communicate using AirPlay 2 – an updated and improved version of the original AirPlay which debuted in 2010.
This means you can add add any other AirPlay-compatible speakers to your setup without needing to shell out for a HomePod in each room!
When can you get it?
According to Apple, the HomePod will be hitting the shelves in December of this year – just in time for Christmas.
As for how much it'll cost, Apple have said that it'll cost $349 in the US. UK pricing is yet to be announced – but we wouldn't expect it to retail for much less than £349.
But whatever it ends up costing, we're thrilled by the HomePod – and can't wait to see more of the device when it arrives later this year.
Will you be getting on board with Apple's HomePod? Let us know what you reckon to the device in the comments below. And for more great articles from our Agents straight to your inbox each month, be sure to get your name down for the Geek Squad newsletter.