Siri lights up a HomePod mini

Apple was late with the smart speaker game, and when it finally made it, its first game failed. Don’t get us wrong – the 2018 HomePod still sounds great, but it launched for $349. That made it expensive alongside other high-end products, let alone a $100 Echo speaker. And the features were so strong. limited that you couldn’t even set multiple timers, let alone use Siri voice commands for non-Apple music. Price cuts could not prevent it from being discontinued in March 2021.

The HomePod Mini has gotten a better response, thanks to a lower price tag and improved software. Still, two years after its release, we think it’s time for Apple to improve on the HomePod lineup one more time and add a variety of upgrades to what we’ll call the HomePod 2.

Spotify integration

Spotify on a phone next to a guitar

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

There’s no getting around it: to gain serious market share, the HomePod 2 needs Spotify as a voice control option, like Amazon or Google. That service remains more popular than Apple Music, and while you can technically play Spotify on a HomePod via AirPlay, part of a smart speaker’s point is that it’s free of phones or tablets. It feels bizarre that you can set a service like Pandora as the default for your voice, but not the one most people use.

To capture serious market share, the HomePod 2 needs Spotify as a voice control option.

The reason is, of course, competition. Apple and Spotify have been at odds for years on topics like in-app revenue sharing, to the point that Spotify filed a complaint from the European Commission in 2019. Spotify has even made an effort to add AirPlay 2 to its iOS app, despite no technical hurdles standing in the way.

Apple and Spotify may not be able to make peace in time to help a HomePod 2 launch. Still, both sides probably recognize the benefits of dropping barriers, so it’s just a matter of settling disputes first.

See also: Everything you need to know about Spotify

A new form factor

An image of the Sonos Beam soundbar in black on a TV cabinet.

Something that’s probably even more obvious to Apple is the need to expand the format options. If you want an Amazon Echo speaker, your choices include everything from the small, inexpensive Echo Dot to the Echo Studio, which was clearly intended to be a HomePod killer. Apple comes with the HomePod Mini, which isn’t powerful enough for every scenario.

There are rumors of other form factors, such as a soundbar for TVs and/or a smart display to compete with products like the Echo Show 8 or Google Nest Hub Max. Both could make sense to Apple — a soundbar would be easier to sell than a standalone speaker, as it would do double duty and could even include built-in Apple TV features. A smart display could make FaceTime and HomeKit more accessible, and perhaps open up HomePods to non-Apple users — currently, you can’t even set up a HomePod without an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Apple HomeKit

More connectivity options

Transfer audio between an iPhone and a HomePod mini

Regardless of the form factor, the HomePod 2 can handle enhanced connectivity. The Mini doesn’t have 3.5mm, HDMI, or optical ports, and even the Bluetooth radio is used for Apple’s Handoff feature, not for playing music directly. That means you can only push music to it via AirPlay, i.e. by using other Apple devices.

A soundbar would of course need HDMI and/or optical connections, unless it was linked to a separate Apple TV. Apple may even want to add one or both ports to a more expensive standalone speaker so it can connect to both TVs and receivers. A 3.5mm port is unlikely – as Apple sees this as a leftover technology – but it would open the door to many audio sources.

What we really want to see is how Apple will implement Matter, a universal networking protocol intended to make smart home accessories work on all major platforms. The HomePod Mini already supports Thread, a closely related mesh technology, but Matter should theoretically allow the HomePod 2 to connect (to some degree) to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, or vice versa. Apple is notoriously resistant to playing nice with third-party platforms — but it’s also one of Matter’s main backers, so it can’t just ignore the standard in an obvious use case.

Android compatibility

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Google Pixel 6 Pro

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It’s safe to say that Apple is shutting out much of the market for HomePods by not offering Android support. Sure, iPhones and iPads are commonplace in the US and Canada, but they’re not ubiquitous, and there are many regions where Android reigns supreme.

Apple is, of course, trying to lock existing customers into its ecosystem, but it may be able to bring in new customers if they get a sneak peek through a smart speaker. The difficulty would be to create an Android-compatible setup method – the HomePod Mini currently requires the Apple Home app for iOS, which in turn relies on platform hooks for Siri, HomeKit, and your Apple ID. The hurdles aren’t insurmountable, but it’s questionable Apple’s willingness to radically change this arrangement if it knows most Android users will move to Alexa- or Google-based speakers.

A more capable Siri

Apple WWDC 2020 new SIRI

Siri is the worst of the three major voice assistants. That may sound harsh, but while Siri is functional and slowly improving, it’s not as responsive or versatile as its rivals. Many knowledge questions result in getting a web link instead of a vocal answer, and it just doesn’t compare to the Google Assistant in understanding context, let alone supporting multiple commands in the same sentence (e.g. ” Set the volume to five and play NPR radio”).

To be useful as the centerpiece of a smart home, a speaker must support the services people use and not treat third parties as some sort of intruder.

Part of the statement lies in the strict privacy policy. Compared to others, Apple doesn’t collect much data about its users or their voice activity, so while the company touts its machine learning, it’s hard for Siri to evolve.

Siri also links to fewer third-party apps and services, which is where Apple earns more debt. To be useful as the centerpiece of a smart home, a speaker must support the services people use and not treat third parties as some sort of intruder. Spotify is the biggest gap on HomePods – but there are more, and it will be a long time before Siri can catch up to the sheer number of Alexa skills, if ever.

While we’re at it, Apple should implement alternate or fully custom wake words. “Hey Siri” works well enough, but random triggers happen, and some people are actually called Siri.

Environmental sensors

A 4th generation Amazon Echo on a desk

Adam Molina / Android Authority

The HomePod Mini contains an unused temperature and humidity sensor. It makes sense, then, that Apple would want an active sensor in the HomePod 2, so people with devices like fans and dehumidifiers can set up HomeKit automations without separate sensor data.

Another nice addition would be an Echo-style motion sensor. That would be especially useful for turning lights on when you enter a room, but technically the possibilities would be limited only by your imagination.

What upgrade would you most like on a HomePod 2?

4 votes

Spotify integration

0%

Android compatibility

25%

Extensive connectivity (HDMI, optical, Matter, etc.)

25%

Another form factor

50%

An improved version of Siri

0%

Environmental sensors (motion, temperature, etc.)

0%

When can the HomePod 2 be announced?

A HomePod mini in orange

Rumors from March 2021 suggest that before the original HomePod was discontinued, Apple was targeting 2022 for the release of the HomePod 2. Since then, there’s been no reliable information — so while a 2022 announcement is still possible, it might be especially surprising. be if Apple tries something as radically different (from its own perspective) as a smart display. That could mean waiting until spring 2023 or later.

Read more: The best smart speakers

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This post What we want to see from Apple’s next-generation smart speaker

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