To say the 2nd generation HomePod announcement was a surprise is something of an understatement. While there had been some rumblings that a new model was on the way, the timing was completely unexpected, arriving on a Wednesday morning in mid-January after the launch of the M2 Mac mini and MacBook Pro.
But what’s even stranger than the timing is the HomePod itself. The HomePod page gives little indication that it’s a new model, and Apple seems to have gone to great lengths to design a new HomePod that looks and sounds just like the old HomePod. Early reviewers predictably say the new HomePod “stays true to the original” with “lovely and deep” sound that still offers “expression and punch,” especially when paired with another.
That last point is key. While music is certainly a big selling point with the 2nd generation model, Apple is also positioning the HomePod as part of your “biographical home theater experience,” a feature that wasn’t originally available when the first model launched. In fact, early reports say that a HomePod pair is “great for adding height in terms of placing sounds to match the action on screen” and delivers “good clarity, good bass and great dimensional sound.”
Of course, sound quality was never the HomePod’s problem. Like the iPod and AirPods, music was the HomePod’s one main task, and it did it extremely well. While some audiophiles criticized it for being too bass-heavy, the HomePod was widely regarded as one of the best standalone smart speakers available at its price. It was limited to Apple Music (or AirPlay from an Apple device), and couldn’t just function as a Bluetooth speaker, but it sure sounded good! We all know how that ended – Apple discontinued the HomePod in March 2021 after an uncharacteristic price cut, presumably due to declining sales.
In an interview with Mens Journal, Alice Chan, vice president of product marketing, said that Apple had “heard more interest than ever in the acoustics of a richer, larger speaker”, which is why Apple decided to revive the HomePod. Maybe that’s true, but if the first one didn’t survive as an expensive and limited music speaker, why not reimagine the new HomePod as a soundbar? Not only would it have turned heads and reignited interest in the speaker, but a radical redesign would also instantly make the HomePod a player in the home theater space. Together with Apple TV+ and Apple TV 4K, Apple would have a true one-two punch that no other speaker manufacturer or streaming service can compete with.
The Arc de Triomphe
The pieces are all there. As a stereo pair, the HomePod has two 4-inch high-excursion woofers and 10 horn-loaded tweeters with individual neodymium amplifier magnets, more than enough to compete with the Sonos Arc’s 11 Class-D amplifiers, three angled silk-dome tweeters, and eight 2-inch by 3-inch elliptical woofers . In fact, Apple already wants you to buy two HomePod speakers with the Apple TV 4K “to enjoy Dolby Atmos sound for a complete biographical home theater experience.” What if that included using a pair of HomePod minis for rear speakers and full surround sound?
About all it really needs is a longer, flatter design and a pair of HDMI ports. A HomePod soundbar could still be an always-on music player, Home hub and Siri speaker, but with a new home theater focus. Perhaps a dialogue mode that enhances conversational speech or a movie mode that leans more towards action or explosions.
Apple already encourages you to buy two HomePods for $299 each. So even if a HomePod soundbar cost $799 and an additional $199 for two HomePod minis, it would still be cheaper than a Sonos Arc system with two rear One speakers. And the design would be much friendlier to home theater use than two rather loud speakers that could block certain views of your television.
I’m not privy to sales figures for the original HomePod or pre-orders for the new one, but I doubt anyone with an original HomePod is rushing out to buy a 2nd generation model. Apart from a temperature sensor and the ability to tell you when it hears an alarm, the press releases announcing the speakers could have been the same – Apple doesn’t even mention the original HomePod anywhere on the site as a point of comparison.
Rather than a sequel that truly builds on the original, Apple’s second attempt at a high-end high-fidelity speaker for the home feels like a repeat. And I’m afraid it will have the same ending as the first one.